First published privately in 1928, Lady Chatterley’s Lover was banned from wider publication in the UK until 1960 and was the subject of censorship and book banning in the United States and elsewhere. Its erotic subject material, colorful language, and discussion of interclass relations were deemed obscene.
Now deemed a classic work of artistic merit written before its time, D.H. Lawrence’s thoughtfully penned novel scrutinizes marriage, infidelity, and the things people do to achieve physical and emotional happiness. The novel’s frank approach to sex and desire infuses Lady Chatterley’s Lover with a modern sensibility that rings as true and thought-provoking in the present as upon its first scandalous publication.
Time and Setting: Post WWI – Derbyshire, England
Heat Level: 1.5
Genre: Classic Literature
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars content/3.5 narration
Review by Wendy
I first read Lady Chatterley’s Lover in the 1960’s not long after it had been released for public consumption – for all of the wrong reasons! The book was whispered about and clandestinely read by school children (myself included), mostly because of its notoriety, and I’ll admit that I didn’t really understand or care about it’s deeper meaning. Reading, or in this case, listening, to it again, with a more mature view on life, I found the writing to be quite modern, with a lot of what was written being still pertinent or topical nearly ninety years after publication, although it is quite blatantly misogynistic. It is obvious to me why Lawrence was considered to be a man ahead of his time. What struck me throughout though, was the utter cynicism in tone; the characters don’t seem to like each other, which casts a very dreary pall on the story. There is no joy, no one is happy – not even when they are engaging in their very lacklustre sexual encounters.
The story is set post WWI when women were just beginning to emerge as a force to be reckoned with, and the very backbone of the upper classes is beginning to crumble. Constance (Connie) married Clifford Chatterley before he went off to war and they had had a short, normal, but insipid married life before their separation and he returned a badly injured man. He was not expected to live but made a surprisingly good recovery, albeit he is now confined to a wheeled chair and paralysed from the waist down. A baronet, he accepts his lot in life with equanimity and settles down to rule his little part of Derbyshire. The Chatterley’s lives plod on in a rather dull routine, the dullness felt mostly by Connie who is almost constantly at her husband’s beck and call. His own life is reasonably interesting; he begins to write seriously, takes an active interest in his coal mine and has visits from friends who engage in intellectual conversations in which Connie is not invited to participate. She sits quietly in the corner without comment whilst her husband and his cronies talk in great depth about sex, politics, the industrialisation of the Midlands, the class divide etc. I felt quite irritated on Connie’s behalf for the way she is quite summarily dismissed as a nonentity by her husband and his gang of ‘Hooray Henries’. I wanted to give her a shake but this is the 1920’s and women are still fighting for all women to have the right to vote, let alone the right to an opinion. I think what annoyed me most was the fact that Connie just accepts being put down; a colourless character overall, she had only really grown a little more on me by the end of the story.
Clifford begins to think that he might like an heir to succeed him and kind of gives Connie permission to have a quiet, discreet, affair and will accept any child conceived as his own – as long as the sire is intelligent and worthy. The insular and bitter gamekeeper – Oliver Mellors, is the man – although she doesn’t really choose him; he just crooks his finger, tells her to lie down and the deed is done! What an anticlimax. The sex is described in what I thought to be quite a degrading manner; Mellors had already decided he would live his life alone without sex after a disastrous marriage, but hey ho, here’s the lady of the manor apparently needing a stud. The first encounters between them come across as a man taking his own pleasure with no thought for hers; if she finds any – and later, occasionally she does – it’s quite by accident. I was at a loss to understand why she kept going back for more, but she does, and it doesn’t get much better. I found his references to his ‘John Thomas’ and her ‘Lady Jane’, laughable… really? It’s at times like these that it is easy to remember that Lady Chatterley’s Lover was written by a man.
The new-to-me, narrator Katherine Littrell does a good job in the telling of this rather boring, long winded story. She is an Australian and I could detect a slight inflection but it does not override or spoil the listening experience. In fact I enjoyed the narration far more than I did the content. Miss Littrell has a pleasant, melodious voice and switches effortlessly between characters so that they are recognisable, especially in the scenes where Clifford and his gang of cronies are in deep discussion. She is adept at capturing the mixed cast of upper class characters, both male and female, but her Derbyshire accent leaves something to be desired. Given that the book is set in Derbyshire and the lower classes (including the gamekeeper), play a large part in the story, this niggled at me. Still Miss Littrell is a narrator I will watch out for in the future as I liked her performance overall .
The whole story is based around a woman’s relationship with her rather needy, demanding husband, his striving to increase his already massive ego, and her illicit sex romps with their gamekeeper; which by today’s writing standards are pretty tame and uninspiring. Lady Chatterley’s Lover is definitely not a keeper for me. I accept that Lawrence was a good writer but – rather like marmite – he is not to my taste.