Monday, 25 April 2011

Book #26 - Lady Chatterley's Lover by DH Lawrence

Lady Chatterley's Lover

A book more infamous than it is famous 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' is one of those books that you feel 'you must get around to some day'. Published to great scandal in 1929 it remained banned in Britain for salacious content for 31 years and during that time became notorious though few had actually read it. Upon its release in 1960, people queued up at bookshops for it desperate to judge for themselves, it's publication became one of the first major literary events.

The book held a number of surprises for me, I expected to find that in the 82 year time lapse between the book being written and my reading it in the present day, what passed as 'racy' then, would be tame and timid now perhaps even cringeworthy and embarrassing. It is not so. The sex scenes in the book, and there are many are incredibly graphically written, not in a way that feels obscene, to me, anyway but in a way that feels right. They are frankly written, realistic and actually quite tasteful and romantic.   

The phrase 'ahead of his time' is of course a cliche now, but it genuinely applies in this case, were this book written by a modern author in 2011 about a romance between an aristocratic lady and her gamekeeper in 1929, it would probably be equally admired as a modern classic but cause very little in the way of moral outrage now with the potential exception of the Daily Mail.

As a modern reader of literature I find that it has had a real impact on my opinion of society of that time, it was an era perhaps when out of politeness things were left unsaid but not necessarily undone, and that the women and men of the 1920's are not perhaps as different from us as we tend to believe. The free use of the more frowned upon swearwords and modern slang in the dialogue indicates this too; like the paragraph in which Mellors admires Connie's derriere and actually uses the word arse. Obviously there are better examples but I think I'll keep them out of the blog, but it's not really what you "expect" from the "classic writers"

To sum up the plot Connie marries a man who is crippled in the War, he can no longer have children, and he encourages her to have an affair in order to concieve which she then embarks on with the gamekeeper Mellors. (My own frustration with this was the inaccuracy that a paralysed man cannot have sex/children which of course they can, but I sort of have to let that quibble go as this was not widely understood in 1929, and also it's a plot device)
This is where you realise there is more to this story, a man has given his wife licence to have affair, as a means to an end, what does this say about him and about her....?

I read Women In Love at university, and read it rather too quickly in order to have it read on time. I didn't particularly enjoy it or find it remarkable in any way. Last year I read Sons And Lovers which was a really bizarre experience because I really enjoyed the book, and I still think of it occasionally but I absolutely detested the main character and several of the supporting ones. Lady Chatterley's Lover was a different experience again and what I found myself thinking most was what a terrible shame it is that mere mention of the title is inextricably linked to the scandal surrounding it and the idea that it is smutty. There is so much more to Lady Chatterley than sex, although the sex IS well written.

During the course of the novel such diverse subjects are dealt with: the condition of Post World War I Britain, class struggle, class snobbery, intellectual snobbery, society, the roles of men and women, human nature, human frailty the emotional dynamics of a sexual relationship,  love, marriage and the disintegration of those things and even existentialism.

I find it such a shame that if you say 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' to someone, perhaps as recommendation they will automatically assume because of its infamy that you like "dirty books" or something. It's the main association everyone has with it, that it was banned because it was dirty.

And it's not just that! It's so INTERESTING, engrossing, well written and thought provoking that all the sex is just an integral part of the story not the sum of its charms. This book is excellent. Read it. 10/10

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