By Thea John
Sheffield Hallam student Thea John writes about her reaction to D H Lawrence and Lady Chatterley’s Lover for her contribution to our Ideas into Action project with the university.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover is a book with a storied history. I first came across it as a mention of a play and mutterings of an obscenity trial while I was doing my GCSEs. At the time, my thoughts on banned books were rather teenage, but I found that I had read several stories I considered shocking already and did not need to read another.
The Daily Mail article on the result of the obscenity trial reads thus, ‘DON’T BE PRUDES, JUDGE SAYS’ with a picture of packets of the full copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover that would then be sent to go out to booksellers. It is an interesting thing to consider this very English book was suppressed by the English for thirty years even when it was published in full in other countries.
The book is so very English, tied to a very English point of view, even though Wragby Hall (where much of the story takes place) is a fictional location. It talks about the pits, the town of Tevershall, London, Scotland, Sheffield – it’s a book that makes me feel English for having read it. These are places that I can connect with even after all these years.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover is more than just a story about an upper-class woman and her lower-class lover. Though it is that, it also served to me if no one else, as a window into history. I must admit I did not think all that highly of the book at the beginning. It was not a writing style I was accustomed to and it was not language I was accustomed to. It was a difficult read for me to the point that I had to find an audiobook to get used to it. But once you get past more archaic language and structure it is quite an insightful piece of literature.
It is quite worth it.
Themes that I found within included, capitalism, the class divide, nationalism, feminism, environmentalism, and of course sexuality. I devoted most of my research to be around the obscenity trial and I had forgotten Lawrence as a person except what I believe of him through this book – a very thoughtful man with many thoughts on women, sex, men and classism. I took him for another middle class, but Siegal puts it best, ‘collaboration with the class enemy’ is what has gotten him to this point. He sounds exactly as though he is the one looking down on the working class and I rather thought him to be projecting himself into this work through the cuckold that is Lady Chatterley’s husband, Clifford.
Clifford’s character was crippled and made impotent by the first world war. He is about as much of an antagonist in this as he is a victim to Connie, Lady Chatterley’s, affairs. He speaks to her after her first affair about their marriage and his love for her. He encourages her to have a child, even if it won’t be his, for Wragby, to protect this place that they both love. Lawrence writes here of an asexual ideal, a sexless marriage that is not a loveless one, but from the perspective of Connie it is a terrifying trap.
An article from Doris Lessing about Lawrence formed the base of my thoughts on the Clifford-Lawrence connection. She writes about the anti-war message, but I focussed on the part where Lawrence was apparently dying of TB as he finished Lady Chatterley’s Lover and that his own wife was off having an affair. Yet viewed through his own writing I must assume he didn’t begrudge her this, he understood. The sexless marriage was not something his protagonist could abide and she suffered for it, even when she was getting what she wanted.
Though in the 1930s I can understand the scandalous nature of this book, I can’t quite imagine it in the 60s. I read through the interviews and they seem to be aligned to my own thoughts; from the perspective of nowadays, this book is not a shocker. It is about as obscene as any number of things that I have read on Twitter this week; not counting for length or skilled prose of course. The thought of hiding the book away as I read it had not even crossed my mind until I read Betty R’s interview.
It’s a curious meeting of the now and the past. The talk of divorce and the car journeys they take (to Sheffield). But then, ‘the bitch-goddess Success’ and I remember whose work I am reading. Though I do also feel that way about success, reading it after a paragraph about the English intelligentsia is very jarring.
And that is when Mellors is introduced. Mellors is her Lover. The Lover. At first just another man to look at Connie and feel nothing more than disdain, I disliked him. I felt that Connie deserved someone to desire her how she wished to be – even if that was Michealis- rather than deal with another man who cared nothing for her. But she grows to desire him, first in the intrigue of someone new and then physically after seeing him bathing. I still dislike Mellors, I have grown close to the character of Connie after being party to her thoughts and emotions. Her second affair is longer and more passionate. But I feel that that is all it is. It is all sexual passion rather than love and sex together. I have not read any more of Lawrence’s works, so this is definitely presumptuous, but his own feelings on sex and relationships must be within this. The viewpoint being Connie’s I must assume that Lawrence himself felt or observed someone who felt they needed sexual contact to live their lives to the fullest. Connie and Clifford could live their sexless marriage together, but Lawrence declares they cannot. Clifford would not abide a man out of his own class, or any man at all, in truth even as he knows what Connie truly desires.