Published privately in Italy in 1928 this was immediately banned due to explicit sexual content and vulgarity. It was only available in heavily abridged versions until 1959 (released by the Supreme Court along with Tropic of Cancer and Fanny Hill. (Ulysses had been okayed in 1934.)
Interesting I should be reading this during Banned Books Week. We have to remember that books were once banned in this country and they no longer are – taking books off a public school’s library shelf is dangerous, but it’s not the same as making sales and distribution – or even ownership – illegal.
Anyway – I read this back in 1966 or so – as a high school senior and yes, I was impressed by the literary value, I enjoyed the descriptions of nature, but honestly I was more interested in the “good parts.” And I wasn’t all that primed to read it again because a lot of graphic sex in books gets boring these days and I end up skimming. Oh well – a reading group chose it so I read it.
Connie and Clifford Chatterly live in a small mansion in a central rural area of England called the Midlands. They are north of London near some coal mines which they own and operate but which are doing poorly. Although Connie was of a somewhat lower class than Clifford (a baron) they met in Cambridge, married during WWI and Clifford went off to war. There he was injured to the point of being paralyzed from the waist down and was unable to have sexual relations. Connie loves Clifford dearly but after a few years of living with a seriously crippled husband she gets bored with country living – of life. The narrator lets us know that Connie is ailing for sex. Clifford tells Connie he wants a son (he is the last of the Chatterly line) and that it’s okay if she takes a lover to get one – provide he’s from a good social class.
Then Connie meets Chatterley’s gamekeeper, a man named Mellors, who fought very honorably in the war but came home to his own peasant class working and living on the Chatterly land – a servant of sorts. Mellors’ wife has left him for another man, his child is with Mellors’ own mother and so he is alone. Yup, Connie and Mellors get together, get it on, make a baby. This has serious repercussions as the far less naive Mellors predicted.
A couple major themes make the book surprisingly very similar to Thomas Hardy’s books (1890s) except Lawrence gets quite a lot more explicit and I’m not sure Hardy’s good women characters ever actually permitted extra-marital sex – Connie in Lady Chatterley’s Lover initiates the sex. To both authors sexual natures and expression are a part and parcel of the nature of humans and society has rules about it. Life can be made totally miserable for those who actually act on their natural instincts when their actions are outside society’s rules. In Hardy the women are usually the wronged and trampled “good” characters, but in Lawrence that’s not necessarily the case and both men and women have overt, natural sexual instincts and desires. The heavy use of nature in both books underscores the natural element.
Society and class issues were still very important in England of the 1920s. Lawrence was writing about that as well as the sexual part – this isn’t about sex in a vacuum – like Hardy, he’s challenging the ideas and attitudes of the times. The idea that a “Lady” should have an affair with a servant was unspeakable and the pair were doomed in society’s eyes.
It seems that at times Lawrence is extolling the virtues of hard physical work and sex over books and art, the life of the mind, the stuff of Sir Clifford Chatterley’s life. He’s of the mind that sex is a natural and spontaneous physical impulse and society stands in the way of its free expression – especially in women. – I see the influence of Lawrence’s own life. (Of the aristocrat class, Frieda von Richthofen had to divorce her first husband in order to marry her working class lover, Lawrence.)
So Lawrence is portraying an illicit love affair with complete sympathy – good people
with natural desires in understandable situations – this was not approved by society in the 1920s. The fact it’s portrayed in graphic detail (for the day) with all the emotional love and release made it worse – censored stamped on the cover – it was “Banned in Boston.”
Very interesting review (2014) at Novel Readings – a bit tougher on the book than I am.