[BONUS] Read and Review: Lady Chatterley’s Lover

[BONUS] Read and Review: Lady Chatterley’s Lover
  • Title: Lady Chatterley’s Lover
  • Author: D.H. Lawrence
  • Published: 1928

Image via BBC.

As an English student at Nottingham, trust me, they make a big deal about D.H. Lawrence. He was born in Eastwood, near Nottingham, in 1885.

Furthermore, ‘The Manuscripts and Special Collections section at The University of Nottingham includes one of the world’s major international collections on DH Lawrence among its extensive historic archives and literary papers.’ (http://www.dh-lawrence.org.uk/collection.html)

Consequently, D.H. Lawrence is, unsurprisingly, on the syllabus. I’ve read a range of his short stories so far but I wanted to read his novels too, having enjoyed his style of writing. I decided to start with one of the most infamous and most controversial novels: Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

Connie and Clifford Chatterley, a middle-class couple, own the Chatterley estate – a large house, plenty of land, and a coal mine. When Clifford is paralysed from the waist down after World War I, this causes significant problems for the couple – mainly, no sex and thus no heir to the estate. Connie gradually becomes disenchanted with the idea of being ‘Lady Chatterley’, but feels guilty about leaving Clifford because of his disability. She seeks comfort from Mellors, the gamekeeper, which results in a sexual relationship and a scandalous affair.

I don’t think I enjoyed the story of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, mainly because I didn’t like the main characters.

Clifford behaves contemptuously to almost everyone who surrounds him and neglects his wife often. He favours discussions with his intellectual chums instead which of course, Connie could never participate in, because she is “only” a woman.

Connie and Mellors engage in an affair while they are both already married to others (albeit in an unhappy marriage), but “justified” promiscuity makes me uncomfortable still. Plus, despite the language used to describe the pair’s affections, I only ever saw the relationship as one-sided. It’s clear Mellors truly loves Connie, but as to whether Connie fully reciprocates these feelings for Mellors, I’m unsure about.

However, I did find Lady Chatterley’s Lover incredibly interesting because of the issues it raises, mainly the question:

Is Lady Chatterley’s Lover about sex?

Yes

Yes; the language is far too explicit for Lady Chatterley’s Lover to not be about sex (despite its infamy, I still didn’t expect language from the 1920s to be that clear-cut, which does nothing but reveal my own ignorance to the romance/erotica genre)!

The book is about the role sex has within marital and extra-marital contexts. Clifford sees marital sex merely as useful for the production of a child who will one day inherit his estate and continue the Chatterley legacy. Connie uses extramarital sex to experience, love, lust, desire, and freedom – all the things she feels she is lacking from her oppressive husband.

No

However, once the focus on sexual encounters is put to one side, Lady Chatterley’s Lover also raises issues of class and region – both which are common threads in Lawrence’s works.

Connie “transgresses” from her middle-class position to pursue a relationship with their gamekeeper, an indistinct member of the working class, with presumable “bad breeding”. In addition, Lawrence devotes a lot of time to exploring the dynamics of Connie and Clifford’s middle-class lifestyle, and why this is unfulfilling for both, as well as exploring the lives of other local working-class people in the area.

Mellors is fluid in his use of dialect. He uses Standard English when publicly interacting with the Chatterleys, yet uses a natural Nottinghamshire dialect when alone with Connie. Arguably, this reveals a deeper aspect of Mellors’ personality, but ironically, it alienates Connie. She is drawn to his use of language – his straight-talking manner with which he confesses his feelings – and yet she does not speak the dialect, she is restricted to Standard English, and so struggles to consistently understand him.


So is Lady Chatterley’s Lover about sex? Yes, but it’s also about so much more.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover was adapted for the BBC in 2015, and you can read a review of that here.

***

Thank you for reading!

If you enjoyed this post please click ‘Like’ and leave any responses you have in the comments below.

– Judith

Themes in: Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti

Themes in: Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti

Goblin Market is a Victorian poem about two women, Lizzie and Laura, one of whom is tempted by the goblins that frequent their village to sell exotic fruits all year around. Laura becomes grievously ill after eating some of this fruit, and is saved by her sister’s bravery and heroism against the goblins.

To me, the most striking element in Goblin Market is its use of symbolism – of religion, of the patriarchy and, as an offshoot of this, the sexual oppression of women.

Firstly, Goblin Market’s religious imagery is overwhelmingly clear. The premise of the poem is that deceptive, supernatural creatures tempt a pure woman into eating a mysterious and forbidden fruit, which then has negative consequences. This is a direct parallel to the events in Genesis 3; the goblins symbolise Satan and Laura symbolises Eve.

However, there is a second layer to this religious imagery. Lizzie saves her sister by standing resolute in the face of the goblins’ horrid behaviour towards her, enduring suffering for the sake of Laura. She is described as ‘fruit-crown’d’ – an irony – because a crown is meant for royalty, highlighting Laura’s virtuous and honourable nature, yet it is made from fruit, the goblins’ “weapon” of attack. This may be a parallel to the ‘crown of thorns’ (Matthew 27:29) worn by Christ during the crucifixion, to mock him. Furthermore, during Lizzie’s attack from the goblins, she ‘utter’d not a word’, again imitating Christ’s behaviour when he was trialled by Herod:

  • ‘He [Jesus] was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth’ (Isaiah 53:7)
  • ‘He [Herod] plied him [Jesus] with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer.’ (Luke 23:9)

Secondly, although the goblins are in some ways supernatural, they are also described as ‘goblin merchant men’. The significance of calling them ‘men’ suggests the poem can also be read as a poem about the male oppression of women within a patriarchal Victorian society. It is important that while the goblins are running their market and earning money, both Lizzie and Laura are confined to the home, undertaking stereotypically female tasks, such as sewing, baking cakes and talking like ‘modest maidens’. This highlights the separate spheres ideology which was rife in Victorian society, that encouraged men to leave the house and work to provide for the family (in the “public” sphere)  whilst women were to stay at home as housekeepers and mothers (in the “private” sphere).

Yet there is more. Rossetti also highlights that within a patriarchal society, not only were women confined to their domesticated “sphere” of life, but they were also victims of sexual abuse. This is evidenced by the goblins’ attack on Lizzie. The goblins, whilst ‘grunting and snarling’, ‘tore her gown’, ‘held her hands’, ‘kick’d’ and ‘maul’d’ her in order to force her to eat their fruits. The goblins’ fruit is a metaphor for sex, and thus this distressing scene symbolises one of rape and domestic abuse, a scenario sadly commonplace within Victorian relationships.*

*A harrowing statistic: marital rape wasn’t criminalised in the UK until 1991.

***

Of course, there’s so much more that could be said about the poem. I enjoyed reading Goblin Market; it’s beautifully written narrative poem with vivid imagery and multiple interpretations. There are many other offered readings of the poem, but I think Goblin Market’s parallels with the Christian faith, and the message of female oppression are its most significant undertones.

Thank you for reading this blog post.

Please click ‘Like’ and leave any responses you have in the comments below.

– Judith

Themes in: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Themes in: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

‘Reader, I married him.’

Jane Eyre is a Victorian Gothic novel, telling the story, from a first-person perspective, of the protagonist Jane Eyre. She is left in the “care” of her aunt and cousins after the death of her parents, but is treated horribly and is eventually sent away to boarding school. She grows up to train and work as a governess for the aloof and proud Mr Rochester. Jane begins to develop romantic feelings for Rochester, but she doesn’t know he is hiding a terrible secret.

To me, the most noticeable theme in Jane Eyre is Bronte’s use of the Gothic. I studied Gothic literature at A Level – not Jane Eyre sadly – but that made it easy for me to spot Gothic conventions whilst reading it.

Jane is described metaphorically as an ‘elf’, ‘changeling’ and ‘fairy’, supernatural creatures which could have either good or bad connotations, depending on which myths or fairy-tales you read. Thornfield Hall, Rochester’s home, is an isolated mansion with many abandoned rooms and secret passages, the perfect place for scary and supernatural occurrences. There is also lots of powerful colour symbolism, using key Gothic colours: black, white and red. Most notably, the Red Room, in which Jane is imprisoned as a girl, has ‘crimson’ bedcovers, ‘red’ carpets and dark, mahogany furniture to haunt and remind Jane of her uncle, whose dead body was laid out in the Red Room. The room is symbolic of Jane’s suffering, entrapment and a strong reminder of the ever-presence of death.

Another theme in Jane Eyre is love. I’ve heard many refer to Jane Eyre as one of the greatest love stories of all time. Whilst I disagree with this – I see Jane Eyre as primarily Gothic, not romantic – the theme of love is prevalent nonetheless. Jane desires to be genuinely loved and valued. This is perfectly justifiable, after being denied a true family, and the abuse she endured from her aunt and cousins. These desires are why she rejects St. John’s marriage proposal, because a marriage built around purpose or function would lack the love and value she longs for. Furthermore, this is why she rejects Rochester’s proposal to be his mistress: Jane is an independent and strong woman who will not let herself be devalued by being subject to a man’s whims and losing her integrity.

The final theme I want to talk about in Jane Eyre, which I hadn’t considered before until a lecture, is slavery, in relation to the character of Bertha. Bertha is taken by Rochester from the Caribbean and kept physically imprisoned at Thornfield Hall, out of sight. This reflects how, slaves were presented during the time of the slave trade, in paintings, for example, “lurking” behind the aristocracy, ready to obey. In addition, Bertha is always described in supernatural and animalistic ways, such as ‘clothed hyena’, ‘maniac’, and ‘shaggy locks’. These descriptions are significant because she is a white creole, and so has mixed racial heritage. This imagery suggests Bertha is “other” and exotic – like a creature – simply because of her race. This parallels the racist approach white Britons had towards non-white individuals at the time.

***

Thank you for reading this blog post!

I find Jane Eyre such an enjoyable book – even if I don’t see it as a romance – and it was written by a Yorkshire woman, and it’s my Mum’s favourite book, so it has a special place in my heart, and it was a pleasure to be able to explore some of the significant aspects of the novel.

If you enjoyed reading this post, please click ‘Like’ and leave any responses you have in the comments below!

– Judith

Themes in: Lady Susan by Jane Austen

Themes in: Lady Susan by Jane Austen

This is the start of another new blogging series!

I plan to go slightly more in-depth than a regular book review and, as an English student, talk about some of the significant themes and messages of a particular book.*

*My choice in books may or may not be influenced by what I’m studying in my English degree.

Lady Susan is an epistolary novella by Jane Austen, published posthumously in 1891, but she wrote it as a teenager, before her most popular works. It is about Lady Susan, a beautiful, manipulative, and flirtatious widow who seeks not only to marry off her daughter, but a second advantageous marriage for herself to ensure financial security.

I think a key theme in Lady Susan is class and society; Austen paints a world in which marriage is for riches, not love, and women have no chance of succeeding unless they are attached to a man. However, Austen takes this idea, which is common in her other novels such as Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, and completely subverts it. She criticises the patriarchal society in which she lives and writes about, by creating a strong female character who takes on remarkably “male” characteristics. Lady Susan toys with various men’s affections, controlling their emotions and thoughts towards her – just as Captain Wickham did in Pride and Prejudice, and Mr Willoughby did in Sense and Sensibility.

Following on from this, Austen highlights the power Lady Susan has, despite the fact she is a woman in a patriarchal society. She is a ‘Lady’, not by marriage, but by birth, and so already belongs to a certain status, without the need of a husband. She is also a widow, a scarily powerful social position, because she is much older than the men she flirts with, as well as sexually experienced. Personally, I think this was Austen’s way of exploring subversive ideas as a teenager in a covert manner – it would be too unacceptable for her to behave in this way herself, so she fantasised and wrote about it instead. This may have also been the motivation behind the narrative arc of Pride and Prejudice’s Lydia, a giggly young girl easily swept along by notions of love, marriage and sex.

Another significant theme in Lady Susan is gender; although Lady Susan needs a man to provide her income, she challenges patriarchy and feminine stereotypes in other ways. Her interaction with her daughter Frederica is so unlike a conventional mother. She is cold and cruel, which might reflect a stereotypical 18th/19th century father instead – a distant figure who makes financial arrangements for the family, but lacks an emotional connection to them.  Speaking of lacking emotional connections, Lady Susan only develops relationships when it is convenient and beneficial to her. Whilst this is incredibly selfish, her selfishness highlights her rationality and logic – traits which were seen as more “masculine” than “feminine”.

In this way, then, Lady Susan does not fit the mould of a conventional feminine protagonist, but that’s what’s so good about Lady Susan.

Although I didn’t enjoy the character of Lady Susan, the epistolary style, or the rushed ending, I enjoyed how Austen fearlessly subverted all the conventions I’d come to expect from a typical Austen novel, and raised some key themes to think about in the process.

***

Thank you for reading this blog post! It was nice for me to “vent” a little in a more literary way, rather than just always focus on my likes/dislikes.

If you’d like to read more of these style of blog posts, please click ‘Like’ or leave some feedback in a comment below!

– Judith