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Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence

with 14 comments

I started this book with curiosity, knowing that it had been extremely controversial–and banned, in places–in it’s time (the late 1920’s) due to Lawrence’s explicit descriptions of sex. After the first 50 pages, I almost put it down. My interest was spiked with the introduction of, ahem, Lady Chatterley’s lover, but not by much, and after finishing it, I still kind of wish I had just put it down.

After a short honeymoon, Clifford Chatterley goes off to fight in WW1 and comes home shortly thereafter paralyzed from the waist down. This is, of course, terribly depressing. He and his wife Connie make do for a while, living in intellectual and domestic intimacy and relative solitude. But over time, Connie gets tired of the “life of the mind”, of her husbands’ musings about industry and impersonal philosophy. She comes to crave something new, something carnal, something she can’t quite verbalize…and starts sleeping with the gamekeeper. Here, I thought, we were starting to get somewhere. But no! The affair was no less depressing to me than the suffocating life Connie led before it started!

So here was my biggest problem with the book: the whole thing is about sex, but the sex that Connie has with Mellors, the gamekeeper, is so unsexy. I mean, to me, anyway. Obviously I can only speak for myself here. But really, she practically sleeps through their entire first encounter. She “resigns” herself to him, because she is so tired and sad, and only seems to enjoy herself like, less than half the time, and cries a lot. It seems like the only sex they have is missionary-position intercourse in which she just lies there not moving, until Mellors “comes to crisis”. She doesn’t want to keep him going afterward, because of a previous jerky lover who complained about having to do it. Mellors is perfectly happy with this arrangement, and about halfway through the book even says out loud that he doesn’t like having sex with women who orgasm before he does, or after, either. His ideal woman would orgasm exactly at the same time as he does, and that’s that, which begs the question of why he bothers sleeping with women at all.

Of course, I know that such sexist and limiting sexual attitudes and practices were standard when this was written, and arguably still are to a large extent. But isn’t this book supposed to be about a sexual awakening? Aren’t sexual awakenings supposed to be fulfilling? I know that Connie does suddenly feel wonderful about the sex they have toward the end of the book, but I don’t really understand why or how she came to feel that way, as nothing really seemed to change between her and Mellors. Maybe all of this could have remained interesting had there been some other sort of chemistry between the two of them, but I wasn’t attuned to any. Their attraction seemed like a mild distraction from everyday life built up completely in their minds at best, but certainly not passionate or real in the way I think it was supposed to be. It didn’t have a whiff of romance to me at all, and it wasn’t enough for me that it was supposed to be huge improvement for Connie just because it wasn’t her life with Clifford. Their relationship was so unappealing! And, again, this was the ENTIRE BOOK. So you can see why it didn’t work for me.

I guess it might be a worthwhile read just to see what it was that could stir up such a fuss back in the day, if that’s your interest. The theme of industrialization and intellectualism vs. emotion and physicality was interesting, and I liked the way it was touched upon throughout the story. There were also some interesting implications about class, since the Chatterley’s are wealthy aristocrats and Mellors is a “commoner”, but my interest in these things was obscured by my upset over all the bad sex.

Has any one else read this? What did you think of it?

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Written by Emily Jane

November 29, 2010 at 5:48 am

14 Responses

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  1. I agree that the sex here is not the stuff of romance novels, but that’s actually kind of a positive, in my opinion. I like that sex alone doesn’t solve any of Connie’s or Mellors’s problems, and often the sex between them isn’t all that great. The power in their relationship comes from interrogating what it is they actually WANT – does Connie want to stay in the anaesthetized and mechanized upper-class environment she has with Clifford, or is it worth it to her to give that up in order to reconnect with the natural world and some kind of essential humanity with Mellors? And Mellors – he’s been living strategically cut off from human society, and he has to decide whether emotional connection with Connie is worth the trouble. I like that these aren’t foregone conclusions – Lawrence lets you see the benefit of both sets of worlds they’re giving up.

    I mean, don’t get me wrong, I have issues with the book as well (the assumption that living in the woods, dancing in the rain and wearing red pants will somehow counteract the soul-crushing effects of industrial capitalism is silly, and Mellors’s/Lawrence’s aversion to female masturbation is troubling), but I actually really like its un-romantic treatment of sex and sexuality. Sex ends up being a positive force in the book, but not because both parties just run out and get swept away by passion. They have to really work at making a relationship together and trusting each other/becoming invested in each other to the point where sex works between them.

    Emily

    November 29, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    • That’s a good point, Emily, that their relationship is mostly about figuring out what they want given their different realities. And I do think that un-romantic treatment of sex and sexuality, and relationships you have to grow into, are realistic and important and interesting themes for exploration in general. I just didn’t really get into it somehow in this particular situation, with Connie and Mellors–perhaps in part due to my own misinformed expectations about the book, perhaps because I just didn’t really like either of them so felt detached and ambivalent about their development.

      In any case, thanks for sharing your interpretation! It gives me a little more to think about.

      Emily Jane

      November 30, 2010 at 12:41 am

      • No, that’s completely fair – I actually don’t like either of them that much either, and the whole “incorporating sex into narrative in a natural-seeming way” thing has been done a lot better since 1928; I just appreciate that Lawrence was paving the way.

        Emily

        November 30, 2010 at 2:52 am

  2. Eh, doesn’t sound super interesting to me. Thanks for the warning 🙂

    Amy

    November 29, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    • Well, take it with a grain of salt, of course, but you’re welcome, in any case!

      Emily Jane

      November 30, 2010 at 2:25 am

  3. I feel like I should read this (or some other DH Lawrence book), but this one, at least, sounds a little bit sick-making in spots. I read something somewhere that referred to them braiding flowers into each other’s pubic hair which I AM SURE was a joke, but still, I feel like I’d be thinking of that all the time and snickering and not able to take it seriously.

    Jenny

    November 30, 2010 at 2:21 am

    • …it’s not a joke. That totally does happen. That was actually a pretty neutral part for me though, haha.

      Emily Jane

      November 30, 2010 at 2:24 am

  4. This landed on my TBR recently and I’ve been afraid to pick it up because I was afraid to feel like you did (“comes to crisis”, really?!). It’s portrayed as ground-breaking, but I could just see the repression seeping through.

    From what you described the innovation was more about explicitness and less about sexual awareness and fulfillment. Did it feel “dated”?

    Alex

    November 30, 2010 at 10:38 am

    • Yeah, that’s a good way of putting it. At least that’s how I thought it came across. It did feel dated to me, but as Emily said, someone had to pave the way 🙂

      Emily Jane

      November 30, 2010 at 3:30 pm

  5. You know, I picked this one up expecting to hate it, and then I didn’t. I definitely found Mellors’ attitude towards women’s orgasms sickening from my modern-day perspective, but I guess I read it as a novel of its time. I loved the landscape imagery bits, and while Connie & Mellor both drove me crazy, the larger issues of having to figure out what you really want from life and how to get it resonated with me.

    Eva

    November 30, 2010 at 8:16 pm

  6. This book definitely requires a pre-modern reading. Sounds like you went in with the right mindset, I’m glad that you got something out of it Eva!

    Emily Jane

    November 30, 2010 at 9:30 pm

  7. I ewad this years ago and only got half way through! I found it so so boring. I could see why it was controversal in its day but the boring sex scenes and the boring plot in general meant that I struggled through.

    Jessica

    December 3, 2010 at 9:41 am

  8. I just read and reviewed this one myself –
    http://mizparker.wordpress.com/2011/04/15/lady-chatterleys-lover/

    You touched on a point that I couldn’t really put into words – and you’re exactly right. The sex was unsexy. I could have liked it better if he was teaching her to enjoy sex, and she seemed to arrive at that destination anyway, but through no help from him. I liked to think that she liked him so well because he challenged her. It certainly wasn’t his described prowess in the sack.

    Miz Parker

    April 15, 2011 at 6:41 pm


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