Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Books: Lady Chatterley's Lover, by D.H. Lawrence

I didn't much enjoy Women in Love when I slogged through it last year, so I have no idea why I decided to read Lady Chatterley's Lover, except, perhaps, to continue to the project of gettin' me more educated-like. A week before I started it, I was at my company's summer outing, on a floating bar in the middle of the Hudson River, and one of my colleagues was laughing hysterically (she was, of course, quite inebriated) because she had seen that someone had a copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover in her handbag. I told her to zip it because I was carrying The Hunchback of Notre Dame in mine. I neglected to tell her that I had Lady Chatterley on my desk at home, just waiting for me, in a stack of other nerdy classics.

That aside, I liked Lady Chatterley's Lover a lot better than The Hunchback of Notre Dame and a lot better than Women in Love, too. WiL follows two artsy sisters as they have philosophical conversations, glory in the loveliness of colored stockings (I'm serious), and ride around in boats with young men. It's very fey. LC'sL, on the other hand, is very raw. Lady Constance Chatterley is a hearty Scottish wench who's been married, unfortunately, to an obnoxious English fellow by the name of Clifford, a cloying little brat of a man, who's paralyzed from the waist down and therefore unable to perform his husbandly duties. Instead, he writes gossipy novels full of thinly veiled characters copied after his friends; his books are very popular. After a few attempts at taking lovers amongst her class, she begins a liaison with one Oliver Mellors, the gamekeeper (read: rustic servant) of her husband's estate. Their lover affair is fuckin' raw, dude. It includes such things as the word "fuck," the word "cunt," and a discourse on simultaneous orgasms. I definitely got an education, just not the kind I expected.

Hey! You have a dirty mind, reader! The education that I got was in writing in dialect. Mellors is actually much more educated than he lets on, and one of Constance's frustrations (which, I would argue, helps to turn her on) is the way he insists on speaking in dialect, even though he can speak proper English. It's this baser form of language that brings him to say "cunt" in one of the best exchanges in literature ever: Mellors: "Tha'rt good cunt, though, aren't ter? Best bit o' cunt left on earth. When ter likes! When tha'rt willin'!" Constance: "What is cunt?" Mellors: "And doesn't ter know? Cunt! It's thee down theer! An' what I get when I'm i'side thee, and what tha gets when I'm i'side thee; it's a' as it is, all on't. " Constance: "Cunt! It's like fuck then." Mellors: "Nay nay! Fuck's only what you do! Animal's fuck. But cunt's a lot more than that. It's thee, dost see: an' tha'art a lot besides an animal, aren't ter?—even ter fuck? Cunt! Eh that's the beauty o' thee, lass?" This, "obscenity" aside, is brilliant dialogue, and brilliant dialect, and probably the most tender use of the word "cunt" (which is personally one of my favorite words) ever. It's brilliant.

Of course, Constance is married, and Mellors, too, has a wife from the past whom he hasn't divorced when the two become lovers. Soon enough, Constance becomes pregnant, and the secret of their affair becomes public. They decide to divorce their respective spouses and marry, and their ending is much happier than that of the young couple in Jude the Obscure. They both get to live (rare for a 19th Century woman who has sex out of wedlock), and though they don't marry at the book's end, they remain lovers who likely have marriage in their future. This, I'll bet, is what made this book more obscene than any other of its day. Lots of sin, little punishment. And that wasn't legalized until the 1960s, along with this novel.

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