Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence
Clifford Chatterley returns from the First World War as an invalid. Constance nurses him and tries to be the dutiful wife but begins to feel oppresses by their childless marriage and isolated life. Partly encouraged by Clifford to seek a lover, she embarks on a passionate affair with the gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors. Through their liaison Lawrence explores the complications of sex, love and class.
I decided to take the plunge and read Lady Chatterley’s Lover for the very first time, as part of the Around The Stacks In How Many Ways genre book challenge, as a representation of the romance genre. However, after a few of my colleagues expressed interest in reading it as well, we decided to do it as a little booksellers book group, and soon most of the staff were on board and reading it too! We all met up last Friday to discuss it and there were certainly some interesting opinions voiced, which I will go into later.
In 1960 Penguin Books were prosecuted when they tried to publish Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and if anything this has only brought more people to be intrigued by it. Several people in our book group said that they picked it up in their teens because they knew it had been banned, and they wanted to see what the fuss was about. I, personally, have never felt all that compelled to read it before, and I think that’s probably due to my slight dislike of classics on the whole. I often find them a struggle to enjoy in comparison to contemporary literature, and the only time I ever really remember reading them has been for school or university. But within the genre challenge I have made it a point to read more classics, as I’m sure now that I’m older, I will get something more out of them and understand them better.
Some people in the group said they were surprised by just how little sex is actually in the novel. This may be so, when looking back on the book as a whole, but for me it was easy to see why the book had been banned. Lawrence certainly doesn’t shy away here and although at times it can be a little vulgar; the affair between Lady Chatterley and Mellors the gamekeeper, I think it is the sheer honesty with which he writes that really puts the novel in a league of its own. Lawrence has such a grasp of humanity and all its emotions and urges, whether male or female, and some of the things said in the novel really took me by surprise and made me think and try to apply it to our lives today. I don’t know whether Lawrence felt as though couples were really like this, or whether he thought they should have been like this, but I couldn’t quite believe in the sheer boldness of their relationship. They were so completely open and frank with one another, never hiding their bodies or embarrassed or ashamed in any way. They talked openly about their bodies to each other, a little too openly for me to really believe that a couple could be like this. Maybe it’s the age we live in, with everyone’s insecurities heightened by size 0 models in magazines and that need for the perfect body. But I just didn’t feel as though anyone could truly be that comfortable in their own skin. It would be absolute bliss if it were so and maybe this was Lawrence’s ideal.
My main gripe with the book is that no matter how much I tried, I found literally all the characters completely unlikeable and times just plain repulsive. Mellors, especially, didn’t strike me as anything like the romantic hero I envisioned before reading the novel. His constant flitting between a standard accent and a Derbyshire accent was infuriating, especially when I couldn’t understand anything he said in his Derbyshire accent! I found his use of language to be disgusting and unnecessary. Some people in the book group said that this was what they liked about him – that he could choose to be what he wanted; an upper class gentleman, or a lower-class labour worker. I could certainly see where they were coming from, and it was interesting to look back on him in the novel and see that in some ways he was above all the classes because he was his own person, as he chose to be. Lady Chatterley I found to be a little bit pathetic and tedious. Her constant need for reassurance of Mellors’ love for her was irritating to say the least, and I never really felt sympathetic towards her. And as for Clifford, Lady Chatterley’s husband, he was just a bore, plain and simple.
I feel as though Lawrence had a lot to say in this novel; about the working class and upper class, about the mining town in which they lived and the effects of industrialisation and about the human, almost animal instincts and urges for sex, for both men and women. For some people stimulation of the mind is enough, but for others stimulation of the body is what they crave more. The times when Lawrence ponders these philosophical debates, although often too long and ‘wordy’, they were ultimately what I remember most about the novel, and where I connected with it most. I think my problem with the characters is that I just didn’t find them all that believable – I didn’t believe Lady Chatterley and Mellors had any kind of love between them. It often felt purely sexual. It wasn’t the sweeping great epic love affair I was expecting it to be, but then at the same time, I was grateful for something more surprising and a little less clichéd.
I wouldn’t say I really enjoyed this book, but I’m glad I’ve read it. I can see that it took a lot for Lawrence to not only write this, but to get it published as well, and I think that’s what writing is all about at the end of the day; taking risks.
Overall, the group rated it a seven out of ten, and as you can see I’ve gone for slightly lower than that. It’s not a book that I will read again, and it hasn’t given me a new-found love for classics, but I’m still hopeful that I will find one that does, somewhere in this challenge!
Due to the popularity of our little booksellers book group, we are now going to continue it every month. So you can expect a review of what we choose every month! Next up will be Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford, something I would never choose to read, so it should be interesting…