Themes and Meanings

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The outlook for English society at large, as depicted in this novel, is bleak and desolate. World War I, with its immense human sacrifices, has brought suffering and despair; neither gentry nor commoners have been spared. The German lovers of Hilda and Constance were both killed during the first year of hostilities; Clifford’s brother fell later on, and Clifford himself came so close to death, and was so severely maimed, that he could never again seem lighthearted or flippant. Most of the men in the novel knew someone who was killed or wounded in action; some years after the armistice, ugly wounds remain in the nation’s psyche from the “false inhuman war.”

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An older but equally insidious destructive force is the transformation of the countryside by industry, which has left sooty, blackened villages and towns to mark the passing of the old England. The pollution of the landscape imparts a darker tone to all that takes place in the nation’s heartland: “The utter negation of natural beauty, the utter negation of the gladness of life” accompany the onward march of industrial growth. Human relations in some ways are still transfixed by the old bonds of class and property. The Reids and the Chatterleys continue to regard themselves as scions of the aristocracy; Sir Clifford’s family ranks somewhat higher among the well-bred families of the kingdom, and he seeks further to advance his position by combining his inherited estate with the new wealth which industry and engineering have generated. Class prejudice appears to be as deeply rooted at the upper end of the scale as among the workmen. Clifford’s contempt for those beneath him turns to vague, impotent hatred when he learns of Mellors’ affair with his wife; what matters to him is the lowly common origins of his wife’s lover rather than the actual fact of her infidelity.

In a world ravaged by industrial blight, class divisions, and dark brooding memories of the Great War, the author points to the life forces of love and sexuality as means of redemption. They are not inseparable: Desire may anticipate or exceed affection at times. Nor are such stirrings necessarily limited or confined by the ties of marriage. The author would seem to suggest that direct sexual gratification is an integral part of the love experience and must be taken independently of social conventions or traditional mores. This work neither advocates promiscuity as such nor promotes experimentation or novelty for their own sake. Nevertheless, to the same extent as romantic love, sexual intercourse legitimately may be portrayed, and the...

(The entire section contains 650 words.)

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