Lord Chatterley, married only a month, went off to fight in a war that prompted and encouraged an industrial age. The family lands were stripped by his father, the coal mines employed vast peoples, and all the while the squalor and deforestation rested upon the shoulders of the elite. He returns from the war to all these things in a wheelchair born of necessity from a paralyzing wound on the battle field. His wife, Constance (Lady) Chatterley, is relegated to nursing him in all ways; bathes, clothes, and shaves him. When he pursues a commercial writing career, the want of fame strong, she then adds the duties of reading his works and helping him get along intellectually. Her sense of self is not present any longer, nourishment not to be found in intellectual discourse with his friends (she can only be present and silent, not engage), nor the feeding of more sentient physical needs, and so she begins to diminish in spirit and mass.
The story is the chronicles of Lady Chatterley finding within her the necessity and strength to do the unacceptable and take on a lover. It is a relationship that seems to be based upon the more animal parts of humanity, and yet it becomes a congress of emotion, physicality and the utmost demonstration of that which makes us all people. There is no required cerebral existence between the two lovers, but a necessity in being whole and not denying the body.
This is the second book off the banned book challenge and one which I felt very grateful for having read. It is, of course, known for its highly charged sexual references and overtones and the seeming advocating of adultery (I think), but the heart and guts of this book lays in the brilliant social commentary that we could still very much learn from. Industry and it’s drive become something Lawrence seems to be railing against as it encourages us to walk on a path further from our own humanity. Don’t get me wrong, while I do get the sense that the author could have been considered a Luddite, he does not completely vilify the notions of improvements but the nature of those improvements’ existence. Take money, for example, something we all take for granted in the era of fiat currency and how Mr. Mellors (Lady Chatterley’s lover) talks about it:
“I tell you, every generation breeds a more rabbity generation, with India rubber tubing for guts and tin legs and tin faces. Tin people! It’s all a steady sort of Bolshevism just killing off the human thing, and worshiping the mechanical thing. Money, money, money! All the modern lot get their real kick out of killing the old human feeling out of man, making mincemeat of the old Adam and the old Eve. They’re all alike. The world is all alike: kill off the human reality, a quid for every foreskin, two quid for each pair of balls. What is cunt but machine-fucking! – It’s all alike. Pay ’em money to cut off the world’s cock. Pay money, money, money to them that will take spunk out of mankind, and leave ’em all little twiddling machines.”
“Let’s not live ter make money, neither for us-selves nor for anybody else. Now we’re forced to. We’re forced to make a bit for us-selves, an’ a fair lot for th’ bosses. Let’s stop it! Bit by bit, let’s stop it. We needn’t rant an’ rave. Bit by bit, let’s stop it. We needn’t rant an’ rave. Bit by bit, let’s drop the whole industrial life, an’ go back. The least little bit o’ money’ll do. For everybody, me an’ you, bosses an’ masters, even th’ king. The least little bit o’ money’ll really do. Just make up your mind to it, an’ you’ve got out o’ th’ ess.”
There is much political commentary worthy of reading as well, although this is primarily earlier in the book and takes place in intellectual discourse between Lord Chatterley and his cohorts. Observations of Bolshevism (Socialism) which I never expected to find in this work nor even to have ever encountered in literature to date.
“Bolshevism, it seems to me,” said Charlie, “is just a superlative hatred of the thing they call the bourgeois; and what the bourgeois is, isn’t quite defined. It is Capitalism, among other things. Feelings and emotions are also so decidedly bourgeois that you have to invent a man without them.
Then the individual, especially the personal man, is bourgeois: so he must be suppressed. You must submerge yourselves in the great thing, the Soviet-social thing. Even an organism is bourgeois: so the ideal must be mechanical. The only thing that is a unit, non-organic, composed of many different, and equally essential parts, is the machine. Each man a machine-part, and the driving power of the machine, hate…hate of the bourgeois. That, to me, is Bolshevism.”
Beauty found in humanity, however, seems to be the strongest and most poignant message in this work, as is demonstrated in Lady Chatterley’s thoughts:
In the short summer night she learnt so much. She would have thought a woman would have died of shame. Instead of which, the shame died. Shame, which is fear: the deep organic shame, the old physical fear which crouches in the bodily roots of us, and can only be chased away by the hunt of the man, and she came to the very heart of the jungle herself. She felt, now, she had come to the real bedrock of her nature, and was essentially shameless. She was her sensual self, naked and unashamed. She felt a triumph, almost a vainglory. So! That was how it was! That was life! That was how oneself really was! There was nothing left to disguise or be ashamed of. She shared her ultimate nakedness with a man, another being.
This is, above all else, a treatise for humanity to strive toward being more human and to resist industrializing and mechanizing the self. The sex is there, it’s somewhat graphic (although not by today’s standards), but the stark reality and unflinching manner in which it is brought to the reader recalls that man is animal and this, in many ways, is something we all need to accept and embrace in order to truly live.
For a fun bit of trivia I thought I’d offer you this tidbit from my library’s copy of the work (Bibliographic Section):
With the help of Mrs. Aldous Huxley, a typescript was prepared for private publication under the imprint of the Florentine bookseller, Giuseppe Orioli; and on March 9, 1928, Lawrence and Orioli delivered the work to a printer who could not read English and some of whose assistants could not read at all.
WARNING: Do NOT, under any circumstances, watch the BBC version of Lady Chatterley. This adaptation does an abysmal job at portraying the accurate emotions of the characters that Lawrence so carefully detailed in the work itself. Sean Bean could not save it, I’m sorry to say.