Monday, September 5, 2011

Lady Chatterley's Lover

When I first chose this book, I was aware that it had originally been banned due to charges of obscenity, but this didn't bother me because I had already read Madame Bovary, which had the same fate despite its apparent quaintness to modern eyes. Well, times certainly changed between 1856 and 1928. D.H. Lawrence purposefully used certain unprintable words about ten times in this book, with the intention of reclaiming them so they could be used as common, even romantic words. Based on society's past and current opinion of the book, I have to wonder if he made a tactical error. Not only have the words not been reclaimed, but now they are the only thing most people think of when D.H. Lawrence comes to mind. If the reader can follow the plot without giving undue weight to these sections, s/he might be surprised to find that Lawrence has more in common with Hardy and Tolkien than with Ovid.
     The relationship between Connie and Mellors takes place in the East Midlands, against the backdrop of a region which has recently been transformed by the development of the coal mining industry. Critics rightly see in Lawrence's focus on the coal-mining town the important themes of social conflict and the class system. I also saw echoes of Hardy's ache of modernism (see my discussion of Tess) and Tolkien's orcs- beings who are slaves to industry and mechanization, slowly losing their humanity. The coal mine is depicted as an ugly aberration which destroys the beauty of the land and the lives of the people.
     D.H. Lawrence uses the dichotomy of agriculture vs. industry to discuss the theme of mind and body.  Clifford Chatterley, after his paralysis, becomes a writer and an industrialist, living completely in his mind. The coal miners live completely in their deformed bodies, seeming to have very little mind at all. Only Connie and Mellors are able to escape this fragmentation, as their relationship brings them into a life of integrity and wholeness. Lawrence believed that true relationships can reverse the brokenness that life visits upon individuals.
     I am in search of another author who will take this idea a step further back in time and point out that it is only through the brokenness brought by modernity that society (including D.H. Lawrence) has come to view the individual as its smallest unit. Pre-industrial societies did not (and do not) see individuals as their building blocks. Rather, for them, the family is the smallest indivisible unit. I am not talking solely about New Guinean or Andean tribes either: indigenous Europeans viewed life in the same way. The current culture of mechanized, consumerist individualism is not "Western culture". Rather, Western culture was the first to be torn apart by its own juggernaut. Native Americans are right to mourn the loss of their cultures, and to work to preserve and reconstruct them. But they would not be completely correct were they to state that their cultures had been overwhelmed by Euro-American (or Western/Anglo) culture. Rather, both Native Americans and indigenous Europeans have witnessed the erasure of their cultures by industrialism and its functions of individualism and materialism. Western cultures brought industrialism upon themselves, and for them the damage is more complete. Can we even imagine what indigenous European cultures would look like had they survived untouched into the 19th century, as did Native American cultures?  They actually did survive that long in rural areas, and vestiges of early Anglo-Saxon culture are depicted in Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native, published in 1878 and the subject of my next blog entry.

Protagonist: Constance Chatterley
More machine than man: Clifford Chatterley
Working class by birth, noble in deed: Oliver Mellors
Creepy sycophant: Mrs. Bolton
There was a lot of: descriptions of the forest, private conversations, characters' thoughts
There should have been more: I don't know. I wouldn't mind reading Lawrence's thoughts on balance and wholeness, but then it would have been an essay instead of a novel.
This book makes you want to: live an authentic life (don't a lot of good books do that?)
This book makes you glad you don't have to: be a coal miner. or a game keeper. or a paralytic. or one half of a dead marriage.


Debbie said...

You're not gonna talk about the dirty parts? :-(

Kara said...

Well, they're fairly self-explanatory...make that VERY self-explanatory. ;)