1000 Books In 10 Years; Vol. 61: Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence

D.H. Lawrence’s infamous novel, which was banned and censored for its not-so-graphic sex scenes, has its problems, and it has its upside, and seems to tap into the nuances of how relationships are often defined by social conformity rather than emotions one feels for another. But the book falters in many instances as well.

 

Lawrence’s prose for one, reads as if it were written by a robot. He moves plot and conversations forward by simply telling you what happened, rather than taking the time to show you the characters. His dialogue is more fluid than his prose, when he dives into it, but even then his writing sounds as if it were an essay being spoken on his behalf by one of his characters. The narrative voice is at time omnipresent, and at other times takes on the tone of a first person narrative. Coupled with that Lady Chatterley, whose given name is Constance, or Connie for short, is referred to as Connie and Constance throughout the novel, which takes the reader out of the narrative slightly since there is no consistency for the narrative voice. Lady Chatterley is not an overtly sympathetic person, nor an unsympathetic person. The things that move her seem to be unclear, and the pieces of her life that are of the most interest for the reader at not fully explored. Her first lover, for example, dies at a very young age, yet the novel fails to explore her emotive response to this. Shortly thereafter she allows herself to be swooped up into a relationship with a young Englishman who goes off to war, though little is said of their two-month honeymoon other than the fact that it was two-months. There is no detail as to how the two came to know each other, or why they chose to get married. When he is returned from the war in tatters, paralysed from the waist down, there is no detail as to how she felt and responded to his recovery (a recovery that did not include the use of his legs or any other appendages below the waist). Clifford, Lady Chatterley’s husband, has a sister with whom he seems to share a unique bond, but that relationship falls by the way side before the novel even gets started. He is a one-dimensional character at best. Dependant, judgemental, superior, arrogant and childlike as well. When Lady Chatterley ultimately leaves her husband, the reader does not feel bad for the husband in the least, and his childish response and vain attempt to possess her, simply makes it all the easier to feel he is deserving of desertion. Her lover, who is also the games keeper of Clifford’s property is interesting, but is an unfulfilled character. He has a wife with whom he has parted, and who tried to insert herself back into his life when he requests a divorce, but his character is still hard to make out. The sexual relationship between Lady Chatterley and he (Mellors) borders on rape in the first couple of instances, and later takes on a more consensual nature, but is still very one sided. He has more progressive views on women than does Clifford and when asked what he wants of Lady Chatterley, defers to her, and wishes her to be her own mistress. Or so he says, though the first couple times they had sex he did not seem to care much one way or the other what she thought of it.

 

As mentioned there is an interesting class-centered reading within the text, and obviously some feminist overtones as well, but the one thing that interested me most about the novel was its title. We see in most fiction, especially fiction from before WWII, that women are spoken of and defined by their relationships with the men around them. They are the wife of, or the daughter of. They are property, or defined, not by their own personalities or accomplishments, but by their relationships with the men with whom they are related. In this novel though the title character is not given a name within the title, but rather is defined by his relationship to a woman. The novel could have simply been titled “The Games Keeper”, or used the character’s given name, but instead he is defined by his relationship with Lady Chatterley. There is a double edge to this though in that Lawrence could have simply title the novel “Lady Chatterley, since she is clearly the protagonist of the novel, so even in an instance where there protagonist is female, the book’s title character is still a man, even if he is one defined by his relationship with a woman.

I am of two minds on this book, but it is certainly one worth reading if you are a fan of D.H. Lawrence, or a fan of the writing which took place in England between the end of the Victorian era and the start of WWII. It certainly has its moments, and has an interesting class perspective and intriguing, though problematic, feminist overtones, but given its infamous reputation I found it was a little bit of a let down.

 

 

Words I thought I’d look up:

 

 

Crocus: Spring flower.

Pentecost: A Christian celebration that celebrate the descent of the holy spirit onto the apostles.

Cant: Clichéd talk.

Lout: An offensive term that insults one’s behaviour or attitude.

Magna Mater: Great mother.

Bantam: Small domestic fowl.

In the Italian way: Apparently it means anal sex!

Taciturn: Silent by nature.

Bibulous: Tending to drink too much alcohol.

Cadger: One who borrows.

Vernacular: Spoken language of the masses.

Paroxysm: Sudden outburst of emotion.

Debt of honour: A debt that is morally but not legally binding.

Fray: Wear away and hang in threads.

Valetudinarian: Somebody with poor health.

Reconnoitre: Explore to gather information.

Incarnate: Made human.

Lozenge: A medicated tablet, or something diamond shaped.

Plait: Woven strands.

Lugubriously: Gloomy.

Soporific: Feeling sleepy.

Not by a long chalk: Whilst the phrase “not by a long shot” is common, some believe it originated from ‘not by a long chalk’ (though some say the two arose independently of one another). A chalk was essentially a score, or a record kept on a black board in a bar to keep track of one’s credit. If somebody was winning by a ‘long chalk’ in a game of skittles or cricket, it mean they had a large lead. To say something is not over by a long chalk, meant that even if one was behind, they were going to continue regardless of their unlikelihood of winning.

Blether: Somebody who talks nonsense.

Piquet: A card game.

Voracious: Very hungry.

Coquetry: To flirt.

Gaiter: Leg covering.

Brocaded: Fabric with raised design.

Denuded: To strip of make bare.

Stultify: Diminished interest.

Simulacrum: Something vaguely similar.

Tremulous: Trembling, fearful.

Intransigent: To refuse compromise.

Rambler About Rambler

Jason John Horn is a writer and critic who recently completed his Master's in English Literature at the University of Windsor. He has composed a play, a novella and a number of short stories and satirical essays.

Comments

  1. I fell asleep twice while slogging through the opening chapters of this book. I did wake up when the gamekeeper appeared on the scene, mostly because his reputation as a lover preceded him. Like you, though, I was a bit disappointed. For more on why LCL should not be used as an instruction manual, here’s an article by British novelist Doris Lessing: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2006/jul/15/classics.dhlawrence.

    Although Connie is supposed to be a maverick for her time, I pity her. Her choices seem to be A) remain with her paralyzed husband or B) run away with Mellors, who calls her the c-word as an endearment even though he prefers “the Italian way,” and whose “love letter” reads like a boring manifesto on what needs to change in society. He’s a regular Casanova, alright – just ask his ex-wife. Or I suppose there’s always option C: run off with a woman, as her sister seems to do. At least Connie has a cool dad, who’s good-humoured and/or drunk enough to laugh at his daughters’ hijinks.

    As for the title, it could have been chosen for the reasons you discuss; it could also have been a publisher’s decision to combine aristocracy and adultery in a way that would sell books. LCL was popular among the British working classes, who wanted to find out whether “the quality” were really people with the same body parts, etc. as them.

  2. Thanks for sharing your insights! I enjoy reading them.

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