Saturday, February 2, 2008

Lady Chatterley's Lover, by D.H. Lawrence

A quick note before I post my thoughts on Lady Chatterley's Lover -- I want to state for the record that I haven't written an intellectual paper since college. The following review is therefore casual and has no citations from the book. It's pure theory and opinion.

# # #

How does one review a D.H. Lawrence novel, exactly? I've read two and they seem nearly identical to me: about men who long for but are terrified of intimacy. Lawrence's male characters are so priggish and self-congratulatory of their abilities to philosophize about relationships. It makes one wonder if these are not so much novels as private diary entries with plots grafted onto them. Perhaps D.H. Lawrence was the original blogger-turned-author?

I agree with almost everything Eloise stated in her review of Lady Chatterley's Lover. She's made some keen insights -- especially the point that the book is about three characters who are outsiders from normal society. Connie Chatterley is a middle class intellectual who's uncomfortable with her husband's cold aristocratic instincts and self-congratulatory air. Her husband, in turn, is a crippled war hero and author who's uncomfortable with his paralysis and his position as a boss overseeing miners. And Oliver Mellors, Connie's lover, is a former soldier too; educated country folk who after the war and a bitter marital separation has withdrawn from all society and feels he belongs nowhere.

But here's where I disagree with Eloise on the characters -- I don't see social isolate Mellors as sympathetic. On the contrary, to me, his setting himself aside from other people is arrogant and petulant. Mellors passes off his social isolation as the result of hard living and bitter experience, when really he's just afraid of the world, and of women, and is complacent to be alone with his cowardice.

Connie Chatterley's entrance into his life busts up Mellors' obstinate flight from society, but he's not giving up without a fight. He makes several pretentious speeches in defense of his singularity and solitude, in which he declares people to be awful creatures, obsessed with money and bent on social destruction. True as that may be, it'd be far nobler if Mellors felt this way and retreated to the woods to do his own thing, gently and benevolently and without lengthy monologues. Instead, the moment he finds an audience in Connie Chatterley, he never passes up an opportunity to deliver scathing intellectual invective against humanity, particularly women. The more Mellors theorizes, the more it sounds like so much hot air masking the simple fact that he's delicate and doubtful of his own masculinity. Why else would this man, burned in the past by love (who hasn't been?), spend so much time lamenting his difficulty in finding a woman with whom he can experience a simultaneous orgasm?

How sad for him, that women are so withholding. What a tragedy. Woe is Mellors, poorly used by women. Surely this explains everything, from his bad attitude about working for the man to his willful estrangement from his young daughter.

By modern standards, Oliver Mellors, hero of Lady Chatterley's Lover, is the ultimate nightmare boyfriend: socially isolated and isolating; highly critical of others; the type to spitefully pick fights with his in-laws; a black-and-white thinker with little ability to adapt to new situations; and a deadbeat with an attitude problem, highly likely to quit jobs or be fired. And yet Connie Chatterley is obsessed with him. She finds his vulnerabilities entrancing; she can't wait to have his child. She spends most of her time ignoring everything Mellors says, instead putting her faith in the language of the body, which to me is just a fancy of way of saying she'd rather see what she wants to see and hear what she wants to hear: the romanticized story of how she got pregnant, left her husband, and lived happily ever after.

If this sounds a little like a Lifetime movie or an average episode of Dr. Phil, perhaps that's no mistake. It could be D.H. Lawrence was both highly cynical and eerily prescient about modern romance. Perhaps this is why Anais Nin said Lady Chatterley's Lover was "... our only complete modern love story". Lawrence spends 326 pages and 19 chapters raising the one question so many self-pitying emo boy bloggers are likely to ask today: "Why are girls attracted to jerks?"

# # #


The inability of women to orgasm with men is expressed by at least two different male characters in this novel, neither of whom stops to think the fault may lie with him; or that it's nobody's fault at all. Someone must be to blame, and blame is in both occasions assigned to women. Simultaneous orgasm appears to be a major hangup of Lawrence's, and I'd be curious to know if experts on his writing can explain why. Is he a romantic, despairing the inability for men and women to truly connect? Or is this a strain of misogyny making its way to the surface? (Mellors has some harsh words for lesbians in particular.)

In any event, I agree with Eloise -- I'm not likely to read any more Lawrence. His writing style can be a chore to read.

No comments: