@tulipbooks, instagram

It was a month ago when I first picked up D.H.Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Given its reputation for an unabashed and unflinching approach to sexual relationships, and the fact that it was censored for three decades in the US, I started the book with expectations of a wild and forbidden romance.

Upon reading the novel, then, I was rather surprised to find that the majority of the narrative consists of stasis. Time passes at a frustratingly slow pace, and nothing really changes. In place of detailed passages of profound passion, an overwhelming sense of flattened weariness characterises the text. Admittedly, I should probably have guessed this from the very first paragraph: ‘Ours is essentially a tragic age,’ Lawrence poignantly writes- but ‘We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.’ 

Growing up in a Nottingham mining community, Lawrence was no stranger to financial difficulties, nor to the exploitation at the heart of industrialisation. Lady Chatterley’s home Wragby Hall is situated next to a mining district, which her husband Clifford owns. Lady Chatterley (more commonly referred to as Connie) finds herself repulsed by and alienated from the world of the working classes, as is made clear on her visit to neighbouring Tevershall. ‘It was as if dismalness had soaked through everything', Connie observes, before labelling its inhabitants ‘half-corpses’ living in an ‘under world’ and noting the ‘grey, gritty hopelessness as it all’.

On reading these descriptions, I felt a wave of intense discomfort- for here is an upper class woman passing severe judgement on those who have been dealt the lesser card in life. It all seems quite unjust. Connie’s descriptions throughout the novel are often mechanical, emotionless and drab so that at points it even  feels as though Lawrence strips her of her humanity. She observes, but does not participate; and often it is as though feelings happen to her, as though she is an outsider to her own mind and body. During Connie’s affair, she shudders with dread at the thought of producing a son with a man who has grown up in Tevershall.

"Upon reading the novel, then, I was rather surprised to find that the majority of the narrative consists of stasis"

The reader is compelled to share in the sheer misery of such scenes, which reflect both upon Connie’s social position and the author’s own opinions. In an essay written in 1929, Lawrence states that ‘it was ugliness which betrayed the spirit of man… the condemning of the workers to ugliness, ugliness, ugliness.’ It is evident that Lawrence himself was outraged by the state of industrialisation and its rampant, ever-growing inequalities. One senses that he speaks through Connie to express his abject horror at the state of affairs. More than romance, I think that the novel is really a tale about loss and lamentation of a world that could have been, but was corrupted by a soulless age.

The romance of the novel (if we can call it that)  contains similarly disturbing elements. I couldn’t help but feel that the relationship which developed between Connie and Mr Mellors (the gamekeeper) was both unhealthy and dangerous. For one thing, their attraction appears to be purely physical, and often almost violent. D.Trotter writes that ‘the ancient woods in which Connie and Mellors achieve consummation’ is often seen as ‘representing a world not merely pre-industrial, but primeval’ so that their romance feels a world apart from our own - or at least the glossy ones we ordinarily see in films and romance literature. Rather than being somehow ‘primeval,’ though, I find their romance to be simply incomplete. 

One passage in particular has remained with me from the novel to illuminate the nature of their romance. It occurs when Connie feels that there is ‘nothing’ between her and her husband anymore, who is a war veteran and also impotent. He suggests that Connie conceive through another man, a ‘ghastly burden’ in her eyes. After his suggestion, feeling heavy and trapped in a cheerless marriage, she flees to the woods that become her refuge throughout the novel. 

One night, feeling as though she were going ‘blank and insane’ with Clifford, Connie ‘escaped after tea'. She walks to the hut where Mellors is working and feeds the hens (a habit of hers). Noticing that Connie is crying, Mellors finds himself comforting her in a ‘blind instinctive caress'. In the meantime, Connie is ‘motionless’ - he instructs her to lie down and she does so with a ‘queer obedience'. As for the sexual act itself, Connie lays ‘quite still, in a sort of sleep… He was a strange man to her, she did not know him'.

"Between them is ‘sheer, unspeakable impotent hate’"

This is not a loving encounter at all. Connie comes across as vulnerable and helpless, and instead of fervent passion, the whole interaction has an emptiness to it. Connie feels just as alone after it as she did before, even though the interaction had ‘lifted a great cloud from her and given her peace'. Beyond the whole passive receptivity to it all, their lack of conversation also made me uneasy. More than anything, Connie needed a friend to confide in, and I remain unsure that Mellors provided her with this.

In the end, Clifford finds out about the affair. Connie is expecting a baby with Mellors, and wants a divorce. Naturally, Clifford is unimpressed, seemingly unaware of the direction their marriage has been heading in for some time. Or if not unaware, then certainly deliberately dismissive of its deterioration. Between them is ‘sheer, unspeakable impotent hate’, whilst Clifford makes exclamations about the ‘beastly lowness of women'. Clifford then uses the powers of patriarchy to stop any attempts at divorce for the time being. It is difficult to feel sorry about the marriage breaking down when readers are provided with few examples of it containing any real tenderness or intimacy.


Mountain View

Getting to know The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The novel concludes with a letter from Mellors to Connie- the former having begun a new life farming, and the latter no longer residing in Wragby Hall. After details of his work and mining companions who are ‘dead to life', and predicting ‘a bad time coming', Mellors discusses his planned reunion with Connie. ‘I believe in the little flame between us', he says- ‘we fucked a flame into being'.

Honestly, I still do not know what exactly to make of this novel. In a way, I appreciate Lawrence’s willingness to discuss the mundane, repetitive, almost mechanical motions of everyday life: it’s not all high-speed drama, after all. And at points I can nearly appreciate the strange relationship between Connie and Mellors.

However, I was left feeling enormously unsatisfied. I just can’t bring myself to find love between the two or anything like it. The novel is one of absences, of vacuous spaces, of time to fill, of emotions yet to feel. And that’s just it- I can’t bring myself to feel anything distinctly about Lady Chatterley’s Lover yet. I’m unsure that I ever will.