(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

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,...

(The entire section is 943 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Constance Chatterley feels that her life is empty and pointless. A well-educated young woman in her mid-twenties, Connie had married Sir Clifford Chatterley in 1917 when he was on leave from the army and then tried to remain cheerful and encouraging during the two years he spent recovering from severe wounds suffered when he returned to battle in France. Now that Clifford is paralyzed from the waist down, Connie’s life with him is primarily restricted to Wragby, the Chatterley family estate in the English Midlands, where she assists him with the short fiction he is producing with the aim of satisfying “a lame instinct for publicity.” She finds the life of a baronet’s wife to be stultifying in spite of her wish to be of support to her husband. She finds the grimy coal towns of the Midlands soulless and ugly and fears that her separation from sensual experience is leading toward a very premature numbing of her still-embryonic passionate nature.

Aside from a brief interlude in Germany when she was eighteen, and her contact with Sir Clifford before his injury, Connie has had no opportunity to develop a sense of real sexual intimacy. Her growing restlessness and feelings of futility, combined with her distaste for many of the obligations of a landed aristocrat’s wife, render her susceptible to the invitation of an Irish playwright, Michaelis, to begin an affair, but his “small boy’s frail nakedness” and his calculated, commercial approach to art dishearten Connie. She tries to find something positive in her relationships with Sir Clifford and with “Mick,” but she feels there must be more to a life with a man. As a means of making some kind of connection to a more vital aspect of life, and in response to her revulsion at the mechanized, money-mad world in which she lives, she begins to spend time in the woods around Wragby. One day, on a walk in the wilderness, she comes upon the cottage of Oliver Mellors, Sir Clifford’s gamekeeper.

Mellors, who is almost forty, is very much at home in the wild; he is a former scholarship student and former soldier who grew up in Tevershall, a nearby coal town. He is separated from his wife, Bertha Coutts, and has a daughter who lives with his mother. Connie gradually begins to appreciate Mellors’s sensitivity and intelligence. Although their early contacts are...

(The entire section is 958 words.)