It always amazes me how prudish our world used to be. And Europe no less! Walk into any convenience store or newsstand in Berlin and the place is plastered with celebrities' tits on the front covers of every daily rag-mag: "Duchess of Cambridge Royal Knockers!" -- "Mme Bloom in her Bloomers!" -- "Ms. Fizziwits's tits!" etc. etc. Flashback fifty years and they're all shrieking over a D.H. Lawrence book saying their Hail Marys in the libraries. It's amazing the world we live in, how very quickly it changes and how quickly it has changed. It's hard for me to even imagine Lady Chatterley's Lover
as a smutty novel, and anyway the sex is quite bad; to imagine this being shuffled under tables at Tupperware parties and read sub rosa seems to me ridiculous, I can't even imagine how Faulk's Birdsong
would be receive: now that had some thinly veiled sexual metaphors! (I cringe whenever I read "his member" or "her flesh" - really folks? not any better, just say penis/vagina for chrissakes!) But for all the barechested beachers tanning their tits in the sun, I suppose this book has it's merits, maybe not as smut, but as a beautiful mix of New World ugliness and Old World romanticism.
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.
Lawrence is so pained by industrialism, by change, and his disgust with his changed world is very clear in the novel. It seems that more than anything, Lady Chatterley's Lover
is an attempt to live, to write, in a sky-fallen world: to reconcile the Old World aestetics with the New World horror, ugliness, and smog. Connie is naive, she has romantic notions of how life and love should be, but she is married to a man who is coldly academic, and completely impotent in fulfilling her sexual needs. Clifford, paralyzed from the waist down is a sort of representation of the Old World, he is pure in his academic endeavors, he is a bit of a snob, hosting little philosophical parties with his friends where they discuss Proust and society, metaphysics and human liberties, but the War has made the world literally a challenge for him. The New World is not one he can appreciate, not one he can walk around in or take in. Connie on the other hand is somewhat outside of time, she is younger than Clifford and so is adapted to the ugliness and lost-innocence of the world around her, but her illusions are of the previous era. She is torn between the old-time conventions which hold her responsible to her husband and her new-born sexual freedom which she finds kindled in Mellors, the groundskeeper.
Though the story can be a bit dull, and there is a noticable tension between the idyllic prose and the intermittent polemics about industrialization, the characterization of Connie and the beauty of Lawrence's writing are reason enough to read Lady Chatterley's Lover
. Connie, while maybe in imperfect portrayal of a proto-feminist woman, is a complex portrayal of a person: someone with a real history, real insecurities and worries and conflicted ideas and premises, experiences which clash with her learnings, real problems and a real confusion of her future. She is not some one you are likely to like, nor some one you may be likely to sympathize with, but you will be able to understand her. In the trifecta of famous infidels (the present novel, Tolstoy's Anna Karenina
, and Flaubert's Madame Bovary), Lawrence's novel is the weakest portrayal of the burdens, the jealousies, the conflictions and worries of marital transgressions: but these are not the primary concerns for Lawrence, nor the primary themes of the novel. Lady Chatterley's Lover
is not primarily a romance novel, but a society novel. It is a championing clarion of the old days, the days of country estates and castle grounds, of kings and queens, and fields of tussocked grass and wildflowers, of dukedoms and princedoms, and love-at-first-sight, and innocence and purity. It is the elegy of time gone by, and the wary first step into a new era. And anyway, Fifty Shades of Grey
has nothing on this tralatitious sexual imagery:
Then as he began to move, in the sudden helpless orgasm, there awoke in her new strange thrills rippling inside her. Rippling, rippling, rippling, like a flapping overlapping of soft flames, soft as feathers, running to points of brilliance, exquisite and melting her all molten inside. It was like bells rippling up and up to a culmination. She lay unconscious of the wild little cries she uttered at the last.