“He was silent. But she could feel the black void of despair inside him. That was the death of all desire, the death of all love: this despair that was like the dark cave inside the men, in which their spirit was lost.” – D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover
If you have ever seen any one of the many films made of Lady Chatterley’s Lover you should consider yourself fairly robbed. Awful or good they have never really gotten to what’s most important about this book- D.H. Lawrence’s profound understanding of what ails the soul. The battle between “the bitch-goddess” otherwise known as success and money, and life- as it is worth living.
It’s the nothingness:
“An inward dread, an emptiness, an indifference to everything gradually spread in her soul.”
The nothingness is what Lawrence wants to talk about. It’s the nothingness that really harms us and everyone around us. What’s the point, he asks, of pretending otherwise?
“And dimly she realized one of the great laws of the human soul: that when the emotional soul receives a wounding shock, which does not kill the body, the soul seems to recover as the body recovers. But this is only appearance. It is really only the mechanism of the re-assumed habit. Slowly, slowly the wound to the soul begins to make itself felt, like a bruise, which only slowly deepens its terrible ache, till it fills all the psyche. And when we think we have recovered and forgotten, it is then that the terrible after-effects have to be encountered at their worst.”
The dehumanizing bruises of the modern age will slowly bleed us dry if we don’t open to something that truly touches our soul. For Lawrence, it is love and passion. This is the message in Lady Chatterley: warm-heartedness and feeling are what make for a meaningful life. Perhaps most people don’t notice, but some, like Connie Chatterley, come to a day when they acknowledge, “so that’s that….phase after phase, étape after étape…So that’s that!” The realization is a serious blow. Lawrence correctly identifies the “stubborn stoicism” that is reverted to in order to carry on. But once the heart is finally, truly TOUCHED, then, you know: you are…alive. Fulfilled, but really, simply, filled with life. You no longer have to ask yourself that dreaded question- do I feel anything?
Infamously, there is a lot of talk about sex in this book, and it is interesting and stirring, but Lawrence goes far beyond the brass tacks. When he talks about desire and passion, he is of course talking about sex, but more than that he is talking about connection and warmth. He uses sex to shed light on human intimacy- on the lack of it and on the true purpose of it, which is the source of our ability to thrive. Sex is not the salve in and of itself; Lawrence takes care to avoid the cliché of a “sexual awakening” story. Connie has had plenty of sex before she falls in love with Mellors. Importantly- she has had physically satisfying sex. What she lacks, what we are all in danger of lacking to the extreme detriment of society, is tenderness, passion, and warmth.
“And when passion is dead, or absent, then the magnificent throb of beauty is incomprehensible and even a little despicable.”
True, there a lot of f and c words sprinkled onto the pages, but Lawrence is never crass. They are not there for cheap titillation, rather Lawrence manages to sublimate, not just the ideas but the very words, to warm the blood and force an understanding of the pain we cause ourselves and others when we suppress or run away from what is most wonderful about life – our shared emotional being: Love.