Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a novel that D. H. Lawrence completed two years before his death, when he was already quite ill, might not be the culmination of his career as a writer, but it is a drawing together of the essential themes of his work. Between October, 1926, and January, 1928, Lawrence wrote three versions of the manuscript, polishing and revising the structure and language of the book in an attempt to convey his social, political, and artistic concerns as precisely and powerfully as he could. He realized that he would not be able to find a conventional publisher in England to issue the book, because he was determined to write about the erotic experiences of Connie Chatterley and Oliver Mellors using every word and image that the subject required, so he printed the first edition privately with the Italian firm of Giuseppe Orioli. Appearing six years after James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) and six years before Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer (1934), Lady Chatterley’s Lover was subject to the same vilification as those other two milestones of twentieth century literature. Lady Chatterley’s Lover was not legally sold in Great Britain in an unexpurgated edition until 1960.
Throughout Lawrence’s earlier work, the portrayals of various male characters tend toward an emphasis either on the physical nature of their being or on their cerebral agility—they are either men of the earth, rooted in elemental forces but limited in terms of linguistic dexterity, or men of the air, whose mental facilities are not adequate compensation for an absence of what Lawrence called “blood consciousness.” In the short story “The Shades of Spring,” Lawrence describes a gamekeeper who has a very vigorous physical presence and an intuitive understanding of the natural world but cannot articulate the splendor of his realm for the woman with whom he lives. In “The Blind Man” Lawrence delineates a brilliant, sophisticated barrister who is a sexual neuter and whose fragile veneer is crushed by a physical overture of friendship. These men, and many others in his writing, are Lawrence’s expression of the defects of character inherent in men of the modern age, who had been damaged or stunted by what he regarded as an overly mechanized, relentlessly pecuniary, and dreadfully classist society.
In creating Oliver Mellors, Lawrence attempted to combine the strengths of a man who is at home in the natural world and who has awareness of his own body and pleasure in its capacity for sensual response with one who has eloquence in discussing it. Mellors has the style, education, manners, and confidence of a member of the upper class, but he despises the effects of class consciousness and division. The necessary complexity, as well as the unavoidable contradictions, seen in the character of Mellors have made him an object of critical controversy since the novel was published.
After the initial hysterical reaction to Lawrence’s vividly explicit descriptions of sexual activity subsided, the divergent strains of Mellors’s personality, and of Connie Chatterley’s, compelled critical attention. There is a poignancy in the urgency with which Lawrence invests Mellors with many of his own ideas about art and life, frequently permitting Mellors to become engulfed by passionate declarations that mock the reserve and restraint of more circumspect novelists. Lawrence gives Mellors his own origins in coal-mining country; his own fluency with the Derby vernacular,...
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