Tag Archives: Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Apart From Naughtiness

There are many ways of knowing, there are many sorts of knowledge. But the two ways of knowing, for man, are knowing in terms of apartness, which is mental, rational, scientific, and knowing in terms of togetherness, which is religious and poetic.
—D.H. Lawrence, A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover (55)

IMG_4106

It was only once I was walking down the dark empty hallway that an awareness began to percolate back into my brain alerting me that I had left my glasses behind. Before the realization entirely sank in, while I was still merely in an optical haze of confusion, I spun around and ran back hoping to beat the timer I had turned—I didn’t want the light to go off and have to blindly find my way back to the stack among multiple stacks. Not my fault. I had gone there to get one book. Just one. But in my arms were four. I got excited and was dashing off like a thief in the night.

People wallow in emotion: counterfeit emotion. They lap it up: they live in it and on it. They ooze it (18-19).

What began as My Skirmish With Jolly Roger, (which I found in there! in the general stacks—a first edition! —I’m going to have to talk with someone about that.) —a stand-alone limited edition of Lawrence’s forward to the “Paris edition” of Lady Chatterley’s Lover— turned into A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, extending the original essay by some fifty pages. I added both to my check out, naturally.

And with counterfeit emotions there is no real sex at all. Sex is the one thing you cannot really swindle; and it is the centre of the worst swindling of all, emotional swindling. Once come down to sex, and the emotional swindle must collapse. But in all the approaches to sex, the emotional swindle intensifies more and more. Till you get there. then collapse (21).

In the essay, Lawrence seems to be trying to find his reader. Not the one who skips to the dirty words, not the one who is sanctimoniously looking for moral outrage, but his reader–the one who craves something true. It is a delicate and precious thing:

Herein lies the danger of harping only on the counterfeit and the swindle of emotion, as most “advanced” writers do. Though they do it, of course, to counterbalance the hugely greater swindle of the sentimental “sweet” writers (23). 

It is even harder, in this day and age, to resist the cynics and avoid the fools. This week I began my summer internship. I am working in the editorial department of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I spend my lunch hour wandering the sublime halls of the museum. I let myself approach each piece of art instinctually—yes or no. It is simple. I have time. No pressure. It is just me. Is the answer to the multiple choice question yes or no? I wish life were so simple.

Édouard Vuillard, Conversation (1897-98)

Édouard Vuillard, Conversation (1897-98)

This is what is the matter with us. We are bleeding at the roots, because we are cut off from the earth and sun and stars, and love is a grinning mockery, because, poor blossom, we plucked it from its stem on the tree of Life, and expected it to keep on blooming in our civilised vase on the table (40).

Poor blossom, indeed. Lawrence advocates passionately, in this essay,  for marriage, which, having been married, forces a sort of reckoning within me. Additionally, as the novel’s plot involves adultery, his stance is interesting. And yet, marriage for marriage’s sake–for stature or security or any other shallow or temporal purpose is exactly what he most vehemently rails against…so,  I do come to see his point. I am not only a dedicated observer of art, I am also an observer of couples, and when I espy the authentic thing—I rejoice with a yes in my heart. Life can be all that.

For an essay that begins, ostensibly, as a warning to the reader of the myriad pirated editions of his work, Lawrence diverges with such fervent passion into the heart of the matter, into our very hearts, that I cannot help adoring him. He is a sane man in a mad world, which may make him appear crazed, but it doesn’t make him wrong.

When the great crusade against sex and the body started in full blast with Plato, it was a crusade for “ideals”, and for this “spiritual” knowledge in apartness. Sex is the great unifier. In its big, slower vibration it is the warmth of heart which makes people happy together, in togetherness. The idealist philosophies and religions set out deliberately to kill this. And they did. Now they have done it. The last great ebullition of friendship and hope was squashed out in mud and blood. Now men are all separate entities. While “kindness” is the glib order of the day—everyone must be “kind”—underneath this “kindness” we find a coldness of heart, a lack of heart, a callousness, that is very dreary (57).

It’s the “dreary” that makes me smile. Yes, it is indeed dreary.

*title from pg. 32

Advertisements

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

IMG_2271

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.”

 

 

Kicking Against the Pricks

Sometimes life takes hold of one, carries the body along, accomplishes one’s history, and yet is not real, but leaves oneself as it were slurred over. (9)
– D.H Lawrence, Sons and Lovers

DSCI0020

In Stephan Zweig’s short story Burning Secret, he writes something along the lines of – there comes a time in every woman’s life when she must decide, is she a mother, or a woman? For me it begs the question- why? Why must we ask ourselves that question? Because society says so? I certainly can not imagine a man having to face this sort of a false dilemma, nor can I deny that there is truth in it. And that is the real pity.

Suddenly, looking at him, the heavy feeling at the mother’s heart melted into passionate grief. She bowed over him, and a few tears shook swiftly out of her very heart.

In Part One of Sons and Lovers, Lawrence carefully chronicles the life of the Morels: a struggling family, a loveless marriage, and the children that come into the world trying to fill the holes in their parent’s lives.

Paul loved to sleep with his mother. Sleep is still most perfect, in spite of hygienists, when shared with a beloved. The warmth, the security and peace of soul, the utter comfort from the touch of the other, knits the sleep, so that it takes the body and soul completely in its healing.

That is a perfectly beautiful description of delicious sleep, when your hand can rest in perfect trust on a body, whether it be: child, friend, or lover. The peace of our souls is found in each other – from the touch of the other, a beloved. Lawrence is such a wonderful writer, his use of colloquialisms, details of meager material objects, and the shared rapture of the glory of nature in the lives of mother and sons gives a clear picture of the family’s daily existence, allowing the deeper significance of the story to fully develop. It is Lawrence’s sensibility and keen sense of the importance of intimacy that is at the center of his novel.

Now, when all her woman’s pity was roused to its full extent, when she would have slaved herself to death to nurse him and to save him, when she would have taken the pain herself, if she could, somewhere far away inside her, she felt indifferent to him and to his suffering. It hurt her most of all, this failure to love him…

Mrs. Morel, sadly, goes straight to motherhood, her chance to be a woman is never realized and the disappointment just grows. Putting all her passion into being a mother, the decision of whether or not to be a woman too, is moot. With no deep connection to her husband there is just the empty space of desire left. Reading this novel one becomes aware of the limited vocabulary we have to discuss love and passion. Lawrence never suggests incest, and yet the nomenclature of romantic love does. Both romantic intimacy and the intimacy of mothering are physically pleasing and intensely fulfilling, but part of our emotional retardation is to always talk about physical pleasure as only sexual. Breastfeeding is an excellent case in point- physically pleasurable, and fulfilling in an entirely non-sexual way, the fact that breasts provide sexual pleasure as well should not be a source of confusion for people. It’s gotten to the point that people don’t want to see a woman breastfeed because – breast are for sex, and we don’t do that in public – or talk about it.  Lawrence, has no such inhibition, he will leave sensuous terms as they are and dare you to be puerile. Women in Love has been described as homoerotic, if so, Sons and Lovers is incestuous, Lady Chatterley’s Lover is pornographic and you have lost the point altogether.

What Lawrence was really trying to discover was how, how can we deeply connect with one another? In Lady Chatterley’s Lover the sexual connection that is possible between lovers is a sacred thing. But it is deep connections generally that give our lives meaning. Our language cannot scratch the surface of our feelings. The words that we have to describe the love of friendship suffer the same problem in Women in Love as parental love in Sons and Lovers. Even when Lawrence is talking explicitly about sex, he is not talking about sex. His cri de coeur was the sine qua non of intimacy and connection of all kinds. Lawrence takes care to explore the complexities inherent: no matter how wonderful being a mother is- a mother is also a woman. Mrs. Morel’s mothering love in the absence of the woman inside her is a heavy and mournful thing. After all, a son loves his mother passionately, but it is the mother’s job to eventually deflect that passion away from herself and peripherally enjoy the realization of the child’s happy fulfilled life. In a healthy home, this happens naturally. The woman however, has the opposite aim- if she finds passion with another, and if it is returned, that is something she must hold on to, cherish and let bloom. The poverty of our words is frustrating and the word “passion” is sorely overworked.

At the end of Part One, William, the eldest son, is caught up in a relationship that mirrors his parents. Even as his mother attempts to caution him, he feels already morally committed and helpless to do anything other than see it through. She can not give him the inner strength required to rebel against societal expectations. The price is, of course, his soul.

“My boy, remember you’re taking your life in your hands,” said Mrs. Morel. “Nothing is as bad as a marriage that’s a hopeless failure. Mine was bad enough. God knows, and ought to teach you something; but it might have been worse by a long chalk.”

That’s the trouble with morals that go against truth and love, in the end, they are short sighted and punishing for all.

 

* “Kicking Against the Pricks” is a biblical reference Lawrence uses to mean, “rebelling.”

Ma foi!

She felt as if a mist had been lifted from her eyes, enabling her to look upon and comprehend the significance of life, that monster made up of beauty and brutality. But among the conflicting sensations which assailed her, there was neither shame nor remorse. –  Kate Chopin, The Awakening

Thirty years before D.H. Lawrence published his banned book Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Kate Chopin was banned for writing a more subtle version of the shades of oppression, suppression and repression. In Chopin’s tale, Edna Pontellier belongs to a different age which presents its own complications and fetters, but the story, set in the Creole society of New Orleans,  of being a free soul capable of and longing for true meaning is essentially the same.

There came over her the acute longing which always summoned into her spiritual vision the presence of the beloved one, overpowering her at once with a sense of the unattainable. (9)

Chopin uses the sea, “the voice of the sea,” to describe the yearning in Edna for something to “speak to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace.” By learning how to swim, and “reaching out for the unlimited in which to lose herself,” the indescribable aspects of what it is like to be bound to a life that is not really your own are clearly felt.

Mr. Pontellier had been a rather courteous husband so long as he met a certain tacit submissiveness in his wife. (63)

Naturally as Edna emerges from the fog of her sleep she is accused of losing her mind:

It sometimes entered Mr. Pontellier’s mind to wonder if his wife were not growing a little unbalanced mentally. He could see plainly that she was not herself. That is, he could not see that she was becoming herself and daily casting aside that fictitious self which we assume like a garment with which to appear before the world. (64)

Edna’s soul is crying out to her, but she has no frame of reference with which to understand herself. She is already deeply in love with Robert before she is even aware of it. A few of her friends understand what is happening, but it is Mademoiselle Reisz who understands the true depth, “Courageous, ma foi! The brave soul. The soul that dares and defies.” (71)

Mademoiselle Reisz is an independent woman, but here we can see that mere independence is not the point of life, or anything else worth considering. It is a means, not an end. It is rather connection, it is this idea that Lawrence would so fervently argue for a few decades later. But Mlle. Reisz knows the price that this sort of thinking can lead to:

[she] felt my shoulder blades, to see if my wings were strong, she said. “The bird that would soar above the level plain of tradition and prejudice must have strong wings. It is a sad spectacle to see the weaklings bruised, exhausted, fluttering back to earth.”(92)

Music, through Mlle. Reisz, is also an instrument for loosening the tethers constricting Edna. Music can momentarily transport and satisfy your soul. But that brings me to a question I kept asking myself- I don’t think music transport every soul, nor do I think the sea or the heavy evening air affects many people to the degree it moves Edna, and I wonder why that is. Why does her soul ache to the degree it does? Other people seem content to live lives of parlor parties and picnics. Is it the insidiousness of her servitude to her husband?  Is it her status as an outsider, both as a non-Creole in her society, and as a woman that traditionally is always the outsider into the husband’s family and name? Or is it that she falls in love? That she feels the purity of a true human connection?

“Good-by – because, I love you.” He did not know, he did not understand. He would never understand. (128)

Robert’s abandonment of her, particularly in the state (emotionally, mentally and physically) that she is in, is devastating. Life is complicated, but what Robert does not understand is that Love is not. That he chooses to leave her speaks volumes as to the true depth of his feeling. Edna does not experience the sensation of “choice.” True love is unconquerable and all-conquering. It is its quality of simplicity, in fact,  that signifies its veracity.

All that is left for Edna, given the age in which she lives, is the open sea.

*Ma foi! – My faith!