D. H. Lawrence's 'Lady Chatterley's Lover'


There are very few books that stand out so clearly to the world at large as ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’. Perhaps this is still, even after the passing of almost fifty-seven years since the infamous obscenity trial, due to its reputation as a ‘smutty’ book full of rude words. I wonder how many of those who continue to hold on to these notions have ever picked up a copy of the full text version and allowed themselves to be taken up by this often very tender story. It is telling that Lawrence originally considered giving the novel the title ‘’Tenderness’.

Lawrence’s own rather unhappy domestic life is often thought to have given rise to some aspects of the novel and the trigger for the relationship between Connie and Mellors could well have been inspired by that between Lady Ottoline Morrell and the young stonemason (‘Tiger’) who was employed to carve some plinths for her garden statues.

‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ was Lawrence’s last novel and its first edition was published privately in Florence in 1928. Lawrence died not very long after on the 2nd March 1930.Although his health had never been particularly robust, Lawrence’s last few years were beset by illness. He had been living in Taos, New Mexico for some time. It was here that he had hoped to live out his days in a kind of utopian community but, during a visit to Mexico, he suffered a near fatal attack of malaria.This, together with tuberculosis, prompted his permanent return to Europe and his worsened state of health prevented all future travel.

Lawrence took a villa near Florence where he wrote ‘The Virgin and The Gipsy’ and began work on ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’, which he continually re-worked to achieve a final result that satisfied him.

The book is, of course, far more than the story of a sexual relationship between a physically frustrated woman and a gamekeeper with a healthy sexual appetite. The central relationship is delicately handled and builds quite slowly. Sir Clifford Chatterley, paralyzed from the waist down due to an injury sustained during the Great War, is not just physically impotent but emotionally cold. This echoes a common theme for Lawrence: that the aristocracy might well have received intellectual development through their privileged education but were often emotionally stunted.Another regular theme for Lawrence was that the mind alone could never be sufficient for a full relationship, there had to be a combination of the intellectual and the sensual. Constance, Lady Chatterley, was a sensual woman who enjoyed nature and being physically active. This contrasts markedly with her husband - even before his injury.

The book also looks at the relationship Oliver Mellors has with his wife, Bertha. Mellors is a bully towards her and often brutal. Bertha finds she can punish Mellors by withholding herself from him.

During the obscenity trial of Penguin Books in 1960, Richard Hoggart (along with E. M. Forster, Helen Gardner, Raymond Williams and Norman St-John Stevas) stood as witnesses. Hoggart argued that the main subject of the book was not the sexual passages but the search for integrity and wholeness and that the key to this was proper cohesion between the mind and the body. The book brings a sharp focus upon the incoherence of living a life that was ‘all mind’.

Themes of class difference abound in the works of Lawrence. In ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ this is not just between Mellors and Connie but also between Sir Clifford and Connie – he is aristocracy but she is merely intelligentsia – and, more obviously, between the mineworkers from Tevershall and Sir Clifford as the mine owner who wants to introduce new technology.Lawrence is not an undiluted supporter of the working class in their struggle against the capitalists - this was not his politics at all.The mining areas where Lawrence grew up were often hotbeds of Protestantism with fierce moral standards that could be extremely proscriptive of adultery and out-of-wedlock behaviour.

Lawrence takes a very realistic approach to sexual congress and applies subtle descriptions of objective states of mind. Sometimes Connie finds it ridiculous, even farcical, as Mellors’s buttocks rise and fall yet, the same act just a short time later can be physically and emotionally passionate.

During the obscenity trial the chief prosecutor, Mervyn Griffith-Jones was ridiculed for asking if this were the kind of book “you would wish your wife or servants to read”. The jury of three women and nine men delivered their ‘not guilty’ verdict on the 2nd of November 1960.When Penguin published the second edition in 1961 the book contained a publisher’s dedication to the twelve jurors who “thus made D. H. Lawrence’s last novel available for the first time to the public in the United Kingdom”.

The Penguin 1960 edition was the first authorized full-text version after the first edition printed privately in Florence in 1928. There had been other editions after 1928 - including several pirate editions of the Florence text. Alfred A Knopf issued an ‘authorized’ abridged edition in the USA in 1928 (this edition was reissued in the USA in 1946 by Signet Books) and Martin Secker issued a heavily censored version in the UK in 1932. We are proud to have copy number 213 of the 1,000 printed privately in Florence, signed on the limitation page by D. H. Lawrence.

Whether it is the Florence edition or a modern paperback version, this is a truly great novel that is well worth the read.

  • Date posted:
    04/03/2017
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