Saturday, February 23, 2013

C_Club #2 - "Lady Chatterley's Lover" by David Herbert Lawrence

First and foremost - this book is beautifully written. Regardless of my not-so-memorable first encounter with Lawrence through "Sons and Lovers", I have to admit that he is a highly elegant writer.
Now, when it comes to the rest, I have to agree with my fellow Classics Clubber Christine, who pointed out that that this novel is controversial. I thought for a long time after finishing "Lady Chatterley's Lover" - how would I describe it, in short. And controversial is a good word. Controversial because of the themes it examines, and controversial because of the difference in times and trends - back when it was written and how the world looked like then, and the very liberal world of today.
It is actually quite difficult for me to get a grasp my thoughts here - it was the book that I didn't love, yet filled with stick-ins just because it was so beautiful. Not to say that I hated it; it's just that oftentimes I was really doubting how Lady C has survived the test of time. Let's put it that way: as a classics reader in 2013, I can fully appreciate and imagine the meaning and impact that such a book likely had back in 1928; however, as with all the classics, I will never, ever be able to experience the kind of feelings that people of the time had towards this novel. In that sense - some classics novels are more, hm, time-resistant and universal than others, and I think that Lady C falls into the latter category.
How exciting!
Photo lent from here.

My Penguin clothbound copy came with a long introduction written by wonderful Doris Lessing (really, a piece of art of its own, this introduction) and although I am always on the fence whether to read intros or explanations on books beforehand, I am glad I did it in this case. It didn't spoil anything and I was able to understand the novel a bit better.
Constance married Clifford Chatterley in 1917, during the war. When Clifford returns from the war six months later, his whole lower body is paralyzed. From the very first page of the book, reader can fully see what kind of problems there are to come.
Lawrence, who was extremely worried about the future and the fate of England, stated that the country can be saved through "tender-hearted fucking", as Lessing puts it. Taking that into consideration and then considering the fact that Clifford Chatterley was no longer capable of any kind of physical love related action, one can see how the marriage is doomed from the beginning. Clifford and Constance are otherwise also very estranged from each other, and this kind of life is not good for the woman (she gets very thin and, basically, starts withering), so she starts looking for tenderness and love from other men.
"But what do you believe in?" she insisted. [...]
[...]"Yes, I do believe in something. I believe in being warm-hearted. I believe especially in being warm-hearted in love, in fucking with a warm heart. I believe if men could fuck with warm hearts, and the women take it warm-heartedly, everything would come all right. It's all this cold-hearted fucking that is death and idiocy." /p. 206/
In these few lines stands, basically, everything that Lawrence wanted to say, I think. He touches several subjects of concern - people becoming cold and individual and thus becoming estranged from each other; the gap between those who bow to "bitch-goddess" - success and money (the term lent from Henry James, I believe) and those, simpler people, who actually, physically carry out everything that needs to be done - the workers.
I feel like my thoughts are all over the place when it comes to this book. Oftentimes I also found myself pondering how exactly people might have read "Lady Chatterley's Lover" back in 1928. And I must admit, I kind of had this image in my mind much similar to this black-and-white photo up there: I imagined women giggling, underlining "the juicy bits" and I imagined how, most of times, this book was acquired mayhaps only because of its shock value. Well. It definitely has no shock value in our modern world, so it is possible for us, at least, try and peek behind the curtain of "shock" and dig deeper into the meaning of this text.
My clothbound copy ends with a long "A Propos of Lady Chatterley's Lover" written by Lawrence himself. This, too, was a delightful piece of read. Lawrence dissects the story a bit, and talks about the reception and difficulties he had when publishing it (mainly connected to many of pirate copies that were made). I guess it goes without mentioning that Lady C became a famous banned book. I also chuckled a lot when he very directly attacks G. B. Shaw, with whom he seemed to have very different opinions on sexuality. "The Chief Priest of Europe knows more about sex than Mr Shaw does, anyhow, because he knows more about the essential nature of the human being," he says on page 318.
All in all. This was a novel that I neither particularly liked, nor disliked, but I very much enjoyed how it was written. The beauty and elegance of the words! I don't think it was a waste of time; any book that triggers the flood of thoughts is good, whether in negative or positive sense. However, I do warn that there is no point searching for joyfulness and sunshine from Lady C. I don't think I found a single likeable character. I could understand their actions and behaviour - sure, but I didn't like them, nor relate to them, nor particularly symphatise with them. As it was put in a review on the book I read some time ago (unfortunately I do not remember who and where wrote it), the whole book felt like a rainy day. Well, I happen to love rainy days. But I know many of us don't.
How my book looked like afterwards. Springy! :)


335 pages


  1. Thanks for the shout-out! This is a very thoughtful & insightful review that makes me want to read the book even more, despite some of the negatives. Some very good background information for me too :)

  2. Interesting perspective on Lady C and an enjoyable read. I appreciate your thoughtful take on a somewhat controversial book. I say "somewhat" simply because, as you say, times have changed.

    I love reading introductions, sometimes they are such gems that they stand out for me in ways the actual book doesn't. If the intro is by a writer I admire I will often pick up the book simply for that reason, as often happens with intros I find by Stephen King.

    Looks to me like you're already at least one book ahead for the banned book challenge. :)

    1. Thank you for stopping by and kind words. I agree, I actually am not even sure what I enjoyed more with Lady C - the novel itself or the long introduction and propos before and after it :)

  3. I have this edition. It's so beautiful!

    I began this last year but, unfortunately, had to set it aside due to multiple distractions. Nevertheless, my reaction is similar to yours. Lawrence is eloquent, but I wasn't emotionally connecting with the characters or the story. I wonder if that will change when I get around to finishing it?

    1. It is beautiful!

      My personal view is that it's not necessary to connect with characters in every book, people are so different afterall and I am perfectly happy observing (and learning from them), even if characters are a bit off from my personal emotional level.

      I think the longer you go in book, though, the more you will connect at some level at least, and I also liked the ending of the book (not gonna spoil of course) and I think the ending was what actually got the most thoughts out of me personally.


Leave a comment if you feel like it - it warms my little bookish heart. :)