We all like to think of ourselves as fairly mature people. We try to maintain a relatively reserved countenance, whilst indulging ourselves in the odd laughing fit about toilet humour now and again. One way to test this maturity is to purchase a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence from your local book retailer.
Feeling a little self-conscious as you take it to the till is natural, but assume a suitably serious and (hopefully) intellectual expression, trying to demonstrate to the cashier that you’re not just buying this notorious novel for the rude bits, oh no, you’re buying it for…alright, for the rude bits.
Having known about all the controversy that surrounded its release, its subsequent ban and eventual reinstating, I was incredibly curious to experience the novel for myself. Would I, the product of an overly-sexualised generation, find it at all shocking? Or merely quaint that people could have been so appalled by such things last century?
Set in post-First World War England, the story focuses on young Constance Chatterley, who seeks refuge from her unhappy marriage to her paralysed upper-class husband in the arms of her brooding and strapping gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors.
On reading the preface, I discovered that Lawrence was a keen advocate of anal sex and liked to tell all his friends about his wife’s sex life with a strapping Italian. Lovely. The book itself is basically a big advert for sex, Lawrence stating in the preface that fucking was the only way to make England ‘great again.’ Freud might have had something to say about that.
Whenever reading a book, there are usually one or two powerful moments that stick in the mind and will not be forgotten, although other parts will. With Lady Chatterley’s Lover, it’s when Constance Chatterley runs outside in the rain completely naked, rejoicing in her freedom, her life and the fetters of convention falling away. Weirdly, it made me feel like going outside in the rain naked myself, although I refrained for the sake of my neighbours.
So, the notorious sex scenes then. As a teenager brought up on bodice rippers, they weren’t as shocking as I had expected, although I was a little taken aback by the direct, frequent and unabashed uses of ‘cunt’ and ‘fucking’. Even in today’s literature, efforts are made to make more subtle and less blunt references to sex. That is the power of it. Lawrence’s (very valid) point here is that words are, well, just words. Taken out of context they mean absolutely nothing and it’s bewildering at how much these words are taboo when they’re just sounds coming out of someone’s mouth.
If you’re looking for some hard-core sex scenes that practically jump off the page, perhaps look somewhere else. There is so much more to Lady Chatterley’s Lover than the notoriety, a tale of challenging social norms, freeing yourself from the bonds of convention and returning to nature, a lesson that all of us, in this age of industry and technology, should consider.
Originally published on The Yorker 16th May 2010