Drew Edwards's Reviews > Lady Chatterley's Lover

Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence
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's review
Aug 18, 2008

it was ok
Read in August, 2008

I found Lady Chatterley's Lover too didactic for my tastes. Lawrence asks the tired question of where one can find authenticity and fulfillment in the stifling modern world, and returns the tired answer of "the body." He is able to make a novel out of this idea only because he approaches it by way of his own misogyny. Consider this passage from the book's beginning pages:

"A woman could take a man without really giving herself away. Certainly she could take him without giving herself into his power. Rather she could use this sex thing to have power over him. For she only had to hold herself back in sexual intercourse, and let him finish and expend himself without herself coming to the crisis: and then she could prolong the connection and achieve her orgasm and her crisis while he was merely her tool."

Here, the man loses the game of sex because he desires the individual woman in her specific body, while the woman desires him, if at all, as an industrial "interchangeable part," rather than as an individual. Connie accomplishes an inversion of this perceived power relationship when she desires Mellors individually, and thus finds her authentic fulfillment through their physical relationship. This places the man, as it were, back on top.

This power dynamic can go both ways, of course: a woman may easily be frustrated in her desire for a man, and may find herself at a disadvantage. Lawrence describes these sexual roles from a decidedly male perspective. He does not hate women because he thinks them mean or low; he hates them because they will not accept his love and desire. Although he may love and desire women genuinely and tenderly, the fulfillment of his desires would mean unpleasantness or violence to one who did not share them. He dislikes women for the same reason one may dislike a standoffish cat. Lawrence resolves this conflict by the assertion that women ought to learn to be more passionate lovers, and furthermore, that through this they can find happiness. By their lack of desire and enjoyment they are not only hurting men; they are hurting themselves. In this, we can see the assumption that underlies Lawrence's misogyny: women are choosing not to be attracted to men, and they are doing so in order to have power over them. Lawrence's misogyny is based in a negative moral evaluation of a woman's aesthetic taste.

In reality, of course, attraction or the lack thereof is nobody's fault. Women and men both enjoy sex and can find in it a genuine and authentic respite from the stifling modern world. However, for most people (perhaps more so in the case of the male), the vast majority of their sexual attractions are unrequited. Some, instead of acknowledging that their passions are theirs alone, hold the objects of their unrequited passions responsible for their own misery and unfulfillment.

In Lolita, Nabokov treats this conflict much more honestly and directly. Humbert's love for Dolores is an aesthetic phenomenon, divorced from the interests of its object, and its consummation is ultimately an act of cruelty. The fact that he comes to realize this, to repent, and even to love Dolly truly and tenderly by the end of the book, cannot absolve him, or at least cannot undo the cruelty and violence of the past. Considering the sound of children at play, he laments, "I knew that the hopelessly poignant thing was not Lolita's absence from my side, but the absence of her voice from that concord." This disconnect between man's aesthetic life and the realities of cruelty is one of the fundamental and tragic truths of human life, and Nabokov's masterful treatment of it is one of the many reasons I love Lolita as much as I do.

By contrast, Lawrence attempts to dissolve this conflict in a unity of passions, and what results is necessarily a fantasy. He might be said to adhere to the Neitzschean statement that "It is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that mankind and the world are eternally justified," except that his characters require no justification, as they have committed no sin. Neitzsche himself would even have acknowledged that he got it wrong in this early attempt to escape tragedy through some kind of analog to Christian justification. Lawrence refuses to either affirm his passions in the face of cruelty, or acknowledge that they may be at odds with the material interests of his object or of society. Instead, he lays blame on the object of his desires: woman.

Lawrence's writing is not bad, but is not good enough to buoy the density of this novel's material flaws.
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04/15/2016 marked as: read

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message 1: by Vicky (new) - added it

Vicky Im interested in reading this book "lady Chatterley's Lover". I have a passage from Lawerence would you like to read it because I,m not sure if it is from this book.

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