15 June 2009

Lady Chatterley's Lover (D.H. Lawrence)

I challenge anyone to not pick up Lady Chatterley's Lover after learning that Penguin Books were prosecuted in 1960 under the Obscene Publications Act for releasing the book. I am glad to see that novels can no longer be banned under the Act (ridiculous) and am quite eager to read other titles that were previously hauled into court by the braying conservatives. Inside Linda Lovelace and Lord Horror have been added to my list!

I was going to start off this post with a brief rehash of Sons and Lovers and then swoop saucily into a review of Lady Chatterley's Lover. Sardonic eyebrow cocked, I would note wittily that Lawrence's earlier title had hinted at his grasp of the relationship between sexuality and creativity but further life experiences (and partners) must have educated him further, as the latter novel clearly demonstrates. Then, with a sigh, I realised I had not read Sons and Lovers (I saw the TV series) and could not say this with any authority. Perhaps more importantly, I also realised I cannot cock my eyebrow, sardonically or otherwise and thus I decided to angle the review in a different direction.

This book shocked me several times. I can understand why critics claimed it was just a series of lewd sexual encounters held together by a shaky plot line. I DO NOT HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THIS. If the plot line were any more complicated or emotionally involving the book wouldn't achieve one of its main purposes: to put promiscuity on a pedestal. The shocks came not from this but rather from the swearing and sexual descriptions which seemed far too graphic for lovers in the early 20th century. Surely they were only indulging in this sort of carry-on in uncomfortable silences with yards of starched muslin petticoats hampering their every move?

Lady Constance Chatterley needs a lover because her husband has come home from the war paralysed from the waist down. He doesn't much mind if she takes a lover, as he would quite like a son to look after the small copse on their property that has been there for hundreds of years. He worries what will happen to the trees if they do not have an heir. He is, to be honest, not the most exciting of characters. Connie takes a few lovers but the lover of the title is Mellors, the new gamekeeper on their property.

I had a bit of trouble feeling attracted to Mellors. He has a ginger moustache. He seems to have the same expression on his face for most of the book and that is an amalgam of terrified and watchful. He is not very strong and he wheezes when he pushes Connie's husband around in a bathchair.

Well, I can hear you saying, as long as Connie's happy, that's all that matters. That would be all well and good, apart from the fact that I shudder every time I remember the moustache.

What follows is a torrid love affair and some of the most insightful prose I have ever read. Lawrence is a master of dialogue... never straying into the trap of using it for plot momentum. His descriptive text is evocative but sparse, focusing on the thoughts the landscape generates rather than the landscape itself. The characters themselves are not overly glamorous or worldly which adds a charm to the novel it might otherwise have lacked.

In conclusion, a thoroughly satisfying read. Even if you don't want to read it, I recommend picking up a copy purely for the cover. Has there ever been a more hilarious Penguin Classics jacket?

Rating: 8/10.
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