“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.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.
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.”
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.’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.
‘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.’
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.)