Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence

Lady Chatterley, the quintessential cheater, more notorious a tragic figure even than Madame Bovary, is at the center of a story that both rouses and irritates me. Written in a time when sex was for young people and married couples and intellectualism ran wild, Lady C, as the author was wont to call it, told a story of romantic love that heals and inspires.

Lady Chatterley has four lovers altogether. One is of her youth; young, eager, appreciative, but set apart from the care and devotion that often grows from carnal engagements. He and she teach each other of sex separate from thoughtful care, though it does sound like an adventure and if she had had the chance she might have found love without heartache first. Her second lover is her husband. They have a short time together before he goes to fight in the Great War and when he comes back he is paralyzed below the waist. For the next ten years, she lives with him and cares for him, but his overly cerebral analysis and his empty but popular writings slowly, slowly drive her towards the arms of a young playwright, her third lover. He is young and frantic, passionate with a baseline of bitter resentment. He once angrily scolds her for bringing herself to orgasm, petulantly whining that no woman ever came at the same time he did (and not surprising, with only two minutes to work with). Her third lover is the woodsman, the gamekeeper her husband hired without care but casually, thinking of the decision as his hereditary right to the lives of the lower classes. Finally, Lady Chatterley discovers a man of endurance and variety that brings her the kind of long-term satisfaction a thoroughly fucked woman possesses.

Through each adventure, the author uses monologue and long form prose to outline his own ideals. Monologues delivered by windy intellectuals make it clear that Lawrence doesn’t believe in life without sex because their long discourses praising the mental life as superior to the physical are punctuated by Lady Chatterly’s internal skepticism. Long form prose, very poetic and descriptive but with a strange habit of repetition, illustrate the high esteem Lawrence holds the feminine and sensual sex. I can see why, in 1928, this book was considered pornographic: Lawrence uses strong and transparent language to describe our Lady’s various lovemakings and hold up sexual passion as a form of healing. To me, now, in my circumstance and in today’s sexual climate, I felt only moments of surprise as opposed to the appall and disgust that must have followed in the postwar, puritanical social climate.

The books ends without really ending so we don’t know what happens to the Lady but there are some interesting things that jumped out at me. The irritating one is that it’s obviously written by a man who has no idea what being a woman is like and failed to consult any in the writing of this novel. He often refers to ‘her woman’s instinct’ and ‘her womanly senses’ and all sorts of things that are universal to humans but are written as the sole property of women. I found my eyes rolling regularly as I came across silly passages like that where he wrote her behavior as if it’s just what women do and she as a person had nothing to do with it or as if women have some kind of special powers or some foolishness. It felt to me as if I were reading what someone wished were true and in that way it very much was a romance novel.

I also noticed that the Lady’s husband was incredibly progressive, granting her license to take discreet lovers and even to have a child by someone since he was unable to. I find his actions admirable, if the reasoning behind them a little flimsy. He and his intellectual friends don’t value the pleasures of the flesh and so he doesn’t realize what she is missing. My partner has noticed that if we go longer than four or five days without sex, I get emotional, irrational, and weepy. She went nearly ten years! and he didn’t even notice. Of course he allows her her affairs, not because he realizes how important it is but because he doesn’t believe it important at all. What a dope.

The final take-away, and one that I am pleased with, is the idea that sexual passion is important for our emotional and even physical health. In her years between the playwright and the woodsman, she begins to waste away, lose her appetite, become listless and gray, and generally suffer neglect and ennui. Her health recovers rapidly as she moves into her affair and it sounds like the sex is great, if a little romanticized. While fanciful in this story, the idea that sexual health is important to overall health is one I heartily stand by. I like to joke that I’m doing my part to prevent prostate cancer by ensuring regular activity, and getting your heart rate up a bit isn’t a bad thing 😉

Overall, I found it sweet in some ways, silly and overly poetic in others, and not as much a pleasure to read as the Outlander novels I also took with me. I would be curious to read a modern rewrite, using more common language and pacing more evenly. While I didn’t respond with any strong emotions, I will say that the mild romantic reaction it did provoke was well timed. Reading it with the sun and later the stars drifting overhead, the twitter of birds in the trees and the occasional swish of a single car on the lonely road the only reminder of civilization, my inclination towards amour rose luxuriously. Reading about how a sexual connection had the power to energize, educate, demoralize, please, or anger, and in explicit, sometimes even playful terms I was grateful for the proximity of a willing partner and the privacy of a closed door. I can see why, when video based pornography and more explicit writings weren’t available, this book titillated and aroused many of its readers in a relatively healthy and comfortable way.