The Awakened Reader: Physicality in D. H. Lawrence's "Lady Chatterley's Lover"
Archetypal characters are just that: abundant and recurring in the vast array of storytelling done by the world’s artists. They are used to denote universal truths, experiences, meanings, and forms which shape a common human existence. As such, one may find an archetype or two in most novels and movies: be it an inexperienced, naive youth, a courageous hero, or a mischievous villain. However, rarely does one find oneself cast as the archetype whilst reading a book or watching a movie. Such a phenomenon occurs when reading D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a novel about a dissatisfied mistress of a well-to-do English estate who finds love, meaning, and herself in a passionate affair with the groundskeeper. While Lawrence writes a biting tale of one woman’s sexual and spiritual awakening, he is simultaneously stimulating an awakening within the reader as well. Through the use of erotic scenes and explicit language, Lawrence attempts to jolt his reader out of a “deadened” state of being and into one in which life and physical sensation flow (281).
Mind Is Not Over Matter
The story begins by capturing fully the rather unfortunate circumstances of the main character, Connie Chatterley. As a young woman, she has already found herself stuck in a passionless marriage with an otherwise dull aristocrat, Clifford. To top matters off, her husband is paralyzed from the waist down, a product of World War I. While a shared interest in intellectual endeavors maintains their otherwise platonic relationship, it is not enough to inspire enjoyment or pleasure in Connie’s heart. As time goes on, she grows ever wearier of the life she has been allotted. The narration makes this clear on its own, but the drab way in which Lawrence describes Connie’s body displays how wholly insufficient such a way of life is for her. He uses words such as “flat,” “sapless,” “greyish,” and “slack,” sucking any sense of youth and vitality from her person (65). Being with Clifford has quite literally drained the life out of her, as it says that “Clifford’s mental life and hers gradually began to feel like nothingness” (47). With Clifford himself confined to a wheelchair, Lawrence’s message is clear: intellectualism is not a substitute for the physical aspects of life. If only activities of the mind are had, the body suffers and the spirit begins to waste away.
The Tevershall Pit Workers
The wasting of the body is also present in the Tevershall workers who man the coal pits of the town. They are described in fairly grotesque terms, for they have lost their masculinity, perhaps even their humanity, to the industrial life. Lawrence writes: “Something that men should have was bred and killed out of them,” later on calling them “men not men, but animas of coal and iron and clay” (149). Their bodies are misshapen, with “one shoulder higher than the other,” “underground grey faces,” and “whites of eyes rolling” (149). While being quite harsh, he expresses that the mechanization of life and the pursuit of money as one’s lifeblood are what have depleted the working masses of their humanness. The workers have lost both the spark of passion and the physical beauty which characterize the human species; as such, they have been demoted to something less than human.
Sir Clifford Chatterley
However, this does not apply solely to the working classes. Clifford himself is lacking in masculinity, both literally and symbolically. The manner in which he relies on Connie and Ms. Bolton to provide him with a sense of importance and superiority displays his inherent incompleteness. Whether this stems from his damaged body or his withered soul is up for interpretation; however, it is likely that it is a bit of both. From the start, he is deficient, yet this manifests itself in a variety of ways throughout the book. First, when Connie was his main source of vitality, he relied on his writings to create an aura of importance and value about his life. Yet his writings were ultimately empty and meaningless, made of nothing of real substance. This is perhaps because the warmth was bred out of his class, replaced by calculated thoughtfulness and a desire to separate oneself from those lower in social standing (67). Thus, he did not truly understand what it means to be a man, for he actively tried to dislodge himself from key aspects of it. By doing so, the tenderness that could be had between a husband and wife was impossible, and so Connie found her relationship with him utterly scant. Then, when his attention was diverted to Ms. Bolton, he ceased writing entirely and turned to industry to feed his appetite for importance. Now, his greatest desire transformed, for he gave himself over wholly to the “bitch-goddess of success,” who led him to crave power over men in a much more literal sense (100). By ruling over the pits and industry itself, he became a part of the machine which cut away at the humanity of those who turned its levers. Ultimately, with the loss of control over Connie, the last vestiges of his masculinity were lost as well, and he becomes fully what he was all along: Ms. Bolton’s man-child (272). Through it all, he is crippled and never regains the ability to fully control himself; thus, his physicality revealed his inner nature all along.
Connie, Clifford, and the Tevershall pit workers are all victims of the industrialization of the modern world, one in which the pure human spirit was no where to be found amongst the toil and grime of machinery and the rat race towards monetary gain. All suffer in this way, their physical bodies manifesting the degradation within. However, Connie will come to be reborn as a woman by Oliver Mellors through one thing: sex. Connie and Mellors have numerous and extended love scenes throughout the novel, causing the book to earn the status of pornography when it was first published in 1928. Lawrence fills these scenes with detailed descriptions, erotic imagery, and four-letter words that are still known as profane today. Yet it was such passion that brought Connie out of the fog in which she had lived so long and into the wonder of natural life. After her affair with the gamekeeper commenced, her physical body recovered its youthful glow, as her physique begins to be described by words such as “curved,” “soft,” and “marvellous” (165).
However, the purpose of such graphic and emotion-filled scenes are not just to awake Connie, the novel’s “Sleeping Beauty” archetypal character. It is also to awaken the reader, the person who holds the words in hand and the story in mind. These otherwise taboo words and erotic scenes are created to stir passion within the reader, perhaps even causing the heart to beat harder or the palms to sweat. Lawrence, as Mellors, wants to physically shake his audience from their fog, not just his heroine. Be the reader of the working class, like those of the pit, an aristocratic intellectual, such as Clifford, or otherwise lost in listlessness as Connie once was, he/she stands to be roused from the daze into which money, power, and success lull society. Just as Mellors rekindles his lover’s spirit and thirst for life, so does Lawrence hope to do for all of those who spend time with his book. As such, the author transcends the bonds of time and space, arising the Sleeping Beauty within each reader.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover is nothing short of a work of art. Though it was written nearly 100 years ago, its message is still pertinent in the contemporary world. Further than this, it is remains capable of moving something within its audience, connecting those of the past and present through the shared trials and joys of humanity. Rarely can one say that he/she was transformed into a character to be reborn in spirit and form, but such is true of those who take the time out of their modern days to be enlivened by Lawrence’s touch.
Lawrence, D. H. Lady Chatterley's Lover. New York: Penguin Books, 1959. Print.
© 2014 Megan Faust