Book review: Lady Chatterley’s Lover by DH Lawrence (Collector’s Library, CRW Publishing Limited, 2005 )
Connie’s marriage to Clifford Chatterley is one scarred by mutual frustration and alienation. Crippled from wartime action, Clifford is confined to a wheelchair, while Connie’s solitary, sterile existence is eked out within the narrow parameters of the Chatterley ancestral home, Wragby. She seizes her chance of happiness and freedom when she embarks on a passionate affair with the estate’s gamekeeper, Mellors, discovering a world of sexual liberation and pleasure she thought she’d thought lost to her. The explosive passion of Connie and Mellors’ relationship – and the searing candour with which it is described – marked a watershed in twentieth-century fiction, ensuring for Lady Chatterley’s Lover a wide and enduring readership and lasting notoriety.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by DH Lawrence was banned in the UK for about thirty years because it was considered lewd and rude and generally inappropriate. The ban wasn’t lifted until after a trial in the 1960s, and nowadays we read it and shrug. So it has people shagging in it, what’s the big deal?
Odds are most people have heard of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, even if they’ve never read it or seen any adaptations of it. Actually, most of the adaptations around seem to be pornos rather than actual adaptations of the book – which is not a pornographic novel. It’s a novel with some sex scenes in it, but most novels do nowadays. I had heard of this novel too. In 2003, a college friend lent it me because I was into costume dramas, and she figured this one fitted in. Not quite Jane Austen, though, that’s for sure! I approached the book with curiosity; this notorious tome full of filth and goodness knows what else! As I started reading, I soon realised that it wasn’t what I (and probably most people who haven’t actually read it) thought it was. It was a very engaging love story. Quelle surprise!
The lady in question is called Constance, or Connie, and she is married to a man crippled in World War I – Sir Clifford cannot walk, in fact, he’s pretty much dead from the waist down. At the start of their marriage, the couple lived happily at Wragby Hall, being in tune with one another intellectually. Then came the war, and with that the injury, and the marriage has gone downhill ever since.
Connie’s family (rather bohemian) suggest she takes herself a lover, and she does, in the shape of the handsome Michaelis. However, she gets fed up with him too, because he’s too selfish and yadda yadda. Then one day she comes across Oliver Mellors, her husband’s gamekeeper. There is a physical attraction but it takes a while before they ever get as far as having a tumble in the hay. The novel is about their growing relationship, of divides which are both down to class and standing in society, as well as that of physical and mental attraction. Oh, and sex.
When Maria Grazia of FLY HIGH! reviewed the novel, she mentioned there were different endings. I’m pretty sure the Swedish translation lent to me had the same ending as in the 1993 adaptation (a ship), but this edition doesn’t, which confused me. This one ends on a farm instead, and isn’t as cheerful. Can’t remember which ending came first, but it’s not important.
Another thing the magnificent MG mentioned is that Lady Chatterley’s Lover isn’t generally considered one of DH Lawrence’s best works, instead that space is taken up by novels like Women in Love … and this mystifies me. Chatterley I’m fine with, I cruise along it just fine, and have read it maybe three times now. That Other Novel, not so much. But then again, one of my aims with this blog is to provide reviews for real people, because professional critics – the cultural elite – often praise stuff that make me bored stiff and frown upon things that are genuinely entertaining. To me, the more international film festival awards a film has been awarded, the more likely it’s a depressing snoozefest. So in other words, there ain’t nowt wrong with milaydeh Chatt’ley, so there.
It does suffer from the same affliction a lot of other DH Lawrence writings also have: that of characters being used to discuss a philosophical or ideological point, and it is preachy in places. Sometimes I struggle with the characters themselves, because I’m not sure I like Connie that much.
One thing that shines through very well is Mellors and his shifts between the “Queen’s English” and broad Derbyshire dialect – easily confused with Yorkshire, which is hilarious when Mellors is played by Sean Bean, who gruffly corrects Connie’s sister by saying he’s speaking Derbyshire, thank you very much … in that familiar Sheffield accent of his. Mellors is actually a learned man, just that he reverts to speaking like a peasant – or, considering the north Nottinghamshire surroundings, a miner – whenever he sees fit.
Another thing that intrigues me about Mellors, aside from the whiskers which I’d rather not picture at all if it can be avoided, is that he’s actually meant to be red-haired. That’s right – the notorious Mr Sex Machine is a ginger! Who’d a-thought it, eh? Also, he’s tall and slender, so not what you might have thought.
It’s not the best book I’ve ever read and while the descriptions of intercourse are frank, they’re in no way scandalous, especially not by today’s standards. What stands out is still the love story, even if this version of the book didn’t have the happy ending I read in the Swedish translation, and saw on screen starring Sean Bean. But there you go.
3 out of 5 plucky chickens.