Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Lady Chatterley's Lover by D H Lawrence

This book, which I read initially for the Outmoded Authors Challenge but then added to My Year of Reading Dangerously as my January book, was one that, as I have mentioned before, I really did not want to read.
Now I have finished it, am I glad that I read it? I think so. Will I be reading any more D H Lawrence in a hurry? I don't think so.
I have very different feelings about various aspects of this book, so I'll deal with them separately.

The story.
I rather enjoyed this. It is melancholy, a story of how people can end up in situations where they feel trapped and unfitted for the world they are in. There is the literal unfitness of Clifford, the crippled husband of Constance, unhappy, unfulfilled, flitting between jealousy of his wife and acceptance that she should be with other men. There is Constance herself, who is in a marriage that is no longer right with a husband whom she gradually loses respect for; she is 'Lady Chatterley' to a town she cannot abide, with no friends to confide in.
But most of all there is Mellors the gamekeeper, and it is his character that is the most interesting. Educated and well-read, he had a successful career in the army making Lieutenant before being invalided out. He returned to the mining community where he was born but he no longer belongs there; he is caught between two worlds, not a part of the mining community but also not accepted by the upper classes, and in Lawrence's world there does not appear to be an effective middle class buffer between the two that Mellors could slip into.
This tension in his character is shown by the way he constantly slips from his cultivated 'proper' English accent into broad Derbyshire, often as a way of attempting to remind Constance that she is lowering herself by being with him. His sadness and lack of place in the world, which is alleviated somewhat by the love that grows between him and Constance, is the part of the story that I enjoyed; he is a very sympathetic character.

The writing.
I just didn't think it was that good. Lawrence is very repetitive, and his phrases and metaphors are clumsy at times. I understand that he is trying to show how deep-rooted a feeling is when he talks about bowels and wombs but it detracted from the story.

An example:
'But when she touched her steadily-lived life with him she...hesitated. Was it actually her destiny to go on weaving herself into his life all the rest of her life? Nothing else?
Was it just that? She was to be content to weave a steady life with him...'

The setting.

The setting of the story was great - it's where I live! Characters are constantly talking of popping to Sheffield for nights out, and Chesterfield and Mansfield are mentioned, and other areas with fictional names seemed very familiar. I read bits out to my husband as we tried to decide which towns the fictional ones were based on. The descriptions of the area in the novel do not make my home sound very pleasant though; it is depressing, dark and ugly, but this is an area of the country that the Industrial Revolution was not kind to. It has improved since then.

And finally, the sex.
This is the most famous part of the book, after all, and after reading it, it does seem to be the ultimate point of it, to break taboos and free literature from the restraint about talking of this natural aspect of human life. I understand the point of it, but I did not enjoy it. It is vulgar and over the top; there is no romance to it - I don't understand how Mellors and Connie fall in love, as they seem to just copulate like a couple of dogs.
The descriptions of the act are quite ridiculous and all in all, it would have been a better book with fewer sex scenes. If you listened to an audio file of me reading it, it would consist of tutting, 'Oh for goodness sake!' and at times laughing out loud - probably not the reactions that DH was looking for.

Still it did the trick, and we now have the legacy of complete openness in novels- the taboo is gone. Has this improved literature, where it seems sex scenes are obligatory in almost any new novel, regardless of the need for it in the story? Well, we all have our own views on that. I would not advise anyone to read the book for this aspect alone though. The descriptions are too ridiculous to be titillating.

So, on the whole mixed feelings. I think I will hold on to the story about Mellors and try to forget the other bits.

Cross posted at Eloise by the Book Piles

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