Saturday, May 23, 2009

Lady Chatterley's Lover

Lawrence, D.H. 1928. Lady Chatterley's Lover.

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.

According to what I've read on the internet, though it was written in 1928, this was one was deemed 'too smutty' to be published (at least widely published) until the 1960s. And even then, it took some trials to do it. Is it obscene? Is it literature? Is it both? Can a book legitimately be both? No doubt, it was shocking then. But is it still 'shocking' now?

I didn't know quite what to expect from this one. It doesn't start off horribly shocking. It starts off rather beautifully. Smooth and beautiful. Poetic. It feels like truth. Even if you disagree with the philosophy in general, it still feels true. Words have a way of doing that. That's why words are often considered dangerous. The reader is introduced to Constance "Connie" Chatterley, the wife of a paralyzed war veteran, Clifford Chatterley. The two are married. The two are seemingly wealthy. Better off than most in any event. He is a nobleman, a "lord" and by marriage that makes Connie a "lady." But she doesn't feel comfortable with that title and the responsibilities of being 'above' everyone else. Her wealth and position are a burden, little else, to her.

In a way, Lady Chatterley's Lover asks the question, can "modern" men and women be happy? What does it mean to be happy? What does it mean to be successful? What does it mean to really live? Is life really truly about the earning and spending of money? Is the quality of life really and truly measured by how much stuff you have? Is money itself evil? Is industry and technology evil?

In regards to happiness, the novel addresses the issue of love and sex and successful careers in terms of 'making' people 'happy.' Clifford, since the accident, throws himself into trying to be "successful." At first this success is all about fame and acclaim. He wants to write. He wants to be heard. He wants to be known. He wants people to see him as a success. When this proves unsatisfying, he turns to industry. He turns to being a business man. For Clifford, this means getting involved in the coaling industry. The pits and mines and dealing with the working class. Connie, on the other hand, throws herself into several things. At first thinking that if she can find love on an intellectual level she'll be happy...then thinking if she can find satisfaction on the physical level...then thinking if she could only have a child to love and nurture...and so forth. Connie is always changing the definitions of what it takes for her to be happy and satisfied with her life. Early in the book, she thinks that if she can intellectually love her husband but find some relief with another man (she does have needs after all) then all will be well. But as Clifford changes as well, she realizes she doesn't want anything at all from him. The less she has to do with her husband, the less her life is connected with his the better.

Oliver Mellors, the lover of Lady Chatterley and the game-keeper of Lord Chatterley, is an interesting character. (Probably the most interesting character in the entire novel.) His dialect makes him a bit hard to understand, for one thing, and his personality is more abrasive than the others in a way. He's more tell-it-like-it-is than the rest. In a way, he's tender, but in other ways he's very rough around the edges. Very gruff. And he's definitely got a grudge against the world, though in all honesty all the characters seem to have a grudge against the world. Mellors is definitely cynical about love and marriage and committing to one woman. And he's not really a family man either. It's not that he's a heart-breaker necessarily. He's not a player in that way. It's more he's a guy who's up front that he wants sex, needs sex, loves sex. And he's not going to put up with a woman who doesn't share that. That is one reason why his marriage didn't work out right.

The novel isn't just about this adulterous affair. A novel that stretches the limits in what you can talk about in that regards. Far from it. It's about social class, economics, philosophy, gender differences, society, you know, meaning of life type stuff. Here are two quotes about money which I think just scream relevance:

"Anyhow, nobody knows what should be done in spite of all the talk, the young ones get mad because they've no money to spend. Their whole life depends on spending money, and now they've got none to spend. That's our civilization and our education: bring up the masses to depend entirely on spending money, and then the money gives out." (268)

"If you could only tell them that living and spending isn't the same thing! But it's no good. If only they were educated to LIVE instead of earn and spend, they could manage very happily on twenty-five shillings." (268)
The novel has its sections where it lays out an argument against this 'modern' life. This philosophy of spend, spend, spend. A philosophy of I want it, I deserve it, I need it...NOW! So it was refreshing to see the novel in that light. It was also weird, in a way, to see the juxtaposition of reason and intellect versus animal instinct (if it feels good do it--and keep doing it) battle it out to see which way makes a person happiest.

Have you read this one? What did you think? Do you think it too pornographic to be literature? Do you think it is just as shocking today as when it was first written? What did you think about that ending?

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Amy said...

I have not read this one but it sounds really really interesting. I may have to pick it up sometime when I'm not feeling totally overwhelmed so that I can enjoy it more.

Carrie K. said...

I did read this one - and found it very well-written and thought-provoking. While it was more explicit than other novels of the time, I didn't find it "pornographic."

Ana S. said...

I loved the ending. It was so tender. Somehow I was convinced it would end on a bitter note, and I was so glad it didn't. It wouldn't have had the same power if it had.

I was actually surprised that it wasn't more explicit. I mean, I completely understand why it was shocking back then, in the wake of the Victorian era, but it's not all that graphic by today's standards, I don't think.

Anonymous said...

I read Lady Chatterley's Lover a few weeks ago myself and had a very similar reaction to it. I didn't expect the case against materialism. Very nice review. Here is mine:

Molly said...

I have not read this one, although it has been sitting on my bookshelf for a couple of years now. My husband read it and did not consider it pornographic by 2009 standards.

Your review was excellent!

susan said...

Read this in college. Loved it then. One of those rare books, I'd read again. It is beautifully written. Thanks for the review.

Zibilee said...

I read this ages ago, and felt that though it may have been heady for it's time, it was very subdued when it came to the sexual aspects in the story. I remember much of it revolving around other topics aside from sex, though it is hard to put a finger on it all now. I ended up really liking the book, though and really thought the language was wonderful. Great review! You really encapsulated it better than I ever could have.

Linda said...

Fabulous review. I have SONS AND LOVERS on my list, but maybe I'll add this as well - you make me want to read it. Peace, Linda