Monday, July 1, 2013

Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence



Finally, I have finished this book, which has been on my TBR shelf since 2011 when I received a Big Box of Penguin Deluxe Classics.  Which was awesome, but the box contained a few that I feared I would never read, including Moby-Dick, The Jungle, and this one.  (Plus Gravity's Rainbow and White Noise, but I've given those away to someone who will truly appreciate them).  I put it both the list for the Classics Club Challenge and the TBR Pile Challenge 2013.  And last month, it came up as my Classics Spin selection.  There was no escape. 

I was a little afraid, but I'd read Sons and Lovers a few years ago (with similar trepidation) and really enjoyed it.  I was actually pleasantly surprised. Chatterley wasn't bad at all -- in fact, I rather liked it -- except for the cover of the book, which is the one I own:



If you don't know the setup, here it is in a nutshell:  Constance Chattereley is a twentysomething woman, from the upper-middle class intelligensia.  Shortly before WWI, she married her husband Clifford.  After a month's honeymoon, he goes off to war and is gravely injured, paralyzed from the waist down.  His older brother died in the war, and he's now the heir to a title and to the family estate, Wragby Hall, somewhere in the English Midlands (sound familiar?  It's a bit like the second season of Downton Abbey, or what might have happened to Mary and Matthew).  

Anyhow, Constance is bored to death at Wragby.  She's shut up there in a dreary estate, the weather is terrible, and it's somewhere in the coal-mining district, so they're surrounded by factories and coal pits, which are on their last legs. (Besides Wragby, her husband also owns some interest in the mine or the factory or something like that.)  It all sounds very depressing.  Also, Clifford doesn't seem particularly interested in Constance at all.   He's got something of a writing career going, so occasionally intelligent, creative people come to the house and she's the perfect hostess, but inside she's dying.  She hates Wragby, Clifford is very distant and cold, and she's terribly lonely.  Plus, she knows she can never have a baby due to Clifford's injury.  She's not even thirty and it seems like her life is completely over.

Clifford is desperate for an heir and tells her he wouldn't mind if she had a child, even if it wasn't his.  Meanwhile, Constance has spent a lot of time tramping around the grounds and meets the gamekeeper, who's rather dishy.  He's lower-class but has some education.  One thing leads to another and they start an affair. 

The beautiful Penguin clothbound edition, which I do not own, but am tempted to buy.
I thought this book was going to be awful and dreary, but I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it.  I thought the writing was mostly very good and I felt really sorry for Constance.  I don't think she was necessarily craving sexual contact so much as intimacy -- her husband was so distant and self-centered.  Yes, he was disabled, but she was really unhappy and all he could think about was whether or not she'd take care of him.  He was really quite selfish.

Lady Chatterley's Lover was very scandalous when it was first published in 1928 -- a full version wasn't widely published in England until 1962 -- and there is a fair amount of sex in it, as you'd suppose from all the fuss made about it; however,  it really wasn't that shocking in this day and age (I'm sure it pales in comparison to Fifty Shades of Gray, which I have not read.  And you would not believe how many little old ladies at my library have read it!!  Seriously!!) 

I can see how it would have been scandalous back in the day.  But if you can get past the sex, it's really about relationships and was truly insightful about attitudes of the time, both between Constance and Clifford, and the snobbery between the classes.  The fate of the miners, though a small part of the story, was also very sad.  It reminded me of the strikes that were to come later, like in Billy Elliot.  I wonder if they ever recovered or if Clifford made tons of money when the war started ten years later. 

My one real complaint about the book was about the ending, which I found somewhat unresolved.  But overall, I'm really glad I finally got around to reading it.  Between Chatterley and Sons and Lovers, I'm over my fear of Lawrence, and now I'm thinking about tackling his other famous works, The Rainbow and Women in Love.  Anyone read either of them?  Did anyone else like Lady Chatterley's Lover, or did you all run screaming from the room?   And who else completed their Classics Spin selection?

21 comments:

  1. I've not read it; I have owned a DHL collection and have moved it many many times. Can't give you any excuse why I've failed to read this or Sons and Lovers.

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    1. I would not have read Sons and Lovers if it hadn't been the selection for an online group -- originally I was sure I'd hate it, but I liked it. Horrible people, but a really interesting story, and well written. And I would never have chosen Chatterley if it hadn't been in the Penguin prize box. So you just never know until you try!

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  2. I've still not made it through The Rainbow, but I loved Women in Love. I read a lot of Laurence twenty years ago, okay, twenty five years ago. I thought he was wonderful then.

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    1. I want to read Women in Love but I feel like I should read The Rainbow first, in order. I've been really surprised both times how much I enjoyed Lawrence so I think I will read them both eventually.

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  3. I've had this on my shelf for a long time. Your review helps a lot - I think I'll pick it up this summer and give it a try!

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    1. Thanks!! It was so much better than I expected. I'm really glad this one came up as my Classics Spin number, I'm sure I would have just kept putting it off otherwise.

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  4. I've been curious about this one for so long! Bumping it up my TBR list. Thanks for the great review!

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    1. Thanks! It was definitely much less scary than I expected. I'm glad to have finally read it. That box of Penguins also included Moby Dick and The Jungle, which both scare me too.

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  5. I keep intending to read LCL and then being put off by one or both of the following things:

    1. Knowing that Mr. Mybug in Cold Comfort Farm was based on DH Lawrence. I can't stop thinking about Stephen Fry in that part.

    2. Knowing that at one point they braid flowers into each other's pubic hair. Ew.

    One of these days I really will tackle it though.

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    1. Did not know about Mr. Mybug!! Now I'll have to reread CCF. And I didn't realize it was Stephen Fry, it's been years since I saw it. I'll have to watch it again too!

      I agree about the flowers, that was just bizarre. I did kind of skim over parts, including that one. I don't even want to imagine it.

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  6. I enjoyed LCL although it's years since I read it. Loved your review, it made me want to read it again.

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    1. Thanks! If you reread it, I hope it doesn't disappoint. It's great when books are just as wonderful years later.

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  7. Aww, this is one of my favorite books. I love a lot of things about it, the pretty writing most of all. I'm glad to see you enjoyed it! (And you are one of the rare persons I know that liked Sons and Lovers too.)

    Your reference to 50 Shades of Grey amused me. I actually think Lady Chatterley's Lover *is* more explicit than that book (on top of being better in any other conceivable aspect, including gender politics - and Lawrence was not without his problems there).

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    1. I admit, I've only flipped through 50 Shades at the library, so I really shouldn't judge. But it started out as Twilight fanfiction so that's enough for me to give it a pass.

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  8. Love this book!

    I first read it years ago at University, but didn`t really get the deeper meaning of it until I re-read it this past winter.

    Yes, it does have a somewhat "Downton Abbey" feel to it as well.

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    1. Yes, I kept imagining Lady Mary and Matthew in the same situation. Maybe Mary will find a hot gamekeeper now that Matthew's gone.

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  9. Both of the top covers are quite interesting! I was so depressed after reading Sons and Lovers. This one sounds like it might at least have some brighter moments, or maybe just steamier ones!

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    1. Parts of it are pretty steamy, but not shocking for modern readers. And the ending was not what I expected, but it didn't depress me.

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  10. I wasn't all that keen on Lady Chatterley. I guess my issue was the assumption that relationships can only be sexual or intellectual, and not a mix of the two. That and the kind of rapey control issues that they have. That's just me though.

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  11. I got a copy of Chatterley when you did, and it has been languishing on my shelf as well. I read a fair amount of Lawrence in my youth but got fed up with him before I reached this novel, which does sound very good. Glad to hear it was an enjoyable read--maybe it'll be on a classics reading list for 2014.

    I like your comparisons to Downton Abbey, Billy Elliot, and 50 Shades of Gray, which I also haven't read but I'm sure the little old ladies at my library have all had a go at it too!

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  12. I have a copy too from my library and it's still waiting :) I will try to read it soon (but in French).

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