Banned Books Challenge #2
Constance, Lady Chatterley, has what seems like an ideal life: marriage into the gentry and a fine home on the profitable estate of Wragby. Then her husband Clifford returns from the First World War in a wheelchair, and the changes this brings out in him slowly creates a gulf between them. He becomes absorbed in his writing and the workings of his colliery, while she stagnates in boredom and apathy. An escape finally presents itself in the form of an affair, with a man not only married, but a servant - her husband’s gamekeeper. Oliver Mellors has spent enough time in the army to learn to mimic the speech and manners of society, but also to despise it; the job in the woods offers a hermit-like solitude away from the world. But the world intrudes in the form of his estranged wife, determined to get him back. Ensconcing herself in his cottage, she discovers his secret and begins trumpeting it to anyone who’ll listen. Mellors is faced with the choice of losing either Connie or his sanctuary; and a pregnant Connie must decide whether to stay at Wragby with a husband she doesn’t love but will raise any child of hers as his own, or braving the censure of society in order to follow her heart.
Reading this book it was easy to imagine what a shock it must have created back in the 1920s. The characters don’t just have sex, they think about it and talk about it, with a good peppering of four-letter words. Connie’s choice of lover must also have raised a lot of eyebrows - a servant! (Horror of horrors.) It was a great choice for the Banned Books Challenge, having been blacklisted for decades before landing its publisher in court on obscenity charges. I had to admire the guts it must have taken to bring such a work into the world at such a time, and am very glad I read it; it really is a landmark achievement of literature.
In terms of readability, it started out well and promised to be much more interesting than Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, which I started several years ago and got thoroughly bored with. But by the halfway point, the book was beginning to drag, largely due to Lady Chatterley herself. She was so passive, just letting things happen to her and not doing a thing to change the dull routine of her life. At first her character was well-drawn enough that I didn’t mind, but it went on too long. The start of the affair was Mellors’s doing, not hers, and even when she actively sought him out it was only because she couldn’t help herself and didn’t have the willpower to resist the urge. She also became unbearably clingy, constantly needing reassurances as to his love for her, his knowledge of her love for him, and the fact of their having a future together away from Wragby. She dragged the pace of the book into a decrescendo such that thirty pages from the end I was already mentally raiding my TBR box for a book with a much more spirited heroine.