Lawrence delivers. No book in any public library is likely to be as dog-eared from furtive bathroom reading as Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Sure old D.H. had some dubious politics no small amount of sexist and classist remarks suppurate forth from his books but the man could write a sex scene. First published privately in Italy in 1928, Chatterley caused the predicted uproar, and was banned in the United States until the late 1950s. Finally an American judge approved it as the classic it surely is. The first sentence gets us going (“Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically”) and it doesn’t lose steam thereafter. Readers who fast forward a hundred pages to get to the raunch lose out on Chatterley‘s nuanced social critique but it’s worth it. And don’t worry, that’s just what we’ll do.
What fascinates me about Lady Chatterley’s Lover is that it manages to present some of the more piquant sex that you’ll find in English literature, yet also one of the most brutal dissections of the act that I’ve ever read. Which opens some interesting questions: did Lawrence like sex? If not, how could he write such arousing scenes? Does not liking sex facilitate writing about it, or was he just honest and saw sex, warts and all, for what it is? I occasionally have the experience of listening to a Caruso aria, then suddenly hearing it as if I was someone who had never listened to opera. Stepping out of the inside of experience, the ordinary, even the beautiful, can become absurd. This is what happens in Lawrence’s description of Lady Chatterley losing synch with her lover: “She lay with her hands inert on his striving body, and do what she might, her spirit seemed to look on from the top of her head, and the butting of his haunches seemed ridiculous to her, and the sort of anxiety of his penis to come to its little evacuating crisis seemed farcical. Yes, this was love.”
It goes on in the same damning vein, but you get the point. And this from a woman who, as you will see in the scene below, had supped at lust’s table, and greedily. It is a curious dichotomy sex from the inside, sex from the outside and Lawrence is savvy to present it. If there is a moral, and whether it’s intended or incidental, it is to live from within. Writers, perhaps, have to write from without, but let the rest of us just be there doing it.