Ages ago I listened to an abridged version of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ by D. H. Lawrence, and so when I saw a lovely copy of the book in a cute bookshop while on holiday, I thought I’d give it another go.
Most people know of Lawrence’s book because of the famous trial associated with it, and for many years this book was not allowed to be read in England. I cannot imagine living in a place where you could be locked up for reading a book, but sadly this is still the case in many areas of the world, and censorship is still a huge problem.
Even books such as ‘Eleanor and Park’ by Rainbow Rowell have been censored in certain parts of the world! Taboo issues should not be covered up- whether in adult fiction, or in the YA genre.
The reason Lawrence’s book was banned in the UK was due to its explicit and open nature. While now we may be more accustomed to the f- word and the c-word, even I found it quite a bold and crude read, and so I can see why someone in the 1930s may have objected to it. Nevertheless, it was an interesting and enlightening read, and I’m glad it was finally allowed to be published in 1960.
‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ follows Lady Chatterley’s affair with her husband’s game-keeper, a man who is able to satisfy Lady Chatterley much more than her husband. After an accident in the First World War, Lady Chatterley’s husband is paralysed from the waist down, and their relationship is nothing more than a fond friendship. Sir Clifford is more than happy to content himself with writing romantic dramas, and playing endless games of piquet, but Lady Chatterley grows restless, living on a manor in the middle of nowhere, and having nobody to talk to but her husband.
Throughout the book, Sir Clifford is oblivious to his wife’s torment, and finally her sexual frustration and boredom pushes her to find satisfaction elsewhere.
As well as following Lady Chatterley’s affair, the book also considers the crumbling of the class hierarchy, and the setting of this book in the post-First World War world suggests that the ruling families of England are beginning to lose their grip.
Throughout the book, Sir Clifford entertains many intellectuals and guests at his manor house, Wragby, and these in depth discussions about important contemporary politics, such as the position of women, and the role of the lower classes, were also interesting to read, although they became a bit tedious as the book went on. Perhaps to show how Lady Chatterley was beginning to tire of Sir Clifford’s mundane and unsatisfactory world.
The book also goes into a great amount of detail when describing the changes in Lady Chatterley’s sexuality. At the start of the book, she is happy in her marriage to Sir Clifford, enjoying the rare romantic moments they have together. But, after a brief affair with a playwright that comes to stay at the house, she becomes wrapped up in a sense of gloom, realising that the best years of her life in terms of her body and sexuality are slipping away from her, and she is wasting away in this manor house.
And this is when she begins her affair with the game-keeper, Mellors, starting off tentatively at first, but soon realising that she can get satisfaction out of this relationship.
The book goes into a lot of detail regarding female sexuality. To say this book was written by a man, Lawrence creatively and perfectly describes the feelings and sensations of sex, and the descriptions used throughout the book, whether describing Lady Chatterley exulting in the rain with no clothes on, or whether describing the blowing of the leaves on the trees, everything is done with a sensual kind of creativity that I really admired.
While at times the book was a little dull, as Lawrence went into a lot of detail, and when the passages focussed on Sir Clifford it became decidedly boring, overall I really enjoyed reading this book.
It was refreshing to read a book from the 1920s which so encapsulated the feelings of sexual frustration felt by many women throughout history, and for once a writer suggested that women also have sexual needs, something little unacknowledged by society.
The way in which Lady Chatterley is portrayed as tiring of her husband, and seeking satisfaction elsewhere, when he is crippled and in a wheelchair, also suggests that she places her own enjoyment above her marriage. As much as you should feel like she is being selfish in this way, instead, I was egging her on. Why should she not find her own satisfaction, when she’s married to someone who offers her nothing? And, I mean, as much as it would be impossible to have sex, he does have full movement in the top half of his body.
The fact that Lady Chatterley has a relationship with someone so below her class also shows the shifting class barriers, and the way in which this book would have shocked contemporary readers in its blatant suggestion that a mere game-keeper offers more to a woman of high class than her rich husband.
Overall I really enjoyed this book. I think it portrayed female sexuality in an important and refreshing way, and Lawrence’s sensual descriptions were perfectly created. Despite some boring bits which I skim-read, such as the inane conversations between Sir Clifford and his nurse, or the discussions between the Cambridge intellectuals, this book was enjoyable and interesting to read.
I’m glad I re-read it, as the original audiobook I read cut out some parts of the novel, and therefore I felt like I enjoyed this book more than the first time I heard the story. This is such an important modern classic, and its years of rich history regarding censorship and the Lady Chatterley trial show the importance of this book in anyone’s collection.
I’ll leave you with the testament at the start of the book, thanking all those who made this publication possible, after years of legal battles:
“For having published this book, Penguin Books were prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act, 1959, at the Old Bailey in London from 20 October to 2 November 1960. This edition is therefore dedicated to the twelve jurors, three women and nine men, who returned a verdict of ‘Not Guilty,’ and this made D. H. Lawrence’s last novel available for the first time to the public in the United Kingdom.”
What is your view of censorship? Have you read this book? What are your views on the issues Lawrence presents?