Tag Archives: lady chatterley

Fugitives From the Social World

The disaster is, however, that mankind can never accept the whole of the dream of passion, which is the dream that underlies and quickens all our life (136). –D.H. Lawrence, John Thomas and Lady Jane

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If man could once be reasonable enough to know that he is not a creature of reason, but only a reasoning creature, he might avoid making himself more prisons (136). 

I grabbed a book off of a friend’s bookshelf the other morning when I realized (with a twinge of horror) that I would most assuredly finish the book I had with me well before my morning commute was finished. By the dimmed early light I hastily perused the choices, my eye stumbled upon my dear Lawrence. I hadn’t read John Thomas and Lady Jane, hadn’t even heard of it, so with a reader’s thrill I put it in my bag.

She was aware of a strange woman wakened up inside her herself, a woman at once fierce and tender, at the same time soft and boundless and infinitely submissive, like a dim sea under the moon, and yet full of fierce, remorseless energy (134). 

What I did not know was that Lawrence wrote and published three versions of  Lady Chatterley’s Lover and John Thomas and Lady Jane  is the second one (the first is aptly titled The First Lady Chatterley). It is fascinating to reread any book, but to read a different version with all the changes, some obvious, some subtle, or likely imperceptible to me as I read Lady Chatterley’s Lover a few years back, is in many ways more so. In my memory (and I did write a post about Lady Chatterley’s Lover, but I have not yet gone back and read what I wrote at the time) I recall that the emphasis in Lady Chatterley’s Lover was really on Lawrence’s philosophy regarding the potency of a sexual relationship and the effect a true sexual loving connection can have on individuals and thereby on humanity as a whole. It is stunning in its bravery of the subject matter, and its refusal to keep within the bounds of “polite society.” And certainly that theme is present in this version as well.

But the damaged human being in him dreaded more than ever exposing itself to the false thing, the false sexuality, which is of rasping egoism, and the false social virtue, which is utter humiliation (94).

It’s the same book in a different octave. There is a little less discussion, or less detail of the sexual experience per se, and more on social dynamics, politics, and society at large. The book calls for a renunciation of the entire order of the world. Lawrence shows the disgust that a thinking feeling person can hardly suppress in themselves towards the schemes of social and political hierarchies which do nothing to promote life.  For societies to promote the potential of meaningful life, inherent in us all, seems to me, when looked at starkly, a reasonable expectation.

‘It’s because we are really all proletarian,’ he said. ‘A German once made that plain to me. The proletariat is a state of mind, it’s not really a class at all. You’re proletarian when you are cold like a crab, greedy like a crab, lustful with the ricketty egoism of a crab, and shambling like a crab […] The proletarian haves against the proletarian have-nots will destroy the human world entirely” (293). 

Lawrence thought long and hard about a basic question – what ails the world? His conclusion seemed to be that it was the lack of connection, and the physical realm, in which we all exist, was an excellent starting, middle and end point to understand how we can really touch one another’s souls. But there is existing and then there is thriving.

It is the same disease in the mass as in the individual. The people who count as normal are perhaps even more diseased than those who are neurotic. The neurotic at least show that something is wrong. But the normal consider the very disease part of their normality. They carry on the hideous insanity of acquisitiveness in masses, or in solitary enterprise, with a firm conviction that it is the right thing to do (106). 

Thrive then! For Lawrence it isn’t even a choice for most – the passionate will thrive or die, at the very least internally. And it does sometimes seem as though the world is made up of zombies, the walking dead. The ‘right thing to do,’ by which society and governments usually mean- to stay in line, but get ahead, only serves to pull us apart. We become fugitives when we deviate. We are shamed for speaking out, shamed for feeling pleasure,  shamed for exhibiting feelings, for crying, for open joy, and under some circumstances shamed for loving, or loving too much. Shame is truly a weapon of mass destruction.

He often felt he’d been a fool, but he never felt he had been wrong. The word ‘sin’ had no meaning for him (123).

This is the very point for Lawrence – we must disarm, even it it is unilaterally.

 

* title from pg. 93: “She was so tired, so tired! Fugitives from the social world: that’s what it was.”

 

 

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Love’s Lambency

“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.