In his choice of a rural English setting for this, his last full-length novel, Lawrence returned to themes he had developed in his earlier work, but with some differences. While other efforts, notably Kangaroo (1923) and The Plumed Serpent (1926), were set in exotic locations such as Mexico and Australia, Lady Chatterley’s Lover deals with issues and places that had also been featured in Sons and Lovers (1913) and The Rainbow (1915). The gloomy shadows cast by rampant industrial growth have been darkened in this last work by lingering memories of World War I; the characters are older and have become more deeply involved in marriage. The sexual relations that matter here are all extramarital. Initiation in romantic experience is not at issue as it was in Lawrence’s first novels, but the quest for a union of the love experience with mature sexuality is a central concern. During his later years, Lawrence wrote extensively about pornography and obscenity and developed his own theories of the standards by which literature could be judged to be moral or improper. The checkered publishing history of Lady Chatterley’s Lover was, in large part, a result of the comparatively graphic nature of the novel and the earthy language employed at certain points. In many ways, the work became a landmark: Its final acceptance marked the adoption of new conventions that expanded the boundaries of serious literary activity. At the same time, such controversies made it more difficult to assess the novel’s position, on its own merits, within the overall body of Lawrence’s work, or indeed within modern fiction.
In addition to unflinching descriptions of the physical act of sexual consummation, Lawrence allowed his characters, chiefly Mellors, to use a certain number of venerable four-letter, Anglo-Saxon words. In other writings, Lawrence suggested that such terms had become corrupted by generations of high-minded censors and low-minded pornographers. He contended that “the so-called obscene words” in and of themselves are inoffensive. Once society’s moral...
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