13 August 2008

Lady Chatterley's Lover

Lady Chatterley’s Lover Wasn’t All That Shocking

A 'Novel' Guest Review By Leigh Wood

After one too many viewing’s of the 1992 BBC production of Lady Chatterley, I finally broke down and read the book. I thought the 1928 unedited version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence would be a tough book to find. Expensive, rare, old leather, smelly, buried in an antiquarian store-that type of book. Indeed I was very pleased to find the 1928 Unexpurgated Oriali Edition in paperback at my local Borders. $4.95!

I wrapped Mists of Avalon as quickly as possible and avoided watching the film before I plunged into Lover. I read other writers’ criticisms on D.H. Lawrence and his works before purchasing the book, and I knew the book and movie didn’t have the same ending. Of course, I also knew the book’s controversial reputation and supposedly salacious use of naughty words and torrid sex talk. My edition opened with forwards and introductions detailing the book’s tough road to publication and the aftermath of censorship. Although this story is fairly well known in literary circles, this introduction is informative, with details and facts on the books printing, pirated editions, and trial information. Even if one was a toe towards prudish, you can’t not be interested in reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover after these words of praise.

Although the 1992 adaptation by Ken Russell is quite faithful, Lawrence’s work is naturally bigger and more detailed than what can be translated to the screen. I noticed many cases where the film had taken word for word from the book, and also where scenes had been combined or moved and relocated for the film. Still, much was remaining to surprise me. After her Baronet husband’s paralysis during World War I, young Constance Chatterley begins to question her mundane existence as Lady of Wragby Hall and nursemaid to her crippled husband. They are educated and literate, but as she listens to her husband and his friends chit chat about war, sex, society, and money, Connie becomes more and more disenchanted with her upper class standing. After a very dissatisfying affair with playwright Michaelis, Connie begins a saucy love affair with her husband’s gamekeeper Olivier Mellors. Despite the fear of being caught and societal pressures upon them, Connie and Mellors continue to meet. When the scandal comes out, they take measures to secure a life together, despite the class divisions against them.

The great part of Lady Chatterley’s Lover is the love discovered between the titular characters, so I was intrigued by the intitial Michaelis relationship. We learn much about Connie intellectually and sexually through this affair, internal thoughts and disappointing feelings that can’t be show onscreen. I’ve read other fans commentaries online about Joely Richardson’s performance as Lady Chatterley in the BBC version. Women sometimes find her portrayal conceded and flaky. Connie has nothing to loose, where Mellors has everything to loose. In the novel, this is certainly not the case. Connie is already nothing, an emotionless drone whose stature gives her nothing.

Likewise the Mellors in print has everything to gain. His backstory is greatly detailed by Lawrence, yet he maintains his strong silent and mysterious air. Once on officer during the war and a well educated pupil then tutor, Mellors could have the upper class at his fingertips, yet he chooses to be left alone. This book is not just about sex. Our couple is disenchanted with war, industry, money, and the people around them who think that those things give meaning to life. Some of Mellors’ dialogue is written in dialect and for an American like me, it took a double take at first. However, Mellors can also speak perfect English, and does so when he chooses, not when people expect it of him. In fact, his speech is often broken when he thinks it will upset people, such as Connie’s image conscious sister Hilda.

Lawrence spends a great many of the early chapters discussing artists and their self important selves, yet it is a great and subtle revelation when Connie discovers books in Mellor’s house. Its often claimed not to be Lawrence’s best work, but Lady Chatterley’s Lover intricately weaves the love story between Connie and Mellors with multiple commentaries from Lawrence. Without being too obvious with his author views, Lawrence questions the English post war Jazz society and classes as well as the later artistic society Lawrence often found himself outcast from. This catch-22 is again mirrored in the novel. Where Connie and Mellors affair crosses class divides and angers their entire community, her husband Clifford’s unusual relationship with his nurse Mrs. Bolton is entirely acceptable. I love Charles Dickens for his veiled or outright social commentaries, and I dare say Lawrence is on par here in asking those same society questions. Who decides these social barriers and imobilities? Why are some invisible to these restraints via power, position, and money? What is the right reason to circumvent these divides and do something about oneself?

Lady Chatterley’s Lover has kept me thinking about itself long after I’ve finished the book. I’d like to read it again and find answers to these questions. Although it is a thorough British book in time and place, Lover also presents very modern thoughts and conjecture. After Lawrence’s difficulty with self publishing and piracy, the book was banned until a 1960 obscenity trial. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t find the book all that shocking. Was it because I was familiar with the film version, or is it because the book perhaps caused our current liberal ideas and desensitizing? Four letter words and sex talk have always existed, but Lawrence’s honest treatment of the subjects opened a Pandora’s box on erotica, pornography, nudity, and bad words in art, literature, and film. I can’t say the same for other works, but Lover is actually a very tasteful book, rather innocent in a way. The rebirth of the main characters through their love for one another. Lawrence was tempted to call the story ‘Tenderness’ and the title would have fit.

Although the work speaks for itself when it comes to sex, society, and even religion, my edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover came with ‘A Propos on Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ by D. H. Lawrence himself. After finishing the book on a positive note, I was disappointed in this thirty page essay. One should always let his work speak for itself, and there’s no need for this redundant and overlong speech from Lawrence. From World War I to Christianity, Lawrence’s essays should be cut in half or is perhaps better for a college classroom discussion.

If you’re looking for porn or sexual gratification, you won’t find it in Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Most certainly the book is not for everyone, and if frank sexual talk and situations is not your cup of tea, do skip this read. I’lm a fairly straight laced individual, and I only second guessed the book once. In Chapter 16, I thought the anal sex euphuisms were getting a bit redundant. I giggled a few times over the language, but was moved by other beautiful descriptions from Lawrence. At first I looked for Lover in Borders’ small erotica section, but Lawrence’s works are found in the general fiction section and in the classics section at my local library.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover is by no means for children or prudes, but it is a fine novel that has transcended time and place. We may be too loose or vulgar in our society today-celebrities with wardrobe malfunctions and half naked women in music videos. Lover and the books in its wake may have caused this openness, but the book also reminds me of the good things about the past. Women wore gloves, men tips their hats to all, and writers wrote great books.

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