Lady Chatterley's Lover Summary
by D. H. Lawrence

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Lady Chatterley's Lover Summary

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

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The quest for fulfillment in a broken world is the central concern of this work, which became controversial for its frank and explicit depiction of sexual relations. The plot, which is relatively uncomplicated, deals with the travails of a loveless marriage and the attempt of the woman to find gratification elsewhere. At the outset, the events that join Sir Clifford and Constance Chatterley in marriage and their life together at his estate in Wragby are traced in a summary of the issues that later are to affect their separate destinies. When she was a girl, Constance studied music abroad and engaged in a brief liaison with a German lover in Dresden. Clifford, from an old aristocratic family, conducted research in the engineering of coal mining. His sexual fires evidently were stoked rather low all along; he had no experience of women before he married, and matters became much more difficult shortly thereafter. During World War I, he became a first lieutenant; his brother Herbert was killed in action in 1916, and early in 1918, not long after his wedding, he was wounded in Flanders. He was left partially paralyzed and impotent as well. He became permanently confined to a wheelchair. The family’s hopes that his marriage with Constance might produce children, and thus ensure successors, seem doomed to frustration.

Vaguely chafing at her husband’s incapacity, Constance initially falls prey to the charms of Michaelis, a waggish popular playwright who seduces her gently, leads her to climax, and then in a subsequent encounter complains that she has become too demanding. Under Clifford’s watchful and occasionally suspicious eyes, other men come to Wragby Hall. Old acquaintances such as Arnold Hammond, Tommy Dukes, and Charles May, who had known Clifford during his university days or from the army, discuss the propriety of open discourse about sexual practices; they seem to believe that erotic urges impede the development of the mind. Constance, still perturbed by her affair with Michaelis, at times feels possessed by the need to conceive a child; in passing, she again considers taking a lover. She comes upon Oliver Mellors, the gamekeeper at Wragby, quite by chance, when he is scolding his younger daughter. Later, when he washes himself in the open air, she becomes fascinated with his firm, smooth, white skin and his air of unassuming naturalness. She is drawn to him even more when she encounters him at his hut; she asks him to have a separate key made for her. Sir Clifford now sends for his friends more rarely, and he seems more distant than ever from Constance. He maintains that they may have a child: there are intermittent hopes that medical treatment may restore some of the functions of his lower body, but only if she is certain that she wants one. On a fine clear day, Constance goes out on the grounds; she comes upon Mellors helping a pheasant hen bring a brood of baby chicks into the world. She is captivated by the raw natural beauty of their surroundings. Quite impulsively, she yields to his advances and they make love in his hut, in a tranquil, unhurried fashion that elicits from her the expressed desire for a later meeting.

Thereafter, Constance’s continuing relations with Mellors become yet more vital, while her marriage with Clifford degenerates into open antagonism. Her intercourse with the gamekeeper reaches new levels of intensity: They reach simultaneous orgasm, and she feels enveloped in flame, as though she had become filled with molten lava. On another occasion, after his initial efforts prove unsatisfactory, he makes another spirited attempt and she feels as though she were caught up in surging waves of the sea. There is much graphic physical description: Constance’s belly and buttocks and Mellors’ loins and haunches are rendered in some detail in notable passages. On another front, bitter conflict erupts when the Chatterleys go for a drive in the country. Clifford’s motorcar breaks down, and when...

(The entire section is 1,901 words.)