“We want to make the world dance to our tune, that's all. 
But the world's got a tune of its own, much older than ours”

The author and his ideas

Reviewers and government censors condemned D.H. Lawrence's last novel as radically pornographic, a vision of a relationship and a society without moral boundaries. But Lady Chatterley's Lover is not really a radical novel, unless it can be said to be radically reactionary, a profoundly conservative response to the modern condition. What was the modern condition that Lawrence found so foul, and who was the author, a paradoxical man whose somewhat puritan mind raged against modernity through an unprecedentedly unconstrained celebration of sexuality?
Lawrence was not the only author writing in the decades after the first World War whose work was considered radically immoral; famously, for instance, a furor arose over the publication of James Joyce's great novel Ulysses years before Lady Chatterley's Lover was written. Many of the modernist writers and poets who dominated postwar avant-garde literary art placed a high premium on discarding social convention, which they believed had been exposed as empty by the carnage of the war. Society was morally bankrupt, empty of real meaning, composed of individuals between whom no real connection or understanding was possible. In response, artists began to experiment radically with form, and they set a premium on art that was "real," that eliminated convention to get at the core of life.
D.H. Lawrence was not really one of these formally and thematically radical modernists. While he shared the modernist belief that the postwar world was virtually bereft of meaningful values, Lawrence laid the blame at the doorstep of technology, the class system, and intellectual life. He believed that modern industry had deprived people of individuality, making them cogs in the industrial machine, a machine driven by greed. And modern intellectual life conspired with social constraint to bleed men dry of their vital, natural vigor. Lawrence wanted to revive in the human consciousness an awareness of savage sensuality, a sensuality which would free men from their dual enslavement to modern industry and intellectual emptiness. He was in many ways a primitivist: he saw little reason for optimism in modern society, and looked nostalgically backwards towards the days of pastoral, agricultural England.

The novel
The story is said to have originated from events in Lawrence's own unhappy domestic life, and he took inspiration for the settings of the book from Eastwood in Nottinghamshire where he grew up. According to some critics, the fling of Lady Ottoline Morrell with "Tiger", a young stonemason who came to carve plinths for her garden statues, also influenced the story. Lawrence at one time considered calling the novel Tenderness and made significant alterations to the text and story in the process of its composition. It has been published in three different versions.
Lady Chatterley's Lover begins by introducing Connie Reid, the female protagonist of the novel. She was raised as a cultured bohemian of the upper-middle class, and was introduced to love affairs--intellectual and sexual liaisons--as a teenager. In 1917, at 23, she marries Clifford Chatterley, the scion of an aristocratic line. After a month's honeymoon, he is sent to war, and returns paralyzed from the waist down, impotent.
After the war, Clifford becomes a successful writer, and many intellectuals flock to the Chatterley mansion, Wragby. Connie feels isolated; the vaunted intellectuals prove empty and bloodless, and she resorts to a brief and dissatisfying affair with a visiting playwright, Michaelis. Connie longs for real human contact, and falls into despair, as all men seem scared of true feelings and true passion. There is a growing distance between Connie and Clifford, who has retreated into the meaningless pursuit of success in his writing and in his obsession with coal-mining, and towards whom Connie feels a deep physical aversion. A nurse, Mrs. Bolton, is hired to take care of the handicapped Clifford so that Connie can be more independent, and Clifford falls into a deep dependence on the nurse, his manhood fading into an infantile reliance.
Into the void of Connie's life comes Oliver Mellors, the gamekeeper on Clifford's estate, newly returned from serving in the army. Mellors is aloof and derisive, and yet Connie feels curiously drawn to him by his innate nobility and grace, his purposeful isolation, his undercurrents of natural sensuality. After several chance meetings in which Mellors keeps her at arm's length, reminding her of the class distance between them, they meet by chance at a hut in the forest, where they have sex. This happens on several occasions, but still Connie feels a distance between them, remaining profoundly separate from him despite their physical closeness.
One day, Connie and Mellors meet by coincidence in the woods, and they have sex on the forest floor. This time, they experience simultaneous satisfaction. This is a revelatory and profoundly moving experience for Connie; she begins to adore Mellors, feeling that they have connected on some deep sensual level. She is proud to believe that she is pregnant with Mellors' child: he is a real, "living" man, as opposed to the emotionally-dead intellectuals and the dehumanized industrial workers. They grow progressively closer, connecting on a primordial physical level, as woman and man rather than as two minds or intellects.
Connie goes away to Venice for a vacation. While she is gone, Mellors' old wife returns, causing a scandal. Connie returns to find that Mellors has been fired as a result of the negative rumors spread about him by his resentful wife, against whom he has initiated divorce proceedings. Connie admits to Clifford that she is pregnant with Mellors' baby, but Clifford refuses to give her a divorce. The novel ends with Mellors working on a farm, waiting for his divorce, and Connie living with her sister, also waiting: the hope exists that, in the end, they will be together.
Well, it is important to remember not only precisely what this novel seems to advocate, but also the purpose of that advocacy. Lady Chatterley's Lover is not propaganda for sexual license and free love. As D.H. Lawrence himself made clear in his essay "A Propos of Lady Chatterley's Lover," he was no advocate of sex or profanity for their own sake. The reader should note that the ultimate goal of the novel's protagonists, Mellors and Connie, is a quite conventional marriage, and a sex life in which it is clear that Mellors is the aggressor and the dominant partner, in which Connie plays the receptive part; all who would argue that Lady Chatterley's Lover is a radical novel would do well to remember the vilification that the novel heaps upon Mellors' first wife, a sexually aggressive woman. Rather than mere sexual radicalism, this novel's chief concern--although it is also concerned, to a far greater extent than most modernist fiction, with the pitfalls of technology and the barriers of class--is with what Lawrence understands to be the inability of the modern self to unite the mind and the body. D.H. Lawrence believed that without a realization of sex and the body, the mind wanders aimlessly in the wasteland of modern industrial technology. An important recognition in Lady Chatterley's Lover is the extent to which the modern relationship between men and women comes to resemble the relationship between men and machines.
This is a novel with high purpose: it points to the degradation of modern civilization--exemplified in the coal-mining industry and the soulless and emasculated Clifford Chatterley--and it suggests an alternative in learning to appreciate sensuality. And it is a novel, one must admit, which does not quite succeed. Certainly, it is hardly the equal of D.H. Lawrence's great novels, Women in Love and The Rainbow. It attempts a profound comment on the decline of civilization, but it fails as a novel when its social goal eclipses its novelistic goals, when the characters become mere allegorical types: Mellors as the Noble Savage, Clifford as the impotent nobleman. And the novel tends also to dip into a kind of breathless incoherence at moments of extreme sensuality or emotional weight. It is not a perfect novel, but it is a novel which has had a profound impact on the way that 20th-century writers have written about sex, and about the deeper relationships of which, thanks in part to Lawrence, sex can no longer be ignored as a crucial element.

 BBC Lady Chatterley's Lover (1993)
What many people don't know is that this version was the last of three written by Lawrence and that, in the view of a number of critics - as well as Lawrence's wife, Frieda - it is greatly inferior to the earlier drafts. In fact, the second of these earlier versions was published in 1972 by Heinemann, under the title John Thomas and Lady Jane.
When Ken Russell set out to film Lady Chatterley for the BBC in the summer of 1992, he drew upon all three versions of the novel, deliberately toning down the infamous sex scenes and the language to ensure the program would be shown in a prime-time slot. 
There are several differences between the novel and this 1993 adaptation , but it is impossible to say how much it depends on the use of three different written versions and how much from the director's freedom in adapting them for the screen.
The choice for the TV series was to cut down not only the many explicit sexual  detaills but also most of the experiences in Connie's life before marriage and also her affair with Michaelis before meeting Mellors, when she was already married with Clifford.
But again I can't say if the many changes are due to the fact that Ken Russel used the 3 different editions of the novel for his script. So, I just and simply warn you that the series is quite different from the book.
The 4-part serialization stars Sean Bean as Mellors, the gamekeeper, and Joely Richardson as Lady Connie Chatterley, with James Wilby as Connie's disabled husband, Clifford.
 I read the novel and watched the BBC series as tasks in my DH LAWRENCE CHALLENGE 2010. This challenge is hosted by Traxy at The Squeee. I'm half- way down since I've got a book and a TV movie yet to go: Sons And Lovers.


Traxy said...

Great post and fab reviews! Will be fun to re-read LCL with your review in mind because I tend to not be as deep and analysing when I read things. :) Currently reading WiL and have problems getting into it properly. It was very difficult when I started it, but as I read some short stories, it got easier, but I'm still not really grabbed by it - and I'm on chapter 14 or so now.

I was surprised to read how your book ended, because my reaction to that was "but that's not how it ends!" - the one I've read (once in a Swedish translation and once in English) was the one that ends with them going off to Canada on a boat, which is also how the '93 adaptation ends. I think that sounds like a nicer ending than the one you read, to be honest. Maybe I should track down the alternate versions and have a read... but I think I'm sorted for DHL stuff to read at the moment! ;)

Didn't know the adaptations used things from all three versions, so that'll be useful to look at when I re-read the book.

First time I read it, I was surprised at what the book was. After all, it's the stuff of legends! (LCL, oooh it's a bit racy and a bit naughty!) And then reading it, finding it to be more of a love story than the smutty scandalous thing I had heard of - excellent! A lot better than I thought. It was a classmate of mine in college who said "oh, have you read LCL? I think you might like it" (can't remember why she said that, might've been something to do with period drama). And I did. :)

Alexa Adams said...

Great review and defense of this notorious novel. I think you are absolutely correct about the inherent conservativeness of the novel, especially regarding its endorsement of traditional gender roles, but that doesn't prevent the sexual content from being rather shocking, even today. I imagine that here in the US, where we will never fully liberate ourselves from our puritanical roots, the freedom with which the lovers explore their bodies will always be viewed by most as pornographic. And there is something inherently unsettling about Lawrence's detailed, almost intrusive, depictions of their romance. The most shocking moments are not just sex scenes but detailed descriptions of the casual way the lovers stroke and fondle each other, with no real intent other than just indulging in their familiarity to explore. This is so much more personal than the way sex is usually written about, and that's where I think the book becomes radical.

Maria Grazia said...

@Traxy & Alexa
Thanks for giving me the occasion to know more about this classic author, Traxy. Maybe the puritan roots Alexa mentions in her punctual contribution were a bit in me too. Was that the reason why I always refused to explore and get to know more about DH Lawrence and, especially, this novel of his?You know, the story of my Black and Red selves mustn't be just blog ramblings! The passage of time has made me more tolerant and open-minded than I used to be as a girl. I was really more puritan or more conservative than I am now.
This does not mean I found this novel perfect. I wouldn't give it more than 3 stars, in fact. As I wrote above,it didn't convince me, especially because it sounded incoherent/inconsistent in many a moment which are considered erotic . I didn't find Mellors very charming, for instance, which I didn't write.
So I was not deeply involved in their relationship.I found this book however interesting and stimulating, though not perfect. And definitely, not to be condemned or censored. Knowing what it is about, one can just avoid reading it but not ignore it was written, when and with what purpose by its author.
So, in conclusion, what I wanted to advcate is the right for this book to exist, to be read, to found interesting or fascinating by its readers . Not at all its perfection.
Thanks to both for your precious contribution.