D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover is infamous beyond its merits. The paperback copy that fell into my hands (found on the roadside near the University of Maryland last month) was damp and, when dried, fell to pieces — not unlike the story itself. Lawrence's book resembles Middlemarch in many plot elements, but lacks the coherent thoughtfulness of George Eliot's novel. Perhaps it was modern in its time — but that time is past. Lawrence's unconscious racism, misogyny, upper-class snobbery, and "womb-ism" (how else to describe his frequent attribution of the protagonist's emotions to her uterus?) are distracting, as are his lengthy lectures on social issues. The heroine's naked self-examination in the mirror is clichéd, as are the ur-Ayn Randian depictions of glorious industrialization. And the exclamation marks! So many! So unnecessary! So!

And yet ... and yet, there are moments of high poetry. Near the end of Chapter VII, for instance, when Lady Chatterley starts to realize the need to separate herself from her husband, after years of growing closer:

It was as if thousands and thousands of little roots and threads of consciousness in him and her had grown together into a tangled mass, till they could crowd no more, and the plant was dying. Now quietly, subtly she was unraveling the tangle of his consciousness and hers, breaking the threads gently, one by one, with patience and impatience to get clear. But the bonds of such love are more ill to loose even than most bonds ...

And the notorious sex scenes? Most of them fail; a few manage to rise briefly to poetry, e.g. in Chapter XIII:

And it seemed she was like the sea, nothing but dark waves rising and heaving, heaving with a great swell, so that slowly her whole darkness was in motion, and she was ocean rolling its dark, dumb mass. ...

Lady Chatterley was no doubt meant by its author to be a revolutionary novel of loneliness and passion. At intervals, perhaps, it succeeds.

TopicLiterature - 2007-02-12

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