Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence | Book Report
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Published: Thu, 14 Dec 2017
The novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover begins by introducing the female protagonist, Constance Chatterley. She was brought up as a bohemian of the upper-middle class, and at 23, she marries Clifford Chatterley, an aristocrat. After their honeymoon, he is sent to war, and returns paralysed from the waist down, impotent.
Clifford grows to be an accomplished writer, and many academic men frequently gather at the Chatterley’s mansion. The intellectuals turn out to be vacant and seem scared of true feelings, and Connie feels increasingly secluded. She resorts to a short and disappointing affair a writer who comes to visit Clifford. The distance between Connie and Clifford increases as Clifford withdraws into his hollow pursuit of writing and coal-mining. Connie hires a nurse, Mrs. Bolton, to take care of the disabled Clifford so that she can gain freedom, and Clifford begins to depend on the nurse; his maturity waning into an infantile dependence.
Connie meets Oliver Mellors, the aloof and contemptuous gamekeeper on Clifford’s estate and is attracted to his natural sensuality. She soon discovers that the source of her misery is from not being fulfilled in physical love and passion, and subsequently turns to Mellors. They meet and have sex on several occasions and she has a sexual awakening that changes her thoughts forever. Mellors’ old wife, Bertha returns and causes a scandal, whilst Connie believes that she is pregnant with Mellors’ child. Clifford refuses to give Connie a divorce. The novel ends with Mellors waiting for his divorce, and Connie living with her sister, hoping that they will be together.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover lies in a paradox: it is progressive and intransigent, contemporary and Victorian. It displays Victorian principles, yet it gives the impression that it is expecting the social ethics of the late 20th century in its blunt use of overt profanity. The structure is conservative, following the characters over a set period of time. The characters have a tendency to symbolize a type and be something of a concept, rather than developing authentic traits. This seems to say that Lawrence uses them as allegories to demonstrate his values of sensuality and his irritation with society.
The themes of sexual identities and sexual progression are quite common in this novel and each character embodies these ideas. Connie is a woman who grew up to appreciate the sensual and passionate side of a relationship. Her father, Sir Malcolm, told her that it is no good living in an intellectual relationship without sensuality, just as Connie has with Clifford. Her father is in touch with both his imaginative and corporeal sides; Lawrence connects conservative with nonconforming sexual customs. This mix could well be argued as Lawrence’s ideal, as well as Connie’s. She is a woman who idealises the thought of cohesion between the body and mind, and cannot live a life with ‘all mind’. At first she wants intellectual love, then she wants sexual fulfilment, then she wants a child to love and nurture. Constance (ironically named) is always changing her mind on what it is that will complete and satisfy her in life. I think this is a good example of sexual progression as she only changes her mind after learning what more she could gain from a relationship to make her feel like a woman.
We learn about the vicious relationship between Mellors and his wife Bertha, who angered him by being sexually aggressive and not tender enough. Through Bertha’s ‘fault’ (according to Mellors negative opinion of this), Lawrence seems to be praising submissiveness in women; he appreciates women who allow themselves to be receptors to masculine authority. In essence, satisfaction for a woman is achieved through succumbing to the male. Bertha’s sexually controlling characteristic hints at feminism – she wants to take control of her own pleasure and be sexual when and how she wants. She might have been portrayed differently if the book had been written today. In spite of all of this, his approach to the conventions of sex and the roles of men and women hardly seem progressive.
Tommy Dukes, a visiting writer, says that the physical and intellectual can’t work together and that men and women have lost their “glamour” to each other. He seems to be a character that Lawrence believes has the right ideals, recognising the significance of physical love as a fundamental way for men and women to connect intellectually. ‘Real knowledge comes out of the whole corpus of the consciousness; out of your belly and your penis as much as out of your brain and mind. The mind can only analyse and rationalise.'
Despite this, he is indifferent about everything he preaches. His theories are pointless without substance and action, and it is as though he does not really believe what he says without practise. He has an inability to go beyond words and seems sexually frigid. It is at the beginning of chapter 6 that it is almost impossible to take Dukes thoughts and emotions as his own. His words overlap heavily with the message of the story: passion is unable to coexist with an intellectual connection. ‘A woman wants you to like her and talk to her, and at the same time love her and desire her; and it seems to me the two things are mutually exclusive.'
There is an obvious distinction between Tommy Dukes, with his well-intended but worthless talk on love, and the gamekeeper Mellors, behind whose cold disguise there is an overflow of tenderness and passion. They are polar opposites that reveal different sexual identities Connie faces.
Clifford Chatterley is a man who is disconnected from his environment and from other people. He cannot empathise with the workers in his coal mines, seeing them more as cogs in his industry than as men. The paradox is that Clifford also grows to be a servant of his industry, debauching himself in return for success.
Clifford also values technology (his sudden interest in the coal mining/working-class community) and the success of his writing over the relationship he has with his wife. He is unable to procreate and he seems to disregard this fact with his intellect by justifying every bodily sensation intellectually. Had he been virile, Connie may not have indulged herself in the newfound excitement of Mellors, but the fact that he is not supplies the most obvious symbol of changing sexual identities in the 20th century – the dilemma of the ‘redundant’ man.
It is though his injury in the war has also spoilt his heart. His writings (according to Connie) seem utterly deprived of meaning. I feel that he acts as a figurative character as much as he does as a real character because his physical disability and his lack of sensuality reflect a deeper limitation and emptiness – much like post-war England. This is especially highlighted when he and Connie take a walk outside of Wragby. They go from an intellectual chasm to the remnants of an unspoiled, blooming English countryside where Mellors first comes into view. He stands for the earthy, pastoral England, and seems completely mismatched with Clifford and the impassive men who gather together at Wragby. Clifford only begins to think seriously about the local villages and about the coal mines in which the local men work when Mrs. Bolton gossips to him about local affairs. This seems to point out that he needs an authoritative hand to push him in the ‘right’ direction, even if it’s just to think seriously about something classed as a masculine occupation. It is ironic that the person to spur him into revitalising the dying local coal industry is a woman.
The fact that Clifford grants Connie permission to have sex with another man for an heir surely shows that he is not sexually attached to his wife, and his using this authority over her actually shows what little masculinity there is of him left. It is an ironic and seemingly unconscious struggle for him to demonstrate typically masculine traits whilst impotent. He reasons that sex would not be important or comparable to his and Connie’s marriage. This, I believe, is one of his biggest faults of transgression as it shows just how differently he regards physical contact, compared to his wife.
There is also the complex relationship that grows between Clifford and Mrs. Bolton after Connie has left. Her husband used to work in one of Clifford Chatterley’s mines before he was killed and Mrs. Bolton begrudges Clifford for this, though she sustains a respectful manner towards him as she is delighted by her contact with the upper-class. Clifford depends upon her, but scorns her; she is a servant to him, but is also in charge of him, for he is, by himself, helpless. Even though their association is always a master-servant relationship; it begins to take the shape of a perverse mother-child relationship as a result of Clifford’s total reliance upon Mrs. Bolton. I think that this is one of the most intricate and mesmerising relationships of the book.
The novel constantly shows the contrast between the body and mind by using Connie and Mellors’ disappointing relationships as examples. Constance is stuck in a relationship with her husband who is ‘all mind’ and Mellors’ old wife was too domineering for Mellors to feel masculine. Connie and Mellors are forced to learn more about the coalition of both the mind and body; Connie learns that sex is more than just an ‘accident' and a disappointing act, and Mellors discovers the emotional changes that come from physical love.
To summarise, Lady Chatterley’s Lover dips into an array of themes which shows how culturally sound it is in the world we live in. It exposes people of all dispositions and fancies and illustrates how relationships between such people form and break. It is a complex book with a concurrent message: the body without the mind is wild, and the mind without the body is empty.
 D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover (Ware: Wordsworth Editions Ltd, 2005), p.30.
 Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, p. 46.
 Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, p. 8.
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