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Sunday, 10 July 2011

Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence

So, my first review in the new format and I pick another classic, straight after I'd finished All Quiet on the Western Front. Why this one? Three reasons. One, I need to read it for university. Two, it's been on my TBR list for a long time now. And three, I'd already started reading this a while ago, but thought I'd cut my new format's metaphorical teeth on something that I wasn't all that far from finishing.

So, Lady Chatterley's Lover, a book most famous for the controversy it stirred up at the time of publication (hell, I should know, I had to analyse the prosecution's statement from the trial in one of my exams this year). The story concerns Lady Constance Chatterley, a young woman who marries a baronet, Sir Clifford, who was paralysed from the waist down in the First World War. As she becomes increasingly disillusioned with her life and her marriage to Clifford, she starts an affair with the gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors. That is the book at it's most basic form, but there are more layers to it than that.
But, it being an obvious place to start, I'll talk about the bit that everybody knows about: the sex. Is it that controversial? Well, yes and no. Yes, because I can very well see how shocking this would have been to an audience around the time it was published, as it is quite candid about nakedness, the intimacy between a man and a woman and the subject of adultery. No, because by today's standards, while this is candid, it's not really anything that we haven't seen a million times over in trashy gossip magazines all over the country. In comparison to today's standards, it's rather tame. At times it's downright unusual (threading flowers in each other's pubic hair? Really?) and at others so vague that I wasn't 100% sure that anything was even happening. In any case, sex is only as interesting as the characters and the love affair that goes with it, right? Well, that was something that I had issues with reading this. I know that the whole point of the sex and the adulterous relationship was to highlight the importance of physicality in a relationship, but I couldn't help but feel that the sex was all that really made up the relationship between Connie and Mellors. The only real scenes of them talking have them either admiring each other's physicality or despairing at a world that is losing physicality in favour of money and industrialisation. I also felt rather more sympathetic towards Clifford than I probably ought to have. True he is a very creepy, childish and selfish man, but these main faults ultimately stem from his injuries and the horrors of the war, which I can't honestly hold against him. That also made the adultery seem a little underhanded (or more than normal anyway).
The main other messages in the novel are the evils of war, industrialisation and money, which I think was conveyed much better. Living in the British countryside myself, the images of it being ravaged by coal mines and heavy industry is suitably ugly and dispiriting. The idea that industry will lead to us happily slaughtering one another for money and consumerism is uncomfortably familiar, considering some of the attitudes that lead to our current economic environment, makes this book fairly powerful still, just not for the reasons typically assigned to this novel.

So my overall opinion? A novel with very interesting ideas about war and industrialism, but the romance and the sex is far too over-hyped. 3.5/5

Next review: Jealousy by Alain Robbe-Grillet.

Signing off,

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