Constance Chatterly wastes no time in becoming sexually frustrated when her nobleman husband, Sir Clifford, is paralysed from the waist down during the First World War. Connie falls into an affair with their gamekeeper, which begins physically but grows into emotional love. The two each divorce their existing spouses and prepare to marry. Society neither shuns nor destroys them. The novel ends on an unexpected note of hope despite concerns of convention and class, which are discussed but never resolved.
As a reader in convalescence following half a year's study of Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles, I can't help but see Lady Chatterly's Lover as a response to the same. In an essay written 10 years prior to the publication of his magnum opus, Lawrence suggests that the problem discussed in Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and by extension in all of Hardy's novels, is one of sexual convention and restraint. If the characters were able to enjoy sex, he implies, then the backlash of society would be less destructive and the ubiquitous Hardyan downward plunge would never begin. By the time of writing Lady Chatterly's Lover in 1928, Lawrence had become deeply mystical about sex. His essay A Propos of 'Lady Chatterly's Lover' is haunted with statements such as "the phallos [sic[ is the bridge to the future" and references to pagan rituals. However, the novel itself can with pleasure be taken out of context, as no more than a well-told story, and easily stands up to criticism as such.
Not that the prose is free of paganism of the most satisfying sort. One of the most beautiful scenes in the novel describes the couple making love outdoors in the rain and decorating one another's bodies with wildflowers. This exemplifies Lawrence's rather anachronistic "back to nature" idea, which only became fashionable 40 or 50 years hence. The development of the novel is chiefly based around the asexual Clifford's metamorphasis into a technologically sophisticated coal baron, while Connie becomes more primal through her lover in his natural setting. Connies' growing hatred of her husband is palpable during this change, and at the end of the novel she emerges as the more real and vital character, whilst Clifford is left to rot in eternal woodenness.
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