To really appreciate this novel, the reader has to be able to appreciate the context it was written in. At the time that DH Lawrence wrote Lady Chatterly's Lover, the idea of a married upper-class lady of a manor having an affair with anyone, would have been scandalous. Think back, readers, to a time long before women's rights, the vagina monologues, women in politics, and so on. Think back to a time of corsets and tight lips, of compromises, of a strong ruling class, and of ruling etiquette. The fact that Lawrence broke so many taboos with this book, by writing not only about the lady's unfulfilled personal life and her affair, but of her affair with the gamekeeper of her manor. Had Lady Chatterly not conveniently been left a small fortune to support herself with, she would have fallen quickly from grace and into the gutter, much to the pleasure of the rest of society- for any high brow lady who chose to have relations with someone as lowly as a gamekeeper would have been seen as fit for such punishment at the time. Think of Diana and Dodi for more context, if you must.
However, Lawrence treats his characters well. When I started reading this book I was of course aware of all the stigma and controversy surrounding it, but I also know that it was not uncommon for texts to be labelled as 'indecent' in Lawrence's time, as so many things were back then. To speak openly of sexual relations, particularly between members of different classes, would have been a massive slur in Lawrence's England. I expected, then, some rudeness, some crudeness, and some deliberate bating of the classes. What I found however, was that even in today's sexually open society, I was shocked by Lawrence's writing. I have never read anything quite like it- and I've read Mills and Boon! The thing that stands Lady Chatterly's Lover apart is that it is clearly challenging literature, rather than a quick fix for a horny reader. It takes thought. It requires context. The reader can't help but wonder after Lawrence's motives.
Mellors the gamekeeper is a complex character with a crazy ex wife, an interesting past and an apparent dislike of the class system in general. He likes to keep himself to himself. He is portrayed sometimes as a gentleman, who is able to speak the part, and other times as a crass lower class working man, with a thick accent and little gentleness to his gruff manner. He does not hanker after Connie at first: the reader sees a role reversal as Connie, the lady with airs and graces, begins a subtle chase after Mellors. She is married to Clifford, who is bound to a wheelchair and whose character clashes with her greatly. Although he is the well-bred gentleman of high breeding, he is arrogant and tedious, hard to get along with, and consumed with abstract notions of what it is to be a man. Mellors, on the other hand, simply is male: he engages in manual labour and he knows how to take care of himself. Connie is attracted to these qualities, and also to the idea of bearing a child, which Clifford consents to, though he means for her to sleep with another upper class man, and not with their gamekeeper.
I was initially struck by the bluntness with which Lawrence portrayed Connie's sexual desires, and her vivid encounters with Mellors. I knew that Lawrence was a firm believer in people enjoying sex and accepting it as a natural act, which again put him far ahead of his time, as he lived in a society that was rife with sexual rules and tensions. However, the way Lawrence breaks these norms in Lady Chatterly's Lover are simply mesmerising. Lawrence does not hesistate to use the C-word repeatedly, for example, which is still a taboo word in today's society. The reason we dislike it at present, however, is because it is seen as a very derogatory insult, whereas Lawrence's use of the word is used only to refer to the beauty of the vagina. Perhaps the crudeness, then, lies with us rather than in the text.
Although the reader might find it tedious to follow Mellors' and Connie's conversations during, before and after their (constant) foreplay and sexual experiences, it is worth remembering that this is ultimately a love story, though an unlikely one and involving the most unlikeliest of characters; one cannot deny the naturalness between Connie and Mellors, despite their many obvious differences. Despite their upbringings, Connie and Mellors fit together, even if only sexually. Their willingness to experiment with their bodies borders on embarrassing for the reader as s/he reads description after description of whose parts are doing what to whom, yet sex is portrayed as a kind of conversation between Connie and Mellors; one that rises above the different uses of language that they have both been taught.
I am still surprised by the freshness of this classic; it maintains the power of shock and awe even today, yet if the reader is honest s/he will admit that there is no reason for us to react with prudishness now. We now live in a sexually open society, with easy access to porn, naked bodies on show everywhere we look, and sex is an acceptable topic of conversation: something we are, in fact, excellent at debating. Yet Lady Chatterly's Lover is scandalous to us; outrageous even, and I have found people who loved and laughed with The Vagina Monologues, baulk at the uncomical Lady Chatterly's Lover. And perhaps that is where it has been most daring: in telling in-depth stories of sexual encounters, with an entirely serious tone. Whatever you may have heard of this text, it is invaluable as a 'reflective' work: I recommend that you read it, just to see your own reaction. You may be surprised!