First published in 1928, the scandalous Lady Chatterley’s Lover was banned in the United Kingdom for over 30 years. In 1960, Penguin, who used the defence that it was of literary merit, published it. This resulted in the famous obscenity trial against Penguin Books where the since-mocked questions were asked; “Is it a book you would have lying around your own house? Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?” In 1961, after Penguin was found not guilty, the second edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover was dedicated to the twelve jurors who allowed the book to be openly published. And so, like this, DH Laurence’s story of a passionate affair across societal boundaries and of a woman discovering her sensuality and the value of living life on her own term’s gained a reputation which still lasts today.
The day of its first publication in 1960, it sold 200,000 copies and I am almost certain that with a new BBC adaptation to be released in 2015 starring Holliday Grainger, Richard Madden and James Norton, the book will be making waves across a brand new audience and generation. After all, banned books always engender curiosity. Although I had been intending to read Lady Chatterley’s Lover for a while, wanting to see for myself what all the fuss had been about, it was the news of the new adaptation that gave me the final push to read it. Lady Chatterley’s Lover is not the story of a love affair that takes place in a vacuum. This is very clearly a 20th century drama which concerns itself with the changes happening in society around the characters, changes such as the collapse of British industry, ‘liberated’ women and recovering soldiers. The world around Constance Chatterley has been destroyed and is in the process of building itself up again. When she married her husband in 1917, she did not think of sex as an important part of life, instead preferring an intellectual connection and so when her husband is paralysed in the war, this doesn’t much affect their relationship. It isn’t until later that she begins to feel that something is missing. Her role of carer is slowly taken from her as a woman is hired to be a nurse for Clifford, and eventually this woman also takes away Constance’s role of companion, and she finds herself enjoying her new freedom. Constance takes her new freedom step-by-step, first enjoying walks in the forests until eventually, she begins an affair with Oliver Mellors, the groundskeeper. The characters themselves are mostly not particularly exciting. Constance is, for the majority of the novel, difficult to understand. Even though the story is told from her perspective, it is unclear to the reader whether she loves Mellors, whether she is using him for sexual gratification or just because she has nothing better to do. Similarly, with Mellors, it is unclear for much of the book whether he truly loves Constance or is simply lustful. It isn’t for a while that these questions are clarified, and even when I am sure that the two do love each other, I still doubted it. How long would it last? This final question is left unanswered, and I now appreciate the significance behind it. We, the reader, are much like the people around Constance and Mellors who, when they declare their relationship, doubt the sincerity of their relationship. Even further, my dismissal of the depth of their relationship also highlighted something else to me; that claiming that Lady Chatterley’s Lover is only a book about a scandalous affair greatly diminishes it. In fact, the affair itself wasn’t even the most interesting part of the book. On the other hand, what interested me the most was Constance’s embracing of her liberty and her growth into a woman who decides to live her life on her own terms. It is this that I believe set Lady Chatterley’s Lover out from the other books of its time. This was a time of writers philosophising, questioning life and death and the world around them. This was the time of the Lost Generation writers and experimentation in literature, breaking down the rules and boundaries. Although Lady Chatterley literally is breaking the rules, having an affair, getting pregnant and even worse, with someone in a different class who is also married, she is also acting against the intellectual movement of the time. Her husband literally cannot enjoy his physical body, but neither can he appreciate this enjoyment in other people or the physical world around him without breaking it down to ideas and words. It is this world which Constance rejects and is “born” again as a woman.
I don’t think I would class Lady Chatterley’s Lover as an enjoyable read, but it was definitely interesting and I don’t regret reading it. Although the plot was dull and the relationship between Constance and Mellors felt unclear and a little flat, this allows Constance’s development as a character to really shine. Constance rebels against society in the opposite way to characters in other books from the same period; Constance embraces sexual and physical love, and emotions came after. She rejected the world of intellectualism and philosophising and instead falls in love with Mellors’ world, one of nature, transparency and staying true to oneself.