Lady Chatterley’s Lover : D.H. Lawrence’s Classic Revisited

At the outset I must indicate that this is not just a review. Lady Chatterley’s Lover was first published in Italy in 1928, and since then it has been reviewed numerous times. Why I chose an old classic instead of a fresh release is because, I believe, that the novel still potentially captivates its readers’ imagination and enthralls them. Here I have attempted to analyse and also vindicate the novel’s subject matter. It was repeatedly attacked by critics for its explicit sexual content and the use of four- letter words, and when it was published in Britain in 1960, the publisher Penguin Books was prosecuted under the Obscene Publication Act. The trial was a major public event and eminent academicians such as E.M Forster, Raymond Williams and Helen Gardner were called on by the court to prove its merit.

The plot goes like this: Constance Chatterley, a young woman belonging to the “well – to – do intelligentsia “, is married to an aristocrat, Sir Clifford Chatterley and lives with him in his estate The Wragby Hall. Clifford is ex- Army who fought in the First World War and is paralysed from waist down. Consequently, Constance or ‘Connie’ and Clifford have no intimate sexual relationship, and so the only meaningful connection that they have is intellectual. Clifford is a modern writer who is ready to prostitute himself to “Success “, the ” bitch goddess “. Connie has to be a silent participant in Clifford’s and his friends’ evening conversations. She soon finds their intellectual discussions unbearable, and enters into a romantic and sexual relationship with Clifford’s gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors. The educated and solitary Mellors had previously served in the Army, and although from the working class, had risen to lieutenancy. He soon becomes disillusioned with the vanity of the upper – classes and returns to his native place and class. As their love deepens, Connie is with Mellors’ child and they both decide to divorce their respective spouses. The novel ends with Mellors’ beautiful letter to Connie articulating his hope for a happy future together.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover is a daring novel as it unashamedly verbalises the exact words for the male and female genitalia,  and unequivocally prioritises sex. However, Lawrence did not write a candyfloss novel aimed at titillating its readers’ imagination,  and it is sad that many critics have refused to look beyond its descriptions of sex. As Edmund Wilson,  New Republic reviewer writes, it is a post-War parable. Mentions of sexual impotency and premature ejaculation in the novel represents the trauma of the First World War which left the modern society dysfunctional.

Marina Ludwig, in her study, points out that one of the central themes of Lady Chatterley’s Lover is ” the juxtaposition between the vitalist and rationalist mental outlooks… “. Mellors emblematizes the sensualist,  vitalist aspect of life which is associated with nature, fertility and life force,  while Clifford represents the ” sterile and inefficient era of the industrial class society ” and arid intellectualism. Before her marriage,  Connie had an affair with a German lad,  and felt at that time that sexual connection is immaterial. Initially, she does not resent Clifford’s impotency either. But gradually she gets tired of living the pretentious ” life of the mind ” and craves something less abstract and more invigorating. In her relationship with Mellors  love comes after sex,  and this is another aspect of the novel that outraged the conservative sensibilities of Lawrence’s society. Connie discovers that vital ‘ tenderness ‘ with Mellors. Sex is shown as a way to resist and challenge the callousness of the modern world,  and restore a sense of wholeness to human life.

Class conflict is also prominent in the novel. In the post- War,  industrial England, class distinctions were beginning to blur,  but the old school Clifford was not ready to accept it. Although the  master of a coal mine,  he is far removed from its realities, and the miners in turn hate him for his snobbishness. He is not so much horrified at the idea of his wife having an affair than at the fact that she is involved with his servant.

Well, I rest my case here and urge the readers of this article to peruse Lawrence’s classic with an open mind. I can guarantee that the book is worth reading.

Dipanwita Ganguly

This is a person who feels that adding a Bio about herself is the most unsavoury thing! Yet, I am a lover of Literature. Easily baffled by the contradictions that I find in myself. Spiritual and try hard to be positive. I have lots of things running through my mind, but when it comes to expression, I suck!

Leave a Reply