now finished: Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence
Like most things besought by scandal, the so-called scandalous bits of this book are SO not the point. I am really glad that the edition I bought (ISBN: 0-8021-33347) includes not only a critical analysis "introduction" (which I read after, of course, so as to not have the plot ruined for me) and some historical information about when it was published, but also includes an excerpt from the court decision that allowed it to be published unexpurgated (what was that I said about wanting to read novels instead of case law this summer?!) and even a letter from Archibald MacLeish saying that it should be published.
Archibald, in fact, points out that when you take out any page with a four-letter word or description of the sex act and then print that expurgated material in its own separate little bundle alongside the larger text, then of COURSE it seems "offensive" and of course its point in the novel as a whole is lost.
So, we've established that the novel is really good, and not in an "I-read-Playboy-for-the-articles" way, but why? Well, let's take the very first line:
"Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically."
That rings true today as well, of course. We are lost, lost, lost, but too lost to even know it.
D.H. Lawrence says humankind pretty much destroyed itself, by refusing to appreciate their human bodies. Not just for sex, although that is relevant, and symbolic, but because people are so caught up in the intellectual life and things they tell themselves are important that they neglect what is actually important.
So here's the gamekeeper, who had his stint out in the world among the cool kids, as an officer and a gentleman, if you will, and he has rejected that and returned to the shire of his youth. But, he has not gone back to the crappy coal-town village of his upbringing or back to his even more crappy wife; he is living in isolation in the wood on the Wragby estate owned by Chatterley. It's fully bacchanalian of him, especially when Lady Chatterley goes out to dance naked in the rainstorm and he grudgingly follows her. Naked, natural, earthy bliss.
But in the end when they want to be together, their bliss is thwarted by the entanglements of the world, as they both need to get divorced and their respective disgruntled spouses fight this tooth and nail. Their hope, though, lies in the child they conceived, which they call the future and which they both somehow tenderly believe is real and true. Mellors, the gamekeeper, takes a bit longer to believe in this child, because he is so altogether frustrated at the world. It's not people per se, as he explains; it's not that he couldn't have "got on" in the army. He liked the men there, and they worked well with him too.
"No, it was stupid, dead-handed higher authority that made the army dead: absolutely fool-dead. I like men and men like me. But I can't stand the twaddling bossy impudence of the people who run this world. That's why I can't get on." --pp. 344-345
I. Love. It.
I have found more and more in this novel that speaks to my law school experience, and to many of my experiences in this world. Good ol' D.H. was disgusted by an England that had died of industrialisation, but he was equally disgusted by the people who sat around living the "intellectual life" while entirely out of touch with their bodies, their selves. I think our world a hundred years later is even more hyper-technology-industrialized, and we are even more out of touch with our physical selves, whether from obesity/preservatives, or the sheer laziness that is life in front of a television, or the fact that we can't walk five steps down the street and have to jump in our car and go from fake environment to fake environment all the time. I'm thinking of the very term "air-conditioning." What artifice do we construct in which to dwell?
But so while Mellors has no hope for the future or the generation that has learned only how to spend money but now has none to spend (hello!), and Connie has her issues with everyone's constraints, there are actually some very good points made by others: doesn't Connie's sister Hilda help her out, despite major reservations about class-mixing? Doesn't their father know best, having lived quite a life but found a way to not be just trapped in a marriage? And even poor paralyzed husband Clifford, who really says some terrible things (he's sort of that obnoxious, Fox-news-watching Republican uncle at the Thanksgiving dinner) really mean well--plus he's only so awful because he's LITERALLY had his life and freedom of movement and sex taken away from him, by being paralyzed in the war?
Man, there is so much going on in this book! And it's soooo good!
Read it, I say! Or read at least something by D.H. Lawrence, at any rate.
Coming soon, my updated ranking of my literary blog project books, so far.