Lady Chatterley’s Lover is a book surrounded in controversy; published in 1928 it was originally banned and then published in the 1960s after an obscenity trail deemed it had significant literary merit this resulting in its publication. Due to all the drama surrounding the novel it has become synonymous with the notion of ‘erotic’ literature, to use the term loosely, and I know from my personal experience this is all I knew of the novel before I read it.
This is the third time I have attempted to read Lady Chatterley’s Lover; as is clear I failed on the previous tries so I included this novel on my 2014 TBR pile in order to ensure I finally read and finished it. Set after the First World War it focuses on Lady Chatterley (Connie) and her relationship with her husband, Clifford, who was severely injured in the war and as a consequence is confined to a wheelchair with no feeling below the waist. Set in the country estate of Wragby Hall, Connie is soon restless with the mundane repetition of her life and seeks solace in the arms of Oliver Mellors, the gamekeeper, a decision which ultimately leads her to happiness. However this is not a novel focuses purely on the physical relationship between Connie and Mellors. It also explores the emotional and physical aftermath of a devastating war, the rising tensions between the social classes and the changing and face of England.
I can’t write about this novel without discussing the relationship between Connie and Mellors, although it was not this that made the novel so interesting for me. Due to their varied positions in society and the fact they are both married their relationship is full of taboos from the start. In a society where we are essentially free to live our lives how we please it is hard to imagine being as strictly bound by social and moral conventions as Connie is and I did emphasise with her as character, especially as her married life has not turned out the way it was expected. Her relationship with Mellors is poignant as there is a tenderness and intimacy that allows Connie to discover her true self and to take pleasure from her body and being a woman. It reads like a journey of self discovery on her part. For me the descriptions of their physical relationship were not overly shocking, but I am a product of the twenty-first century, so I expected this. What I did find shocking was the language used in places. I’m not big on swearing, but I’m far from being a saint, however I actually sat there in open mouthed shock as I read the ‘c word’ on numerous occasions (I’ll leave you to decide what kind of ‘c word’ shocked me).
The novel also explores the aftermath of the First World War and the impact this had on men and woman and on the social classes as a whole. For me this was the more interesting aspect of the novel. I emphasised with Connie, it is difficult not to. She married Clifford when he was fit and healthy and shortly after their marriage he was injured resulting in a life changing disability that had a huge impact on Connie’s life as well. She ends up shut off from society, essentially leading a life of quiet solitude with little hope of children or a fulfilled and happy life. I completely understand and appreciate that life for the men returning from war was traumatic and difficult, however it was lovely to read more about the impact this had on the woman left to cope, and although Connie perhaps doesn’t work things out in a completely moral way, I was glad that she found happiness at the end of the novel.
There is much written about how the First World War was a catalyst for changes in the lives of women and in the lives of the working class, offering a wider variety of jobs and more independence and freedom. It is always slightly ironic how men of all classes fought and died together in the trenches and yet when they returned to ‘normality’ they were subject to the class prejudices of pre-war. Throughout my reading I highlighted several paragraphs, however one in particular stuck out as reinforcing the theme of the upper class, intelligent individual against the brainwashed, working class masses. Clifford, in his aristocratic arrogance tells Connie that the workers in his colliery ‘are not men. They are animals you don’t understand, and never could. Don’t thrust your illusions on other people. The masses were always the same, and always will be the same.’ I love how he generalises all of his workers, refusing to see them as individuals, reinforcing the hypocrisy and the difficulties of the class struggle in pre war England.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover is a book I was reading for two challenges: TBR 2014 and The Classics Club. It was the primary book I read during The Classics Club Readathon this weekend and as part of the event The Club posted some finishing questions.
What book(s) did you read during the event?
I read Lady Chatterley’s Lover and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings.
What book(s) did you finish?
I finished Lady Chatterley’s Lover before I went to sleep last night, so I was very pleased to finish it as I hate completing a book and then immediately picking up a new one.
What did you like about the event?
I liked the fact there was a focus, so I knew I had 24 hours and I wanted to make sure I spent as much of that time as I could reading and just enjoying reading before the craziness of school starts again tomorrow. I also liked discovering a few new blogs on Twitter.
Would you participate in future Readathons?
I think if the timing was right and I wasn’t snowed under with work then I definitely would participate again. I think holding it right at the start of the year is a great idea as I was still chilled out from Christmas.
Hope everyone enjoyed reading as much as I did.