The Characters (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
This work has essentially to do with a love triangle that accentuates the diverse qualities and dispositions of those involved; other characters by their very shallowness heighten the contrasts that are developed in the novel’s major encounters and confrontations. The romantic and sexual concerns of Constance Chatterley determine much of the action; it is a sense of self-discovery that impels her to pursue affairs that to many would be unthinkable for a woman of her social position. In the beginning, she is described as “full of unused energy” and not quite certain of what she wants. Nor does she realize immediately how stifling her marriage with Clifford will become. At the age of twenty-seven, she takes on extramarital lovers. After the affair with Michaelis, her sexual wants become identified with her longing for a child; with Mellors there are more openly sensual stirrings. Much of the narrative, albeit written in the third person, conveys Constance’s point of view; her thoughts and impressions at many junctures are shared with the reader. Her reactions to sexual climax, as much as those of the men, are evoked in bright metaphorical language. More than the others, she is torn between the older ties of family, social class, and the life of the mind, on the one side, and on the other her own felt needs for affection and sexual gratification. The initial disharmony of the two spheres is great, and the realignment of her physical and moral selves is correspondingly painful.
In contrast to his wife, Clifford Chatterley seems to exist in a kind of unfeeling void, which is, in a sense, much broader than his disability: “[H]e was not in touch.” His impotence and his restricted physical mobility in some ways seem to antedate his injury; while it is possible to ascribe some meanness to the author in rendering Clifford crippled as well as emotionally obtuse, from the novel’s standpoint his condition seems to serve several purposes. The devastating effects of World War I are brought home most visibly in this way. Furthermore, Constance’s infidelity is the more readily accepted in view of her...
(The entire section is 866 words.)
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Sir Clifford Chatterley
Sir Clifford Chatterley, the owner of an estate at Wragby in the Midlands of England. He has a considerable income from coal mines that his family has controlled for generations. His father, Sir Geoffrey, baronet of Wragby, reared him with the expectation that one of his sons would carry on the family tradition of service to England. When Clifford’s older brother Herbert is killed in World War I, Clifford is encouraged by his father to marry; after a brief courtship, he marries Constance Reid. A war injury paralyzes the lower half of his body. At the age of twenty-nine, though his physical handicap is devastating, he is a handsome man, with a ruddy face and broad shoulders, and always dresses in expensive clothes. Big and strong, with a quiet, hesitating voice, he is extremely dependent on his wife, who supports his ideas and assists him in the physical functions he can no longer manage by himself. In an effort to make his mark on the world, he attempts to write short fiction and is moderately praised by critics and social commentators. This work proves to be an unsatisfactory outlet for his energies and ambitions. He had studied the technicalities of coal mining in Bonn before the war and now turns his attentions to improving coal production in his mines. Although he describes himself as a “conservative anarchist,” he is interested in the working class only in terms of theoretical speculation and is very much a man of his social background. As he and his wife gradually discover the great gulf between them in terms of intellectual and temperamental matters, Clifford regresses into an almost infantile dependence on Ivy Bolton, his housekeeper; he becomes, pathetically, almost a part of the wheeled machine he uses for transportation. His hopes for an heir and his fear that Connie may leave him permanently lead him to encourage her to have contacts with other men. He sees things in an intellectual, abstract fashion, and this approach to life is instrumental in driving him and his wife apart.
Lady Constance (Connie) Reid Chatterley
Lady Constance (Connie) Reid Chatterley, Clifford’s wife. Brought up in an artistic and intellectual socialist milieu, she was educated on the Continent and had a number of casual love affairs before her marriage to Clifford at the age of twenty-three. In spite of the social refinement of her background, she has the freshness and openness of a country girl and the physical traits of her Scots ancestry, including lustrous light brown hair, a ruddy complexion, a strong, athletic body, and “big, wondering eyes” that express her curiosity about and interest in the world. She has both the intelligence to understand the world and the appetite to enjoy its physical sensations, but both of these qualities have been underused during her marriage. After four years with Clifford, she has “no gleam and sparkle in the flesh” and realizes with horror that she has not had any sexually satisfying encounters for ten years. Her affair with the playwright Michaelis is sterile and isolating because she is unable to make any connection with him beyond the emptiness of his social and intellectual ideas. Although she has been living on a country estate, her contact with...
(The entire section is 1332 words.)