Jack’s Naughty Bits: D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover

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Jack's Naughty Bits

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.

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From Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence

He led her through the wall of prickly trees that were difficult to come through to a place where there was a little space and a pile of dead boughs. He threw one or two dry ones down, put his coat and waistcoat over them, and she had to lie down there under the boughs of the tree, like an animal, while he waited, standing there in his shirt and breeches, watching her with haunted eyes. But still he was provident — he made her lie properly, properly. Yet he broke the band of her underclothes, for she did not help him, only lay inert.


He too had bared the front part of his body and she felt his naked flesh against her as he came into her. For a moment he was still inside her, turgid there and quivering. Then, as he began to move, in the sudden helpless orgasm, there awoke in her new strange thrills rippling insider her. Rippling, rippling, rippling, like a flapping overlapping of soft flames, soft as feathers, running to points of brilliance, exquisite, exquisite and melting her all molten inside. It was like bells rippling up and up to a culmination. She lay unconscious of the wild little cries she uttered at the last. But it was over too soon, too soon, and she could no longer force her own conclusion with the activity. This was different, different. She could do nothing. She could no longer harden and grip for her own satisfaction upon him. She could only wait, wait and moan in spirit as she felt him withdrawing, withdrawing and contracting, coming to the terrible moment when he would slip out of her and be gone. Whilst all her womb was soft and open, and softly clamoring, like a sea anemone under the tide, clamoring for him to come in again and make a fulfillment for her. She clung to him unconscious in passion, and he never quite slipped from her, and she felt the soft bud of him within her stirring, and strange rhythms flushing up in to her with a strange rhythmic growing motion, swelling and swelling till it filled all her cleaving consciousness, and then began again the unspeakable motion that was not really motion, but pure deepening whirlpools of sensation swirling deeper and deeper through all her tissue and consciousness, till she was one perfect concentric fluid of feeling, and she lay there crying in unconscious inarticulate cries.

© D. H. Lawrence