Oct 4, 2008

Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence

“Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.

This was more or less Constance Chatterley’s position. The war had brought the roof down over her head. And she had realized that one must live and learn.”
Connie marries Clifford Chatterley in 1917. After their honeymoon, he returns to Flanders to keep fighting in the Great War. Six months later he comes home for good, paralyzed from the waist down. His wife remains at his side, but the growing distance between them seems impossible to bridge. She has an unsatisfying affair with another man, and eventually finds herself falling in love with Oliver Mellor, her husband’s game-keeper.

For Banned Book Week, I decided to read what is quite possibly the king of banned books. Lady Chatterley’s Lover was first published in Florence in 1928. It was forbidden in the UK until 1960, when it was finally published by Penguin Books. The publication originated a famous obscenity trial ,where Penguin was eventually declared not guilty. My edition of the book has the following publisher’s dedication:
For having published this book, Penguin Books were prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act, 1959, at the Old Bailey in London from 20 October to 2 November 1960. This edition is therefore dedicated to the twelve jurors, there women and nine men, who returned a verdict of “Not Guilty”, and thus made D. H. Lawrence’s novel available for the first time to the public of the United Kingdom.
The excellent introduction by Richard Hoggart begins as follows: “Lady Chatterley’s Lover is not a dirty book. It is clean and serious and beautiful (…) Lawrence has done all he can to make Lady Chatterley’s Lover say what he meant it to say, openly, honestly, and tenderly.”

I couldn’t agree more. D.H. Lawrence originally meant to call this book Tenderness, and that would have been a perfectly apt title. Lady Chatterley’s Lover is frank and explicit, and it’s also a beautiful and immensely tender book. How it could ever have been considered pornography is beyond me. I think that what defines pornography is the fact that it shows sex for sex’s sake, gratuitous and emotionally hollow sex. The sex scenes in Lady Chatterley’s Lover are most definitely neither gratuitous nor emotionally hollow. And they aren’t even as explicit as I thought they’d be. More than physical details, Lawrence describes the emotional experience of sex. What he explores in detail is what goes on in hearts of the people involved. And that’s why the sex scenes in this book are probably the most beautiful I have ever read.

And yes, swear words are used. But the passages that contain them sound so much cruder taken out of context than they do in the book. These scenes are really very tender, and the book as a whole is about intimacy, openness, being emotionally honest both with ourselves and with others, and daring to truly live.

But the big unspoken issue in Lady Chatterley’s Lover is not sex or adultery, but class. Lawrence writes about class issues not in abstract terms, but as what he calls “a strange denial of the common pulse of humanity”. Clifford Chatterley, the man who is so outraged when he finds out about his wife’s affair, is the same man who had told her that if she were to bed “the right sort of fellow” and get pregnant, thus giving Wragby Hall an heir, he wouldn’t object at all. But of course, a mere game-keeper could never be the right sort of fellow.

And Hilda, Connie’s sister, has the following reaction when she finds out:
‘But you’ll be through with him in awhile,’ she said, ‘and then you’ll be ashamed of having been connected with him. One can’t mix up with the working people.’

‘But you are such a socialist! you’re always on the side of the working classes.’

‘I may be on their side in a political crisis, but being on their side makes me know how impossible it is to mix one’s life with theirs. Not out of snobbery, but just because the whole rhythm is different.’
Shame, scandal and humiliation. This is what is at stake for most of the characters. Those around Connie and Mellor expected them to give up their lives to avoid them, but this they cannot do. In Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D. H. Lawrence writes about how one group of people denies another the right to be considered proper human beings. There were several passages in this book that reminded me of Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier - which is not surprising, since Orwell often cites Lawrence as one of his influences.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover is a beautiful love story. It moved me a lot, and I don’t think I could have loved it more. I know that not everyone feels the same way I do about Lawrence’s writing, and I really can see what about it puts people off. He has a tendency to repeat himself that should perhaps drive me crazy, but for some reason it doesn’t.

I love how after only three books, his writing already feels so familiar to me. I get this feeling when I read some of my favourite writers, but not even all of them, and it normally takes more books to achieve: the feeling that I’m at home in their writing, that somehow their voice could have come from within me. Lawrence can ramble a little, yes, but I love him for his uniqueness, his frankness and his emotional insight.

Some other favourite passages:
For even satire is a form of sympathy. It is the way our sympathy flows and recoils that really determines our lives. And here lies the vast importance of the novel, properly handled. It can inform and lead into new places the flow of our sympathetic consciousness, and it can lead our sympathy away in recoil from things gone dead. Therefore, the novel, properly handled, can reveal the most secret places of life: for it is in the passional secret places of life, above all, that the tide of sensitive awareness needs to ebb and flow, cleansing and freshening.

‘Yes, I do believe in something. I believe in being warmhearted. I believe especially in being warm-hearted in love, in fucking with a warm heart. I believe if men could fuck with warm hearts, and the women take it warm-heartedly, everything would come all right. It’s all this cold-hearted fucking that is death and idiocy.’

‘After all, Hilda,’ she said, ‘love can be wonderful: when you feel you live, and are in the very middle of creation.’ It was almost like bragging on her part.

‘I suppose every mosquito feels the same,’ said Hilda.

‘Do you think it does? How nice for it!’

Read Lady Chatterley’s Lover online (I love how simple and neat this particular e-book edition looks.)

Other Blog Reviews:
Peeking Between the Pages
Just One More Chapter

(Let me know if you've also reviewed it.)


  1. You know, everything I've read about Lawrence suggested to me that his writing contained a lot of gratuitous sex. But now I'll have to reconsider that, since you didn't think so at all!

  2. Eva: I had that impression too. When I was in Nottingham last year I took a course on his earlier works, not because I wanted to but because many of the classes I actually wanted didn't accept exchange students.I kept hearing that he was vulgar, misogynist, etc, and I really wasn't sure if I would like his books at all. And wow, was I surprised. We read Sons and Lovers and The Prussian Officer and I really loved both. I found them honest, perceptive, sensitive and full of believable characters with complex interactions. And the same goes for this book. If you ever feel like giving him a try, here are a few short stories that would give you a good idea of what to expect from his writing: The Shades of Spring, Daughters of the Vicar (the longest, but probably my favourite) and England my England.

  3. Beautiful review, Nymeth. My mom read this for the classics challenge and I kind of wanted to talk her out of it even though I haven't read it (or anything by Lawrence). I didn't really know what the book was about, but I know that Lawrence has generally been a banned author and his books do contain racier topics. She loved the book--and while she did mention the sex and the language what she loved about the book was the writing and the tenderness and emotion he put into the characters. I'm still on the fence with this one, but you review is definitely making me tetter-totter.

  4. wow what a cover!

    Fascinating review.

  5. I almost, almost bought this in my latest order (I placed one on Friday) but didn't. Great review as always, Nymeth. For now, Lady Chatterley's Lover will be in my wish list.

  6. I've never read this. Maybe I should!

  7. I was listening to this on audio before bed, but I did not make it through the whole book. Not necessarily because of the sex, but because of some scene I vaguely recall - a nightmare or something - involving a horse - which then proceeded to give ME nightmares.

  8. What a beautiful review! I've been wanting to read this book as well because it seems like it epitomizes what a "banned book" is. Wow...I didn't know Penguin went to court over it though. Crazy! I've never read D.H. Lawrence and now I know I need to.

  9. Trish: The language can be quite strong, and I know that bothers some readers more than others, but I couldn't agree with your mother more. The book is so full of emotion. I hope you'll give it a try someday.
    PS: How cool that your mother is doing the classics challenge!

    Rebecca: Thanks! I love this cover too.

    Alice, I really hope you enjoy it!

    Alessandra: I'd say "yes you should", but Lawrence is one of those authors I can never tell if someone is going to like or not. Maybe try one of his short stories first?

    Charley: Ah yes, I remember that bit. Do you think you'll give it another try someday?

    Amanda, thank you! There is actually a book about the trial. I haven't read it yet, but it sounds really interesting! I particularly like the fact that the prosecutor asked "Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?" It would be funny if it weren't so sad.

  10. See Nymeth, that's exactly what I meant when I wrote my review-that I was positive there was more to get out of this book than I did. You wrote a beautiful review-makes me think I did not read this book properly. As you say you love the writing so it becomes something else for you.

    I didn't think this novel was pornography at all. I don't see where anyone would get that-I don't think it's for teenagers but otherwise ok.

    Anyhow, great review. This is what I wish I would see when I read classics.

  11. It is really cool. :) She's already read three of the six books and is really enjoying it so far. It's been fun to chat with her about this stuff even though she's been pestering me for a definition for classics.

  12. I will put this on my list. I hope to read Sons and Lovers before the end of the year and have read Women in Love. I might even have a look at the ebook and put it on my new ereader.

  13. Well, you've done it again...made me want to read something I never thought I would be the slightest bit interested in. Certainly not because of any issues that lead people to want to ban it, of course. I just had it stuck in my head that it was "boring". Your review makes it sounds like I totally missed the mark there. :)

  14. Wow, thanks for a really in-depth review. I never really knew what this book was about before. Now I'm really interested to read it. I'll surely have to add it to my list for my banned books challenge next year.

  15. Thank you, Dar. I know the feeling of really wanting to get more out of a book but just not being able to. Sometimes a book just doesn't work for us and there's nothing that can be done. I always feel a bit let down when that happens to me, but oh well. I think Lawrence definitely wrote Lady Chatterley with a mature audience in mind, and why adults would ever be told they can't read it baffles me. One of the reasons why I loved the introduction by Richard Hoggart was because he included passages from Victorian erotic novels that were pretty much as explicit as, or more than, Lady Chatterley. Yet they didn't get banned. The real issue, the one that shocked and disgusted people, was not so much the sex itself, but the sex between an aristocratic woman and a working man.

    Trish: Like the answers to your meme showed, coming up with a definition of classics is no easy task!

    Rhinoa: I really enjoyed Sons and Lovers and I hope you do too. But I thought that this one was even better. Sons and Lovers is quite long, and some parts are a bit slow-going. How did you like Women in Love? I'm thinking of picking that one up next.

    Debi: A lot of people do find Lawrence's writing boring, and, although I don't, I can see why. So like I was telling some others, maybe try a short story first to see if it works for you?

    Becca, I really hope you enjoy it! I want to read more banned books, so your challenge is one I'll keep in mind for next year.

  16. This was one of very few books that I read for a lit class that managed to withstand all the literary poking and prodding and dissecting without having all the life sucked out of it. It is such a great story, with characters that have stayed with me after all these years. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

  17. I read this when I was probably too young (15 or 16) and I did like it but I wasn't blown away but the writing, probably because it was a translation. I read it because I thought it'd be an "adult" book, but it wasn't forbidden in my house. My mum had it and loved it. She told me I could read it because the sex in it was pure and clean,now that I think of it...
    Maybe one day I should try it again in its original text.

  18. Darla: The characters really seem the kind that stays with you! I bet I'll always look back on them fondly. And this is certainly a book I can see myself re-reading.

    Valentina: I feel the same way about many books that I read in my teens...I remember not being very impressed, but they were translations, so who knows. I completely agree with your mother. There's nothing dirty about the sex in this book, and I can hardly image it being portrayed more tenderly.

  19. I remember reading this when I was a freshman in high school and being supremely disappointed. I'd picked it up because I'd heard that it had been banned for its "explicit" descriptions of sex. I thought I was being riske' by reading it. =) After I read it, I remember thinking, "This isn't explcit! This is what all the fuss was about? Ugh!"

    I think I should probably read it again now that I'm older. Perhaps now I'll be able to judge it on its literary merits rather than on my disappointed expectations. I think it's kind of funny that I thought I was getting away with something by reading "Lady Chatterly's Lover." LOL. :)

  20. great review as always, I havent read this one myself. It has been on my wishlist for a while.


  21. Right on, great review, and I TOTALLY agree! I didn't find any of the sex in the story gratuitous. In fact, tender is a perfect description. It was a little hard for me to get into when I first started reading it, but by the end I was won over.

  22. Naida, hope you enjoy it!

    Andi: Thanks :) I'm glad you agree!

  23. Great review, Nymeth! I bought this book several years ago simply because it had been banned and I wanted to see what was so "bad" about it. Unfortunately, I never got around to reading it. When my bookshelf collapsed a couple of weekends ago under the strain of all the books I'd received recently (it wasn't funny at the time, but it's worth a laugh now!), I found the book and set it aside. Hopefully I'll be able to read it soon!


  24. I'd also always heard about the infamous Lady Chatterly and wanted to read it just so I could see what the fuss was about. I hadn't found a good e-book, so thanks for your link. It'll be the next one I read. I'm kind of assuming it will be like Moll Flanders, which was also supposed to be terribly shocking, but looking at it from today's standpoint, it wasn't really. I just think it was a bit ahead of its time. The truths it revealed were as relavent then as now, but I don't think middle class society was ready to see those truths then. I'm looking forward to seeing if this holds true for Lady Chatterly. Thanks for the review!

  25. i read sons and lovers by him twice coz i loved it so much. I plan to read this sometime.. but i somehow haven't been able to get to it!

  26. I recommend The Lost Girl as well.

  27. Hi, I came to read this review through Eva. It's excellent how you described the book. My sister reads Lawrence but I really haven't given him a go. However, you have definitely changed my mind. Thanks. :)


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