because it sounds like some vague literary term, or a pernicious disease

The Lover

with 3 comments

I picked up Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawerence on a whim. I was at City Lights Book Shop here in London and I was gathering up various titles and leaving an increasing pile of books on the counter awaiting me to take them home. Lady Chatterley was one of the last titles that I picked, and I held the yellowing, tattered paperback in my hand and I looked at the picture on the cover. A woman stands with her naked back exposed and flowers twined in her long hair. I recall thinking vaguely that it was a classic, that it had a bit of a reputation and at the very least, I could read the dirty bits and snicker to myself about the puritanical censorship that prohibited the story from being published openly until 1960.

Then I read it, and it was wonderful. Not in the way that it’s a fantastic story, or that it imparts some lingering effect, in fact in that arena it misses the mark. The characters of the cold husband and the noble, savage lover become allegorical archetypes, and seem to merely illustrate the struggle between the mind and the body. The lesson, after all the “crises” (apparently the acceptable and literary term for orgasm in 1928) is that one cannot not be all mind, nor all body, but that one needs to exist in sensual harmony, is less a revelation then a big, fat “well, duh” moment.

I found myself bored until the seventh chapter, because it was reading much like one would expect: lovely young aristocratic woman, gets married, takes lover, is unsatisfied by lover, suffers ennui, finds herself getting curious (if it was really pornographic, it would become “Lady Chatterley’s Lesbian Lover” right about here, alas.) becomes attracted to the very unknowable groundskeeper and so on. Then it hits you like a sack of potatoes, when D.H. Lawerence writes so poignantly about the nature of the heart, and you just weren’t expecting it because of all that other emotional chow-chow that you had to slog through first.

I am not going to tell you about the sex, although parts were sexy, and I was glad I got to that part at home, and not in the lounge at work. I am not going to get into the narratives of post World War I England’s class systems, or even the major theme of mind over body, you can go to Wikipedia and look that junk up yourself.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover is not D.H. Lawerence’s best work, but it is certainly the most controversial. He himself called it “a very pure and tender novel, but also the most improper novel in the world”. While at times it veered into a sweaty meandering through a garden of phallic symbols and the occasional “fuck” tossed in there for good measure, beneath that lies a deeper truth, the earnestness of the human heart, the true nature of love. For that D.H. Lawerence changed forever how we write and read about love, sex, and men and women, and for that Lady Chatterley’s Lover is wonderful.


3 Responses

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  1. Sounds pretty damn good. I don’t think the theme of mind struggling with body is one that can ever get too old, since we all live it in so many different ways.


    April 13, 2010 at 1:15 pm

  2. True, the idea of mind over body, or the quest to live in harmony and balance with oneself is a universal struggle for everyone, regardless of gender, age or affliations.


    April 13, 2010 at 1:57 pm

  3. Meh, sounds overly melodramatic to me prefaced with tons of boring.

    But it was a hugely influential book and I wouldn’t minimize it at all, just saying from you description (which I am very thankful for) I have no interest any longer in reading it. So, thank you!


    April 23, 2010 at 11:16 am

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