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 husband’s manifest inability to satisfy her or, indeed, to provide the heir his family seeks. Although by fits and starts he attempts some fiction writing, his consuming passion remains, as it was before the war, the effort to apply modern engineering processes to the production of coal. With his wife he is remote, pedantic, and given to oblique and rather ponderous locutions on the life of the mind. While in some places it is remarked that his scientific pursuits have “made a man of him,” during his quarrels with Constance there are suggestions that he has regressed into a childlike state. He is not notably percipient, and though he is sporadically suspicious of his wife, he does not quite comprehend the nature or extent of her infidelity until rather late in the work.
Mellors is very much the opposite of Constance’s husband. He is thirty-seven or thirty-eight years old; at one time he worked as a blacksmith. He was married for five or six years before his wife left him with their little girl, Connie, and went away. Like Clifford, he performed military service: For a time, he was in Egypt and India and was commissioned as a lieutenant in the cavalry. He is forthright and unassuming; his only affectation, if it is that, is a tendency to shift from the King’s English into local dialect depending on whether he is speaking with his social betters or with those from similar walks of life. With Constance, he uses both forms of speech. Before he met Lady Chatterley, his experiences with women had brought him to regard them as cold and insensate. Yet he is capable of tenderness and a depth of feeling that are positively enthralling to her. His familiarity with natural surroundings and his gentleness in handling baby chicks...
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