27 July 2009

What I've been reading lately:

Lady Chatterley's Lover, by DH Lawrence

When I was young and attending university, I didn't care much for the works of DH Lawrence. For one thing, it seemed to me that the people who claimed that Lawrence was brilliant at portraying women were usually men. For another, there seemed to be a lot of talk and incident that didn't add up to anything.

Now that I'm older, I can see why I didn't care for him back then. It helps to be older and to have your own views of the world when reading Lady Chatterley's Lover, to be able to recognise when the young characters in it are simply speaking youthfully, and to know what to take seriously and what is just lovers' talk, pillow talk. Besides, there is no longer any pressure to explain, in essays thousands of words long, what the author is saying, as if he were saying just one thing, and that one thing would be the same thing that every reader should find.

One interesting thread to consider is that in the opening chapter, the young people are in a state of rebellion and find everything, especially authority, ridiculous. Then the war breaks out and they stop laughing. They take up their titles as aristocracy and take this matter very seriously indeed. Even when it is meaningless. Constance Reid marries Clifford Chatterley and becomes Lady Chatterley. Clifford is injured in the war and, having become a paraplegic, cannot sire an heir. He tells Constance that she may get herself pregnant by whomever she pleases, if she will only provide an heir for Wragby Hall. In other words, as long as the appearance of continuity is kept up, the actual bloodline is meaningless.

Constance, though, is looking for something real. Strangely, she doesn't find it with Clifford. In her first affairs, she didn't particularly want sex. Back then, she enjoyed talking, discussing, with young people, and had sex mainly because it seemed to be the only way to keep the talkers within her circle of friends. With Clifford, there is nothing but talk. But it isn't satisfying. His books, which she helps him write, are not as good as he thinks they are.

It is the gamekeeper who eventually attracts her interest, because he is real, a real man. He was successful in the army, and could have risen further, but it wasn't what he wanted so he left the army to live a quiet life.

When you're old enough, you have your own understanding of what it means to be 'real', people who are entirely self sufficient to themselves, who don't need society's validation in order to feel happy, people who seem whole, and entire within themselves.

There is a very good reason why there are so few of such people at the time of Lady Chatterley's Lover. They had just been through World War I. A lot of people had died. A couple of times in the course of Lady Chatterley's Lover, this fact is alluded to. A gap is perceived in people

On the subject of whether or not Lawrence understands women, that might be true if all women are the same. Let's just say he knows Connie Chatterley. At the end, the gamekeeper, Mellors, mentions that he is staying in a place where the old parents have lost a son in the war, and this loss has made a hole in them. Still, they keep on going, and Mellors seems to have more time for them than he has for most people.

There are other aspects of the novel to consider, such as Clifford's treatment of men and machines, but I think if I were to write an essay on it now, I would look at how it compares with TS Eliot's 1922 poem, The Waste Land, and the idea of the living dead, the people who were thought to be dead from the war, still alive and yet not, numbed by the daily grind in the city streets.

Morva Shepley

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