Constance Chatterley, the heroine of D.H. Lawrence’s notorious novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, is alive and well in the 21st century. She addresses you now.
I first part-read the novel in my teens and though I was swept up with the language and the intrigue of the era, I had not yet experienced all the emotions, sensations or, indeed, obstacles that the central character faces. Reading it more recently, at a time in which I had a deep understanding of Connie and the judgement she faced, I could appreciate the book’s true value as a boundary-pusher and game-changer.
Though still young, Connie finds herself imprisoned in a marriage built upon a mutual respect rather than love, much less passion. As time drags on, the stifling environment of the Chatterley residence, Wragby Hall, coupled with the loveless relationship, begins to steal away Connie’s spirit. Through denial, her body and its sensations begin to wither and die. She cares for her husband, who is confined to a wheelchair, and resigns herself to the seemingly endless grey of her fate with him. The only comfort she derives is through her walks alone in the grounds of the estate, taking pleasure in the flowers and the brief moments free of Wragby’s walls.
Then she meets Oliver Mellors!
Mellors is the game-keeper at Wragby – earthy, honest, sensuous yet with a refined gentleness. He dwells in isolation in a small cabin in the woods. She encounters him, shirtless and washing, as she is out walking one morning.
“Yet in some curious way it was a visionary experience: it hit her in the middle of the body. She saw the clumsy breeches slipping down over the pure, delicate, white loins, the bones showing a little, and the sense of aloneness, of a creature purely alone, overwhelmed her. Perfect, white, solitary nudity of a creature that lives alone, and inwardly alone. And beyond that, a certain beauty of a pure creature. Not the stuff of beauty, but a lambency, the warm, white flame of a single life, revealing itself in contours that one might touch: a body!”
This spark is enough to reawaken long forgotten sensations in Connie. Before long, the two find refuge in each other’s arms from the loneliness of their respective lives. Their environment is the woods, surrounded by nature as they respond to nature’s urges. The scenes between them shine with beauty, life and truth. Their lovemaking is both primordial and sublime:
“He took her in his arms again and drew her to him, and suddenly she became small in his arms, small and nestling. It was gone, the resistance was gone, and she began to melt in a marvellous peace. And as she melted small and wonderful in his arms, she became infinitely desirable to him, all his blood- vessels seemed to scald with intense yet tender desire, for her, for her softness, for the penetrating beauty of her in his arms, passing into his blood. And softly, with that marvellous swoon-like caress of his hand in pure soft desire, softly he stroked the silky slope of her loins, down, down between her soft warm buttocks, coming nearer and nearer to the very quick of her. And she felt him like a flame of desire, yet tender, and she felt herself melting in the flame. She let herself go. She felt his penis risen against her with silent amazing force and assertion and she let herself go to him. She yielded with a quiver that was like death, she went all open to him. And oh, if he were not tender to her now, how cruel, for she was all open to him and helpless!
She quivered again at the potent inexorable entry inside her, so strange and terrible. It might come with the thrust of a sword in her softly-opened body, and that would be death. She clung in a sudden anguish of terror. But it came with a strange slow thrust of peace, the dark thrust of peace and a ponderous, primordial tenderness, such as made the world in the beginning. And her terror subsided in her breast, her breast dared to be gone in peace, she held nothing. She dared to let go everything, all herself and be gone in the flood.”
But the lovers’ situation as it stands cannot last.
Lawrence writes extensively about the narrow-minded, gratuitous gossip that infests Tevershall, the nearby village. The locals, whose minds are as confined as the mines in which they work, drag the pure, enlightened love that Connie and Oliver feel into the quagmire of prejudice. Sadly, such blinkeredness has not died out in this supposedly free-thinking age. It is still rife, for example in office gossips, oozing their jealousy and judgement as they puff on their cigarettes and spread their poisonous whispers.
Like Winston Smith and Julia in Orwell’s 1984, Connie and Oliver use sex as a means of protest against an oppressive society.
Finally the lovers realise that the only way that they can escape the barriers forced upon them by ignorance and social convention is to get away from the place. The end of the novel sees them anticipating their fresh, new life together, far from condemning eyes. We feel the blossoming of their love and are left to imagine the brilliance of its bloom once the two are set free in a world of their own making.
I fight for Lady Chatterley and her lover until a new age of higher thought comes to fruition – an age in which they no longer feel the need to run. Now, as then, lovers like these should be leading the way to enlightenment and never again feel imprisoned by social mores and the prejudice of human nature. They are above such things.