I’m an English major. I read a classic book, I make an analysis out of it.
Now, since I’ve been out of school for a year, why suddenly pick up a classic from the 1920s? A classic banned in England and the U.S. for being pornographic up until a few decades ago? Because another reviewer somewhere in the blogosphere said it was worth a read—if being a bit heavy in meditations on class and disgraceful industrialism—so here we are.
27-year-old Constance Chatterley anticipated a happy marriage with Sir Clifford Chatterley. But then, Clifford returns home from WWI paralyzed from the waist down. Being confined to his own home gives him plenty of time create a repertoire of bestselling written works and nurture a monstrous ego, leaving Connie emotionally neglected. But soon, Connie makes the acquaintance of Oliver Mellors, the antisocial gamekeeper of the Chatterley estate. She doesn’t think much of him at first, until she accidentally sees him bathing one morning outside his cabin. Connie has known for a while that she wants more out of her life, and it might just start in a little room in that cabin.
A book is probably not a classic unless it makes you think hard about something, and in this case, it is the rift between the aristocratic and working classes in early twentieth century England. For Connie, a lady, and Mellors, a working class gamekeeper, to have a relationship, much less a sexual one, is cause for anarchistic visions. While this book wasn’t the first to use this cross-class trope, it’s a decent stage for discussion among characters. And discuss it they do.
Some classic books are subtle with their themes, and this one is very persistent. After a time, you get a little tired of Clifford, or his housekeeper, Mrs. Bolton, discussing the concepts of socialism and class. But just as much, you get a little tired of Connie groping about how unfulfilling her life is and all other manner of “woe is me.”
Connie, though she never admits this about herself, is kind of boastful and opinionated, teetering on the annoying. But I’ll give her this: she does have a very frustrating marriage; Clifford is boastful too, but he’s also kind of a man-child who clings to Connie because it looks good socially. After a while, you really do not remember how the two wound up together, which is probably not of any great consequence anyway; after all, if you cared about Clifford, you wouldn’t care about Connie and Mellors, would you?
Speaking of, how does Connie’s chemistry with Mellors feel? Not to mention the power of their, ahem, scenes?
Now, for the time period, I can see why people would have been squeamish. Male and female genitalia, and a four-letter word starting with the letter “f”, are tossed around like nothing. But by today’s standards? Nowadays, we’ve seen everything. So I like to judge those scenes based on how powerful their physical connection felt to me.
As wishy-washy as I am about Connie and Mellors as characters, I blushed a little bit at their scenes. Connie describes the heat and the liveliness of her connection in a way that feels magical. Her happiness has finally sprung forth like a fresh bud, and you’re glad to see her experience something so profound.
Sometimes Connie and Mellors slip into litanies and meditations on class and industrialism too. But there is still a gentle, magical otherness to Mellors’ cabin in the Chatterley wood. While the Chatterley estate is droll and lifeless, the wood, and consequently the cabin, is full of springtime life. It almost suggests that Connie is crossing into another world when she goes into it. To continue the metaphor, Connie’s sexual resurgence continues even outside the cabin as she dances naked in a rainstorm with Mellors, and as a result, Clifford accuses Connie of having a bacchanal. For Clifford to make a reference to an old Roman celebration where there was wine, dancing, frolicking, and all other manner of, ahem, frolicking, is not surprising. But it suggests an element of bodily freedom for Connie, as would have been the custom of a bacchanal.
Like many classic books, I’ll probably remember this one more for how it made me feel. I might not have connected as closely to the characters, but their connections between each other are still palpable. If anything, we can learn that physical connection is not something we should lose. As D.H. Lawrence himself said, we should take back our bodies, and never let them go.