#236 Lady Chatterly’s Lover

This post is a couple of weeks later than it should have been, which in some ways I suppose is appropriate as I feel I’ve waited a few too many years to actually read this book. This is the third D H Lawrence novel I’ve read – despite his being one of the few cultural figures from my hometown (although I must admit I don’t feel a tremendous amount of cultural affinity for Nottingham) and, perhaps somewhat ironically, all three of them I’ve read away from the city – but since I’m from the other side of Nottingham anyway I’m not sure how much this matters.
The other two books of his that I’ve read, Sons and Lovers and Women in Love, I found to be enjoyable and (in the case of the latter) surprising (I never expected Hermione to hit Rupert over the head with a statuette or whatever it was) and amusing, so I actually approached Lady Chatterley’s Lover with some trepidation, given its reputation as a more “smutty” novel – I thought it may lack the humour and eloquence of the other two. This of course was silly of me: although undoubtedly shocking enough at the time of publication to warrant its reputation as a highly sexed novel, almost a century has made the sexual passages of the novel seem significantly tamer to a modern audience. In the wake of 50 Shades of Grey, I was almost surprised at the lack of sex in the book: which isn’t to say of course that there is none, but that I almost expected it to be chock-full of sex, to the expense of the plot and characters. Happily it wasn’t (having not read it – and, unless it’s added to an updated version of the 1001 books, I’m unlikely to – although it was discussed in one of my ’17th century British Novel’ literature seminars at university – I’m not sure whether 50 Shades of Grey equally conceals an excellent plot and engaging characters under the shock of its sexual content but I’d venture to say it’s doubtful).
The eponymous Lady Chatterley is also not what I expected: this is at least the third time I find myself writing about a novel with a titled female in a book’s title about whom I’ve had erroneous (negative) misconceptions (will this teach me or am I forever to be tainted by Mrs Dalloway ?). Raised liberally, she’s clever and thoughtful and above all a likeable human, with human needs – in contrast to her (admittedly tragically) paralysed husband, from whom she gets her title, who, as the novel progresses, becomes increasingly narrow minded, pathetic and cruel (and perversely regresses to have a weird sexual baby-like relationship with his nurse – I don’t quite dare to add that to my google history to try and find out the proper name for it). Several characters (including her father and said husband) suggest and almost encourage Connie to take a lover – which undermines my preconception that her affair was scandalous and sneaky. It is both of those things for a different reason: namely in her choice of lover (a married but separated groundskeeper who works on her husband’s estate). While I liked and respected Connie for both her idealism and her level headedness I can’t say I was completely taken with her choice: Oliver Mellors often seems sullen and unaffectionate and in the times when he isn’t his mood often seems to alter quickly afterwards – although I suppose this could be a result of his attempting not to get his hopes up by falling in love with a woman of a higher class. I don’t know whether the sex scenes necessarily added to the story a tremendous amount, although since the sexual tension between Connie and Oliver (or at least her feelings towards him) evidently increase tenfold after she seems him (half naked) washing himself, the sexual attraction she feels towards him is obviously important for their relationship and so I suppose their sex does play an integral role in its development. Having been slightly desensitised to its shock appeal by other more modern books and, of course, film and television (except for the part when Mellors starts referring to his penis as “John Thomas” which was so unprecedentedly ridiculous I think it made me blush) I think it’s a shame that Lady Chatterley’s Lover still retains its reputation as a racy novel which could deter some readers when I found it to be such a truly enjoyable, engaging story.

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