Lady Chatterley’s Lover is a story about Lady Connie Chatterley whose husband was paralysed during the First World War, shortly after their marriage. As he is unable to fulfil her sexual needs, she begins an affair with the gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors. There’s a lot of whimsical notions about trying to find yourself and how to experience real love and the like, but really it’s a book that’s largely about sex, and so has the reputation of being rather scandalous. It’s almost like the 1920s version of Fifty Shades, except that it’s a lot less kinky, and better written, and sort of has a plot. But it’s like it in the sense that people only read it because they’ve heard there’s a lot of sex.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover was first published in 1928, but was heavily censored. When Penguin published the full uncensored version of the book in 1960, they were actually taken to court under the Obscene Publications Act of 1959 due to the amount of sexual content and the language used to describe it. However they were found to be not guilty, which caused a publishing sensation. I remember seeing a piece of black and white footage actually, I can’t remember for definite but I think it was shown during Sebastian Faulks’ BBC series Faulks on Fiction, during the episode centred around portrayals of The Lover. The footage showed a queue of people outside a bookshop waiting to pick up their copies of Lady Chatterley’s Lover once it had become available in a full, uncensored edition. It was hilarious, because even though people were queuing for the book, none of them wanted to admit that they wanted to read it, presumably because of the reputation it had gained. Every time the presenter asked someone in the queue why they wanted to read the book, they either refused to answer or said very quickly ‘Oh it’s not for me, I’m buying it for a friend.’ We Brits are so good at being embarrassed, as the footage showed all too clearly.
In a way, I think this is what ultimately left me feeling disappointed about Lady Chatterley’s Lover. There was such a fuss made over it, and there was such a fight to make sure that it was published properly, which I wholeheartedly support because I think the idea of book censorship is both ridiculous and dangerous. Because there was such an effort made though, and the fact that Penguin won their trial because the defence successfully proved that the novel was worthy of literary merit rather than just being obscene and pornographic, all of this gave me the impression that it would be a better book than it was. That might sound harsh, but I’ve heard a lot about Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and I had quite high hopes for it. In reality though, I wasn’t that taken with the story and at times, dare I say it, I was even a bit bored. You know you haven’t really hit it off with a book when even its famed ‘obscenity’ fails to keep you interested!
I think there were a whole combination of factors which left me feeling a bit underwhelmed. To begin with, I wasn’t particularly keen on any of the characters. I just never really warmed to any of them. Clifford was an unpleasant snob who really needed taking down a peg or two and waking up to the real world. While I think I could see what Lawrence was trying to do with his portrayal of Connie (‘think’ being the key word, I’m not completely sure), I really wanted to tell her to get a grip. I can understand that she was striving to form a real connection with a man and that she wanted to properly experience ‘love’, and I can also understand that sex was an important aspect for her to be able to forge these connections, but at the same time I just wanted to shake her and tell her there’s more to life than sex. As far as I was concerned, her relationship with Mellors wasn’t the same kind of relationship that she thought it was, because there didn’t seem to be any intimacy between them other than sex. They didn’t really talk to each other, and they didn’t really express any form of emotion to each other apart from when they were having sex, and if you ask me, that’s not a particularly healthy relationship. Plus Connie seemed to value her self-worth based on who she was banging and why she was banging them, and that really bothered me too. It felt like the majority of her characterisation, and pretty much the entirety of Mellors’ characterisation, was based around sex. I need more than that to think of the characters as well rounded or full.
I really wasn’t that keen on Lawrence’s writing style either. For a start, he kept using a form of dialect for Mellors’ speech, which is something that I absolutely hate, regardless of who’s writing it and what book they’re writing it in. It really pulls me out of the story whenever dialect is used, because I find it so hard to work out what the hell they’re saying. I’m a very visual reader to the point where I can clearly see and hear the characters speaking in my head, and there’s nothing that ruins that filmic quality for me faster than the inclusion of dialogue that I can’t read myself. How can I hear the characters reading it, when I don’t know how it’s meant to sound? It really interrupts the flow and rhythm of my reading, and I think it’s a cheap and easy way around the problem of characterisation. If Lawrence had given a bit more description or presented a clearer portrait of the character, he could probably have achieved the same effect by writing the dialogue normally because I would already understand that Mellors occasionally speaks with an accent and slips into colloquialisms. It might not bother other people so much, but it really is a pet peeve of mine that does make me feel distanced from the story.
Even when he wasn’t writing unintelligible dialogue like ‘Dunna wait f’r axin’!’ (Excuse me?), I didn’t particularly enjoy Lawrence’s writing style. His use of language was on the irksome side to me. He made several references to stirrings in loins and the like which, apart from being cliché, always makes me think of a joint of meat. But more distressingly still, he made even more references to bowels when Mellors in particular was feeling especially lustful. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I can think of a more unattractive or unromantic image than bowel stirrings. Seriously, the number of references to bowels alone went beyond the realms of decency for me. Just what was he trying to convey with that image? It had a touch of the Homeric nature to it in a way, but at least Homer referred to spleens rather than bowels. Anything would be more appealing than bowels.
I don’t know if it’s because I’m reading it at a time that’s so removed from the period when it was written, but I felt the prose was rather on the pretentious side. I had the impression that he was trying to make everything sound grand and meaningful, but actually, I didn’t think there was anything that meaningful in it at all. Again, I imagine I’d have had a very different reaction to it if I’d read the book in unedited form in 1928, but I didn’t think there was anything particularly groundbreaking in it. To be completely honest, I don’t really understand what all the fuss was about. Surely there must have been more to object to than the use of ‘fuck’ and ‘cunt’, but other than a bit of raciness (which we’re more than used to these days, largely thanks to the obscenity trial) I don’t really understand what the problem was, if there was any other problem. I think the trial did Lady Chatterley’s Lover the world of good, because if there hadn’t been such a fuss made I don’t think a lot of people (myself included) would have bothered to read it. I just don’t feel that the story and the writing itself merit such a long lasting reputation for greatness, because I didn’t see anything particularly great in it. I didn’t hate it by any means, but I expected an awful lot more than I received from it, which is always disappointing.