I've been on a bit of a classics kick lately. I have a good collection on my bookshelf, old favorites that I read every now and then when I feel like taking a break from modern literature. It always takes some effort, to be completely honest. Most of these are long, ponderous and sometimes just hard to get through. But I like that every time I pick one of them up my understanding of them gets a little bit better. I like to think of it as my English getting better. Or maybe I just have a very bad memory.
Anyway. "Lady Chatterley's Lover" has always been a favorite of mine for two reasons: DH Lawrence's commentary on modern life, and the naughty bits. And that's not just me being a dirty minded person with a secret love for a well-written sex scene (ok, just about any sex scene is fun to read, you know it's true). In this book, the two go hand in hand. It's essentially a story about two people who feel completely disconnected from the world finding each other and finally feeling connected to something. Through lots and lots of sex.
Yeah, yeah, I'm being all flippant about it, but really, if you want an in-depth analysis of Lawrence's criticism of the modern world, then you should probably join a book club or a literature class. All I want to do is enjoy a good book. And all its dirtyness.
The plot: It's post-World War I England. One of those miserable little mining towns where everything is bleak and sad. Constance Chatterley is married to Clifford Chatterly, a crippled war veteran who is the owner of a large estate near the miserable little mining town. She is miserable and lonely, the only people she knows are Clifford's intellectual buddies who are all about philosophy, talking a lot, and being generally empty of anything exciting. Eventually, Connie starts an affair with her husband's gamekeeper, a solitary man who lives in a conveniently secluded hut in the woods. They're both sick of the modern world and find that the only way to be happy is to be connected with people. Mentally and physically.
And that's basically it. It sounds pretty simple, but the truth is that Lawrence is an author who is clearly sad and angry at the state of the world around him, and he's making a case for connecting with people and just giving in to basic human emotions. He's saying the modern, industrial world is turning people ugly, mean, spiritless, and he wants that to change. Connie, though a little too passive-aggresive sometimes, is a good character who serves to illustrate a woman's sexuality and just wanting to break out of boredom and routine.
It probably won't work for everyone, though. I like that Lawrence is so passionate about everything he writes, but this makes for some very lengthy passages of people talking to each other and being all 'woe, the modern world!'. The book doesn't really pick up until about halfway through, when Connie first takes up with the gamekeeper. Then it gets good, with the plot really kicking in--coincidentally (!) just as Connie finally starts to live again. And oh, yeah, when the sex scenes start. This book was banned for decades in the UK, and I can certainly see why. It's very graphic, but it's not just your generic bodice-ripper. There's a point to everything he's writing and the sex scenes do turn very steamy sometimes. It's great.
So to me, it's a really great classic all the way through. It's thoughtful and sometimes depressing (and what true classic isn't depressing?), a great illustration of the post-war world, and I like that so much of it holds true today. Though that's kind of depressing at the same time.
And I'm left wondering what DH Lawrence would've thought of the sexual revolution of the 60s. He would've loved it, I think.