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Will The Real Lady Chatterley Please Stand Up?

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I picked up a copy of Roxana Shirazi’s The Last Living Slut today. I don’t know what really compelled me to do so, I usually stay away from such things, preferring my titillating literature be some crappy romance rag. But I picked it up none the less. I was reading it out in the car on my lunch break, my legs sticking out the window in a vain attempt to get some colour and munching merrily on a brie and veggie sandwich. A tomato slice fell on my white skirt.

I was going to write this post a long time ago, actually when I first wrote about D.H. Lawerence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover here. This was going to be the very next one, although it wouldn’t have been quite like this. I was going to write about how the fictional Lady Chatterley was actually a real person, who actually happened to be quite an influence on the writer’s of her time, she is immortalized as a character in no less than five works of fiction, most notoriously as Lady Constance Chatterley.

But as I was sitting in my car I found my nutty little brain drawing these imaginary parallel lines between the Last Living Slut, Roxana and Lady Ottoline Morrell. Separated by nearly a century they are not so very different, call them what you will, patron, inspiration, muse, groupie, slut.

Back in the day, say around the turn of the century or so, the bad-boys of the world were the poets, the writers and the artists. If you wanted debauchery and dirty loving, that is who you hung out with. Today it’s the rock stars, the writers take a bit of a backseat to accessibility of the rock star, there’s a certain draw I suppose, the rock stars get all the dirty loving and the writers sit there suffering to make deadline, or even get published. Maybe, I don’t really know, I’m not talented.

Lawerence’s Lady Chattereley’s Lover is allegedly based on Lady Ottoline Morrell’s love affair with a stonemason named “Tiger”. It follows of course, the good lady’s romance and growth within the relationship and how she comes to learn that one cannot be all mind, nor all body, but must strike a balance which can only be found in true love. Ottoline, an incurable romantic had many love affairs and kept a circle of writers and artists around her, offering hospitality and friendship that resulted her literary immortalization.

Ottoline Morrell is an extremely interesting person to me, because she seems as though she is the type that creative individuals were drawn to, obviously she inspired and encouraged their work,  but she was also interesting and charismatic enough to become their work.

She appears in two of D.H. Lawerence’s novels, Lady Chatterley of course, but also in Women in Love, where her character strikes her lover in the head and sends him running naked through a forest after he spurns her. She is Mrs. Bidlake in Aldous Huxley’s Point Counter Point, Lady Caroline Bury in Graham Greene’s It’s a Battlefield, and Lady Syballine Quarrell in Alan Bennett’s Forty Years On. It’s quite the legacy.

I haven’t finished Roxana’s The Last Living Slut yet, but I can’t help but think about Lady Morrell when I read her book, she talks about a desire to be with people which is utterly romantic, it’s there, all hidden in her stories of female ejaculation and getting peed on by Avenged Sevenfold, it’s there. The interesting thing is, Roxana’s rock stars seem to want to be around her as much as Ottoline’s writers wanted to be around her. They are similar in their appeal, their romantic qualities and magnetic personalities.

Also, a post script here, I find it incredibly serendipitous that Roxana dedicated her book to a “Tiger”.

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The Lover

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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.