A Banned Work
Prior to the private publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in 1928, David Herbert Richards Lawrence (or more popularly known as D.H. Lawrence) was already an accomplished writer. The son of a coal miner and a schoolteacher, he worked his way up to establish a prolific career that has produced masterful works such as Sons and Lovers (1913), The Rainbow (1915), and Women in Love (1920). However, it was Lady Chatterley’s Lover that made Lawrence’s name even more prominent, but not in a way that most would expect. When the complete and uncensored version of the novel was published in 1960, the novel became the subject of controversy, both for its content and its language. But what does the novel hold that the publishers had to go through the scrutiny of the legal system before it can be fully published?
The story commenced in 1917 when Clifford Chatterley married Constance Reid during his leave from serving the war. Following their honeymoon, Clifford returned to Flanders to rejoin the war only “to be was shipped over to England again six months later, more or less in bits.” (P.3) Clifford, who was then twenty-nine, managed to survive his grisly war injuries. He spent the next two years convalescing. When his doctors pronounced him cured, he tried to resume his old life, but with the the lower half of his body, from the hips down, paralyzed forever. The couple then returned to Wragby Hall, the designated family “seat” where Clifford has assumed the barony following the demise of his father. Constance became Lady Chatterley.
To escape from the reality of his disability, Clifford occupied himself with the management of the mines his family owned. With his attention somewhere else, he emotionally neglected his wife. As he became more withdrawn from his marital duties, a distance was inevitably created between husband and wife. Lady Chatterley became increasingly frustrated with her husband’s emotional detachment. She was an affectionate person but her overtures into intimacy with her husband were thwarted with his own philosophical ideas of intimacy. Her estranged from her husband, both physical and emotional, eventually led to her seeking for affection in other avenues, in other individuals.
“It’s no good trying to get rid of your own aloneness. You’ve got to stick to it all your life. Only at times, at times, the gap will be filled in. At times! But you have to wait for the times. Accept your own aloneness and stick to it, all your life. And then accept the times when the gap is filled in, when they come. But they’ve got to come. You can’t force them.”~ D.H Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover
And thus entered the titular Lady Chatterley’s lover. Oliver Mellors was the gamekeeper of Wragby Hall estate. The son of a miner, he chose to live a reclusive existence in the least accessible section of the vast estate, with only his dog to keep him company. Like Clifford, he served during the war, working his way up to becoming an officer. However, unlike Clifford, he was unscathed when he came out of the army and started working for the Chatterleys. “But he does his duty all right, as far as I’m concerned,” Clifford was quoted saying to his wife. What Clifford did not expect was the betrayal that his wife and his gamekeeper would perpetrate under his nose.
Lawrence’s last major novel, the novel’s reputation does precede it. Easily tagged as one of the most controversial works of the 20th century, it was written and published when British literature was more conservative. Its blunt language, especially when describing intimate scenes, led to the novel being as labeled as a pornographic work. For its strong and graphic language, it faced severe censure and was even banned in a score of countries. However, by the 21st century standards, Lady Chatterley’s Lover was by no means pornographic; it even pales in comparison to the erotic themes of more recent works. Lawrence’s refusal to conform to the standards resulted to a book with a language that was too indelicate for its time: “Yes, I do believe in something. I believe in being warm-hearted. 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.”
With too much preoccupation on the sexual nature of the narrative, it was easy to overlook the other subjects that were captured by Lawrence’s deft writing. Class distinction, for instance, played a seminal role in the story. The most vivid portrayal of this subject was the relationship between Lady Chatterley, or fondly referred to as “Connie”, and Mellors. In choosing Mellors as the titular lover, Lawrence was also underscoring the stark dichotomy between the aristocracy and the peasantry, the looming presence of the intellectuals above the working class. The prevailing consensus, albeit mostly unspoken, was that Connie should have chosen a lover at least equal in class.
Of all the characters, Clifford has the most assured position whilst Connie’s was always under scrutiny: “Connie was well-to-do intelligentsia, but he was aristocracy.” The class divide also extended to the denizens of Wragby Hall and Tevershall. The colliers of the Tevershall coal pits were slowly exhibiting resentment and overall dissatisfaction as the disparity in wealth between the working class and the mine owners continues to widen. In connection to this, there were discourses on political concepts such as unionization, bolshevism, socialism, communism and capitalism. Union strikes were also a common concern that Clifford has to deal with.
“And however one might sentimentalise it, this sex business was one of the most ancient, sordid connections and subjections. Poets who glorified it were mostly men. Women had always known there was something better, something higher. And now they knew it more definitely than ever. The beautiful pure freedom of a woman was infinitely more wonderful than any sexual love. The only unfortunate thing was that men lagged so far behind women in the matter. They insisted on the sex thing like dogs.”~ D.H Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover
The story of Lady Chatterley was juxtaposed on the changing landscape. Lawrence did a commendable job of capturing the industrialization taking place in rural areas and the mines. To improve the mines, Clifford wanted to employ new technology. It was contrasted with the beauty of nature that Connie constantly admired. “There, in the world of the mechanical greedy, greedy mechanism and mechanized greed, sparkling with lights and gushing hot metal and roaring with traffic, there lay the vast evil thing, ready to destroy whatever did not conform. Soon it would destroy the wood, and the bluebells would spring no more All vulnerable things mush perish under the rolling and running of iron.” (P177)
The novel was explored various forms of relationships. Details of the complexities of marital relationships was depicted in the vicious marriage of Mellors and his wife, Bertha. Ivy Bolton and Clifford also developed a maternal relationship. Clifford was often portrayed as desirous of Mrs. Bolton. Mrs. Bolton, on the other hand was formerly in love with Mellors. Another character, Tommy Dukes was not involved with anyone for he cannot find a partner suitable enough to be respected intellectually. Masculinity was another prominent theme. Men were described as “dogs that trot and sniff and copulate.” But what is a real man? The novel presented several lenses upon which it can be examined. Clifford was a representation of the intellectual type while Mellors was the epitome of brutish masculinity.
The portrayal of Lady Chatterley was one of the novel’s greater accomplishments. Every minutiae of her thoughts and inner feelings were related in intricate details. She was a complex character who exhibited consciousness about herself. The novel resonated with her introspections, which formed a hefty part of the narrative and was also one of its finer points. Through her introspections, the readers see a character that they can relate to: “But of course, she had married him really because in a mental way he attracted her and excited her. He had seemed, in some way, her master beyond her.” (P43). She does have her flaws but she was the most developed character. In contrast, the male characters came across as weak. Clifford and Mellors needed Connie for validation.
One of the novel’s finer facets was the language. It does have a brazen quality to it and this was continuously reiterated in many discourses. However, it cannot be denied that Lawrence possesses a talent for writing and it came across in Lady Chatterley’s Lover. There were stretches of the novel that were lyrical. The opening of the novel is easily one of the most memorable in the ambit of literature. “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.”
“It’s just an amusing idea that sex is just another form of talk, where you act the words instead of saying them. I suppose it’s quite true. I suppose we might exchange as many sensations and emotions with women as we do ideas about the weather and so on. Sex might be a sort of normal physical conversation between a man and a woman.”~ D.H Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover
The brilliance of Lawrence’s descriptive prose was in full display all throughout the narrative and was especially effective when capturing the rawness of nature: “The wood was silent, still and secret in the evening drizzle of rain, full of the mystery of eggs and half-open buds, half unsheathed flowers. In the dimness of it all trees glistened naked and dark as if they had unclothed themselves, and the green things on earth seemed to hum with greenness.” It was also an effective tool in the introspection of Lady Chatterley and in capturing the changes taking place on the landscape. However, the novel does have the tendency to be repetitive, weighing down on its finer qualities. This resulted into verbose pages brimming with words.
What made Lady Chatterley’s Lover more interesting is that does draw parallels from the author’s own life. The novel was rife with elements from his own life. Lady Chatterley was an indirect reference to his wife, Frieda von Richthofen. The novel was about her long-standing affair with Angelo Ravagli. Despite the intermittence of their relationship during Lawrence’s life time, Ravagli would eventually become Frieda’s third husband following the author’s death. Clifford’s struggle with impotence stemmed from Lawrence’s own frustrations.
For all its boldness and the controversy that precedes it, one can’t help but wonder about the fate of Lady Chatterley’s Lover had it not been subjected to an obscenity litigation. Parts-political, parts-romance, it did explore several seminal themes beyond the sexual overtones it was quite known for. However, as a literary piece, it does fail to impress overall. Its weakness stems from its plot, or the apparent lack thereof. The novel was bereft of a solid storyline, resulting to an unremarkable and predictable story. Despite the blunders, the novel founds its saving grace in the lyrical quality of Lawrence’s writing. He does have the tendency to be repetitive but his capabilities as a writer is irrefutable.
Characters (30%) – 20%
Plot (30%) – 17%
Writing (25%) – 18%
Overall Impact (15%) – 7%
To be honest, I didn’t have an iota on the controversy that surrounded Lady Chatterley’s Lover when I added it to my growing reading list. This was my first Lawrence novel and I must admit that I had a challenging time. I didn’t have much concern with the erotic nature of it (there wasn’t much actually). It was Lawrence’s tendency to be verbose that weighed on me. I had to deal with long paragraphs which made the novel longer than it needed to be. As a literary work, the plot was predictable and, other than Lady Chatterley herself, the characters were forgettable. It does have strong points but I still feel that had it not been for the controversy it stirred, it would not have received the massive attention it has garnered following the “not guilty” verdict.
I do have some of Lawrence’s other works and I am hoping that they live up to the hype surrounding Lawrence and his prose.
Author: D.H. Lawrence
Publisher: The Modern Library
Publishing Date: 1993
Number of Pages: 457
Genre: Romance, Erotic Fiction
Lady Chatterley’s Lover was inspired by the long-standing affair between Frieda, Lawrence’s aristocratic German wife, and an Italian peasant who eventually became her third husband; Lawrence’s struggle with sexual impotence; and the circumstances of his and Frieda’s courtship and the early years of their marriage.
Constance Chatterley, married to an aristocrat and mine owner whose war wounds have left him paralyzed and impotent, has an affair with Mellors, a gamekeeper, becomes pregnant, and considers abandoning her husband. One of the seminal class novels of the century, it was considered flagrantly pornographic when first published in 1928. The book also exists in two other, completely different versions: The First Lady Chatterley and John Thomas and Lady Jane. Lawrence considered Lady Chatterley’s Lover to be definitive, and the one least likely to be prosecuted, and although its early banning proved him wrong, a famous obscenity trial some three decades after his death in 1930 finally cleared it for wider dissemination.
About the Author
Daniel Herbert Richards Lawrence was born on September 11, 1885 in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, England. He was the fourth child of Arthur John Lawrence, a miner, and Lydia Beardsall, a former pupil-teacher.
From 1891 to 1989, Lawrence attended Beauvale Board School (now renamed Greasley Beauvale D. H. Lawrence Primary School in his honor). He was also the first pupil to win a county council scholarship to Nottingham High School in Nottingham. He left in 1901 to work as a junior clerk at Haywood’s surgical appliances factory but left after three months due to pneumonia. From 1902 to 1906, he served as a pupil-teacher at the British School, Eastwood. He eventually became a full-time student, receiving a teaching certificate from University College, Nottingham in 1908.
While balancing working and studying, Lawrence begun working on his first poems, short stories, and the draft of novel, Laetitia. It would later on be published as The White Peacock, in 1911, his debut novel. In 1907, he gained his the first recognition for his literary talents when he won a short story competition in the Nottinghamshire Guardian. A year later, he left for London, where he taught at Davidson Road School. Some of his early poems were submitted by Jessie Chambers to Ford Madox Ford, the editor of The English Review. The publication of the short story, Odour of Chrysanthemums (1911), in The English Review opened doors for Lawrence. Heinemann, a London publisher, asked Lawrence for more of his works.
Things started looking up. In 1912, his second novel, The Trespasser was published, succeeded by some of his more popular works: Sons and Lovers (1913), The Rainbow (1915) and Women in Love (1920). He also published a score of short story and poetry collections, travel books, and nonfiction works. Of his works, it was his 1928 novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover that was his most controversial. Following the 1960 publication of the uncensored version of the novel, Penguin Books was sued for violating the Obscene Publication Act of 1959. On November 2, 1960, the jury found Penguin Books “not guilty”.
Lawrence passed away on March 2, 1930 at the Villa Robermond in Vence, France, from complications of tuberculosis.