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Lady Chatterley’s Lover: The Influence of War on Sensualism and Intellectualism

Last updated on February 27th, 2016 at 04:09 am

by David Taylor

D.H. Lawrence originally published Lady Chatterley’s Lover in 1928 in the aftermath of World War I. Although Lawrence’s work met legal challenge under obscenity laws in the United States and United Kingdom, Lady Chatterley’s Lover is not primarily about sex. Rather, it is about the ability of war to threaten the wellbeing of soldiers and their families on the home front. This subplot is introduced on page one as Lawrence begins by explicating, “The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins” of men like the paralyzed Clifford (Lawrence 1). D.H. Lawrence fought his own battle too: he struggled with tuberculosis that caused the awakening of his sexual appetite. Critics agree that Lawrence may have dreamed of a world that was saved by sex and love, even though he could not achieve this goal in his own struggle for fulfillment with an adulterous wife and impotence caused by his disease. Thus, he created fictional characters that represented the idyllic man and woman whose escapades could yield him vicarious pleasure. Despite the misperception of Lady Chatterley’s Lover as a tale of unencumbered sex, it is a work of literary fiction with undertones of a modernist style that presents two distinct yet interrelated life paths where one may pursue a life characterized by either sensualism or intellectualism, which Lawrence equates with courage and fear, respectively.

Lawrence reveals his preference for a life based on courageous actions by allowing Connie and Mellors to achieve relative success. Julia Maynihan eloquently explains that Lawrence “dramatizes two opposed orientations towards life, two distinct modes of human awareness: the one abstract, cerebral, and unvital; the other concrete, physical, and organic.” Lawrence asserts that there are two types of relationships that develop as a result of this worldview. Connie is used as a representative of the vitality that Lawrence hopes to find in the postwar world. The impact of Connie’s bravery on the plot is evident. After declaring, “You don’t really need me any more, and I can’t bear to come back to Ragby”, Connie creates a new life for herself by eloping with Mellors, and by extension, transforms Clifford’s world (Lawrence 317). Nevertheless, Connie finds that being valiant is dangerous when Clifford does not allow her to get a divorce, and Mellors is summarily fired. Connie’s revitalization is not the kind that would occur in a feminist text. She is unable to find herself without the doting of a man and becomes “thin and earthy-looking, with a scraggly, yellowish neck” (Lawrence 81). She does, however, deserve some credit for being able to “ about her own crisis” with Michaelis (Lawrence 56). However, Connie does not continue this personal growth with Mellors, who degrades her to a “molten center of womanhood” who does what Mellors wants where he wants (Lawrence 120). Ultimately, Connie realizes that she deserves “the democracy of touch, the resurrection of the body” (Lawrence 80). This moment of courage, in which Connie takes control of her sexuality, demonstrates the sensualism that Lawrence believes is essential for fulfillment.

Mellors is arguably a more important figure than Connie because Lawrence uses him as a figurehead for the sexual revolution he envisions. According to Chadwick, “Mellors is clearly fighting in Lawrence’s corner on this one.” Like Lawrence, Mellors has a deep desire to find a woman, “whod’ really come naturally with a man” (Lawrence 224). In alignment with Lawrence’s tuberculosis-induced phallocentric worldview, Mellors “derided her will, and her modern female insistency. And above all, he dreaded her cool, upper-class impudence of having of her own way” recognizing that “he was only a hired man” (Lawrence 95). Despite his willingness to elope with a woman of a higher-class, Mellors is nevertheless an old-fashioned man who desires simplicity. Mellors argues that if men once again were to wear “red, fine legs, that alone would change them in a month. They’d begin to be men again…” (Lawrence 241). Overall, Mellors exhibits greater courage because he has no money, family, or sexual desirability to fall back upon. Despite their numerous character flaws, Connie and Clifford are still the heroes in Lawrence’s most influential work. Due to this innate courageousness, Mellors and Connie are able to accomplish more than the downtrodden masses in Tevershall.

The second cast of characters in Lady Chatterley’s Lover is comprised of fearful cowards: Clifford, Mrs. Bolton, Sir Malcolm Reid, and Michaelis. Clifford is continually unable to fulfill Connie’s multifaceted desires. He incorrectly believed that “it was the talk that mattered supremely: the impassioned interchange of talk” where “love was only the minor accompaniment” (Lawrence 3). The only connection that Clifford can form with Connie is one based on intellectualism. Connie, with other expectations, forcefully questions why “wouldn’t you mind what man’s child I had” (Lawrence 46). This is not the limit of Clifford’s faults. Clifford uses the aid of technology in his coal mines to increase profitability and on a daily basis to power his wheelchair. His pursuits do not include the development of meaningful interactions with other humans. Clifford’s simplistic worldview is similar to a machine in that the existence of a hierarchy dictates that signals must be sent and orders must be followed. The only successful relationship that Clifford cultivates is with Ms. Bolton, whom he views as a “useful nonentity” (Lawrence 87). He takes advantage of her shy nature and “made her feel small, and like a servant, she accepted it without a word” (Lawrence 87). In light of Clifford’s rejection of the “democracy of touch”, he forces others to please him, even if it causes them discomfort: Mrs. Bolton was both thrilled and ashamed, she both loved and hated it. Yet she never rebuffed nor rebuked him. And they drew into a closer physical intimacy, an intimacy of perversity, when he was a child stricken with an apparent candour and an apparent wonderment, that almost looked like a religious exaltation: the perverse and literal rendering of: ‘except ye become again as a little child.” (Lawrence 321) Clifford’s cowardice is demonstrated by his inability to develop any form of a meaningful relationship with his spouse and focus his energy on a perverse relationship with his caretaker when his marital relationship becomes strained. Another coward in Lady Chatterley’s Lover is Sir Malcolm Reid who attempts to advise Connie at the important junctures of her life. He correctly advises her to not “let circumstances force you into being a demiverge”, but his wisdom is short-lived (Lawrence 15). Even though Connie informs him that she takes great pains to avoid becoming a demiverge, her new relationship does not gain his seal of approval. Rather, Sir Malcolm Reid sees Mellors as “a gold digger” and Connie as “a pretty easy gold-mine” (Lawrence 309). Despite the overwhelming deficiencies of Sir Malcolm Reid, Michaelis may be the most fearful character of all. Although his social stature is no less than that of Mellors, he is unhappy with his social standing. Thus, he becomes desperate and asks for Connie’s hand in marriage. Unlike Mellors, Michaelis is actually a gold digger. This pursuit of a class elevation causes him to be “at the very bottom of his soul…an outsider and anti-social” (Lawrence 20). The effect of cowardice on the plot is prodigious. Clifford is unable to let Connie go because of its negative reflection on him. Michaelis cannot marry Connie because he is insecure and criticizes her desire to find sexual fulfillment. Sir Malcolm Reid is paralyzed by the thought that his child may look outside of their social stratum and give a ticket meant for the upper class to a common man. This reveals the very real relationship between fear and courage: the fearful limit the courageous. As a result, the courageous are unable to achieve their own self-actualization.

Despite Tommy Duke’s failure to pursue romantic relationships, he is nevertheless as heroic as Connie and Mellors. Literary critics seem to enjoy attacking Tommy Dukes as Lawrence’s representation of an Englishmen with no “game” who is a yellow intellectual who lacks virility. Dukes is admirable as he does not fit in the binary world (heterosexual/homosexual) of sexuality. Today, Dukes would likely be considered an asexual individual for his revolutionary standpoint: “Real knowledge comes out of the whole corpus of the consciousness; out of your belly and your penis as much as out of your brain” (Lawrence 37). For this reason, Dukes serves as the polar opposite of Mellors. Unlike Mellors, Dukes believes that love does not exist and is “another of those half-witted performances today” (Lawrence 40). Despite this unorthodox view, Dukes is no less brave than Mellors: where Mellors finds fulfillment from Connie’s womanliness, Dukes can be just as manly by engaging in intellectually stimulating conversations. Duke’s beliefs are firmly established, as evidenced by his polite denial when Connie offers herself and argues, “there are nice women in the world” (Lawrence 40). Unfortunately, Dukes is limited by his “hopelessly pure” nature similar to the cowards because he is unwilling to pursue meaningful relationships (Lawrence 41).

In writing Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Lawrence likely intended to incite a sexual revolution. Although this goal did not occur instantly, the sexual revolution Lawrence wistfully hoped for did occur. Forty years later, the 1960s arrived, and a time of not only unencumbered sex, but also drugs and rock & roll ensued. Lawrence might also be scared by the world today. Clifford guessed that “all the love-business for example…might just as well go. I suppose it would if we could breed babies in bottles” (Lawrence 79). Today, we can make a baby in a bottle. How does that affect the meaning of love? Now more than ever, the importance of being fearless is essential. Otherwise, one is likely to be limited in the same way as Dukes: loveless, purposeless, and existing solely for intellectual pursuits.

Works Cited

Lawrence, D. H., Lawrence Durrell, and Ronald Friedland. Lady Chatterley’s Lover. New York: Bantam, 1983. Print.
Lessing, Doris. “Testament of Love.” The Guardian, 15 July 2006. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.
Ludwigs, Marina. “A Democracy of Touch”: Masochism and Tenderness in D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover.” UCLA Anthropoetics, Spring 2011. Web. 19 Feb. 2015.