Introduction: Lady Chatterley’s Lover by DH Lawrence
In a quest to understand how books relate to life and the subsequent lessons they teach, I have been working my way through the classics. The books in my reading pile are frequently on “lists” of must-read books. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by DH Lawrence is one of the 50 books mentioned in Books that Changed the World: The 50 Most Influential Book in Human History by Andrew Taylor.
Lawrence completed Lady Chatterley’s Lover in 1926, and spent two years trying to get it published. He subsequently printed it privately in Florence in 1928 two years before his death. Lawrence was already an established writer having already written Sons and Lover, Women in Love, among other books, so why did it take so long, and why was it so difficult to publish Lady Chatterley’s Lover?
Prospective publishers were scared to be prosecuted under obscenity laws.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover was banned in the US and Britain for over 30 years for being obscene – the ban lifted 1959 and 1960 respectively in each country. There is a lot of sexual activity and liberal use of the four letter word in the book. Even by today’s standard, Lady Chatterley’s Lover is somewhat vulgar. Imagine what it would be like in the 1920s for a book to have such explicit sexual content?
Though there is a lot of sexual activity in the book, a major theme is social class – the haves versus the have-nots. The lead characters are Constance Chatterley, her husband Sir Clifford Chatterley, a landowner, and the husband’s gamekeeper Oliver Mellors.
The Story: Lady Chatterley’s Lover by DH Lawrence
Shortly after Connie married Clifford, he sustained serious injuries in World War I, was confined to a wheelchair and left sexually impotent. Connie always wanted a child, and now it was impossible because of her husband’s newfound situation. She supports him, helps him to write his books and is the perfect hostess to the many people in “their class” who visits them. There is a lot of discourse going on between Clifford and his friends when they visit, with Connie in the background silently sewing and taking in the conversations.
Depending on Clifford’s mental state he would suggest to Connie to have an affair to have a child, but he tells her he wouldn’t want to know about it. He doesn’t mind is she has a child for another man, he would raise it as if it was his own, but he doesn’t want the child to be more important to Connie than he was. Knowing that Clifford was paralyzed, Connie’s father also suggested that she have an affair, get herself a beau, but the unspoken understanding is that it be with someone within her own class.
Connie misses the intimacy between partners. She gets the opportunity to have her first affair with Michaelis, a playwright Clifford often invites to his estate to discuss writing. Clifford wants to learn from Michaelis, but he doesn’t like him because Michaelis wasn’t born into wealth, he acquired success through his writing. They are from two different social classes. The brief affair between Connie and Michalelis turns out to be quite unsatisfying.
“Connie always had a foreboding of the hopelessness of her affair with Mick, as people called him. Yet other men seemed to mean nothing to her. She was attached to Clifford. He wanted a good deal of her life and she gave it to him. But she wanted a good deal from the life of a man, and this Clifford did not give her, could not.”
Most of Lady Chatterley’s Lover is centered on Connie’s affair with the gamekeeper Oliver Mellors. She becomes pregnant by him. In the novel you see their love blossoming. They are reckless, especially Connie, when it comes to carving out time to be together, she sneaks out all hours of the night. While her relationship with Oliver deepens, she goes through a process of self-discovery and realizes that she doesn’t love or even like Clifford.
There are always consequences for our actions.
Oliver Mellors is quite intelligent and he foresees what’s going to happen. There is going to be a fallout from the ill-advised affair. Fortunately for Connie, if she leaves Clifford, financially she’ll be okay because she has access to money her mother left her in trust. And Clifford cannot access those funds. Connie’s money gives her more choices as to what options she has for her future. She is prepared to give up her “Lady” title.
Oliver knows he will lose his job when the affair comes to light. He wonders what will become of him. He has his pride, and as a man, he knows what his role is in society. He doesn’t want Connie to take care of him. He doesn’t want to be a “kept” man, he has his self-respect.
Clifford is not a likable character, he is surly and contemptuous of anyone not of his social class. Connie is very different about social class and sees people as people, but she is also flawed as well. When Connie discovers she is pregnant, she is happy but weaves a web of deceit about who the father of the child is to get a divorce from Clifford. She negotiates with a friend from her own social standing to say that he is the father of her unborn child. Clifford doesn’t believe the tale that Connie spins.
All the sordid details of the affair finally come out. The book ends with Clifford refusing to give Connie a divorce, but she is hopeful that one day she will get it. Oliver is waiting for a divorce from his previously estranged wife Bertha, who tried to return into his life after she received the divorce papers. Oliver and Connie are temporarily living apart, but it’s very likely that they will be together very shortly. In the mean time he is learning all he can about farming because Connie is going to purchase a farm and he will work it.
I didn’t like Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence and didn’t find the characters endearing. Despite that, you could see the characters Connie and Oliver growing, which is very important. It’s admirable what they risked for love, to be together. There are also many lessons that we can learn from the book. As I got into the book and really digested it, I asked:
Questions Worth Asking: Lady Chatterley’s Lover by DH Lawrence
- When Clifford became paralyzed and sexually impotent, should he have given Connie a way out of their marriage?
- Should people remain in a loveless marriage because they made a vow?
- Is honesty always the best policy? Or are their times when it’s okay to fib?
- Is social class still a problem today? Are you judged because of your economic situation?
- Would you risk it all for love?
Conclusion: Lady Chatterley’s Lover by DH Lawrence
Though some may consider Lady Chatterley’s Lover to be lewd, I recommend it because it raises our awareness and forces us to confront the prejudices we may harbor toward those who are very different from ourselves.
Reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover by DH Lawrence also showed me that even though I do not enjoy a book, I can still appreciate and recognize what it has to offer.
DH Lawrence Books
The Complete Poems of D. H. Lawrence (Wordsworth Poetry Library)Selected Stories (Lawrence, D. H.) (Penguin Classics)The Complete Works of D. H. LawrenceSons and Lovers (The Penguin English Library)Apocalypse (Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics)The RainbowD. H. Lawrence and Italy: Sketches from Etruscan Places, Sea and Sardinia, Twilight in Italy (Penguin Classics)Women In Love: By D. H. Lawrence – IllustratedLady Chatterley’s Lover (Bantam Classics)D.H. Lawrence: A BiographyCollected Works of D. H. Lawrence (Delphi Classics)The Fox; the Captain’s Doll; the Ladybird (Penguin Classics)The Woman Who Rode Away; St. Mawr; the Princess (Penguin Classics)Etruscan Places: Travels Through Forgotten Italy (Tauris Parke Paperbacks)Lawrence: Complete Short Stories: Volume 2 (A Viking compass book, C96)Women in Love: Special Annotated Edition