Plot summary: Perhaps the most famous of Lawrence’s novels, the 1928 Lady Chatterley’s Lover is no longer distinguished for the once-shockingly explicit treatment of its subject matter–the adulterous affair between a sexually unfulfilled upper-class married woman and the game keeper who works for the estate owned by her wheelchaired husband. Now that we’re used to reading about sex, and seeing it in the movies, it’s apparent that the novel is memorable for better reasons: namely, that Lawrence was a masterful and lyrical writer, whose story takes us bodily into the world of its characters.’
First of all, I hate that cover. That is not a book I want to be reading on the train. I get funny looks for actually holding a book (never mind the pink hair), I don’t need to add a picture of a naked woman on top, thank-you-very-much. I just don’t think it’s necessary, especially as I didn’t find the novel to be that sexual anyway. And yes, I know, I’m the one that bought the damn thing and yes, I know, I had clearly seen a picture before I ordered it. But hey, all my classics are the Vintage edition because the spines match and they look pretty on a shelf. So yes, I know – I’m pathetic and probably deserve the naked lady cover.
Ah. That was meant to be a brief mention of the cover, not an epic rant about the naked lady. Sorry. So now, on to, you know… the book.
As I’m sure most of you know, Lady Chatterley’s Lover was banned in the UK for a long time due to its dirty language and obscenity. I’ve heard many a story about a well-thumbed copy kept in school libraries that fell open automatically to one of the many sordid sex scenes. So naturally I was a little curious as to what all the fuss was all about; why it was so obscene that the publishers were prosecuted as late as 1960.
I was a little confused – I didn’t find it that sexual a book at all (I sound almost disappointed there…). Obviously I’m aware that times have changed since 1928 and I’m sure it was scandalous for back then, but it’s not worthy of scribbling down the page numbers of the sex scenes – another story I’ve heard. I just don’t see it. There are maybe three or four scenes throughout the (not short) novel, each of which only last between a paragraph and a page. Even then, the description is mostly Lady Chatterley feeling sorry for herself.
To me, it’s a clever novel that inspects the class and gender distinctions of the 1920s instead of a psuedo-pornographic romp (now there’s a word I never thought I’d use…). Characters frequently sit around and discuss the state of society, their staff and their women. It’s also a more industrial novel than I expected – Clifford Chatterley is in the coal mining business, and long descriptions of techniques are often recorded.
Non-sex-wise, Lady Chatterley’s Lover is well ahead of it’s time. Aside from occasional phrasing, the attitudes conveyed wouldn’t be out of place today. The women complain that men are too selfish during sex and they feel used afterwards, while the men say that women are only necessary for sex and shouldn’t whine about their own gratification – sex is for men, after all. I wonder if it was partly banned because of this – because the concepts were so alien and obscene, not the actual sex?
Considering the book on it’s own merits, the plot is good but the characters are not. Lady Chatterley does nothing but whine and complain – I don’t think she has a positive thought throughout. Clifford Chatterley doesn’t see why his wife can’t just do nothing but nurse him all the time and Oliver Mellors is rude and abrasive. They are well-written however – each has their own winning (or not) personality and idiosyncrasies, and even though I don’t like them, I do feel as if I know them.
I really did enjoy this book, but possibly for personal reasons more then literatical. I had no idea that it was set in my own city. Now, that might not be such a big deal for those of you that live in New York or somewhere – cities that become settings for 90 million new novels every day – but for an uninteresting city in the middle of England, that’s pretty special. Lawrence does an excellent job of capturing the South Yorkshire accent (but more on that later).
More importantly… Oliver Mellors, the game-keeper, is the spitting image of my boyfriend. Seriously. The physical description, mannerisms, speech, phrases used… it’s like my boyfriend went back in time, dragged Lady Chatterley off to his hut and then came back and worked in a GAME shop. There’s even a scene where he tries to teach Lady Chatterley how to speak in the Sheffield accent, which my partner has tried to do on a number of occasions (he seems to think this is a favourable and attractive quality…). It’s actually eerie how similar they are.
Obviously there are millions of film adaptations, but there’s one with Sean Bean as the game-keeper I particularly want to see. He’s actually from Sheffield and is notorious for his broad Yorkshire accent, so I want to see how he does.
So the moral of the story – it’s not much good for getting your rocks off, but it’s a good read nevertheless. Just don’t tell your partner they remind you of a game-keeper – they tend to not be overly thrilled.
Read my review of Daughters of the Vicar, also by D.H. Lawrence
(although it’s not as good as Lady Chatterley’s Lover!)