Lady Chatterley' s Lover by D.H. Lawrence - HTML preview

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Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cata-clysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new

little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is

now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over

the obstacles. We've got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.

This was more or less Constance Chatterley's position. The war had

brought the roof down over her head. And she had realized that one

must live and learn.

She married Clifford Chatterley in 1917, when he was home for a

month on leave. They had a month's honeymoon. Then he went back to

Flanders: to be shipped over to England again six months later, more or

less in bits. Constance, his wife, was then twenty-three years old, and he

was twenty-nine.

His hold on life was marvellous. He didn't die, and the bits seemed to

grow together again. For two years he remained in the doctor's hands.

Then he was pronounced a cure, and could return to life again, with the

lower half of his body, from the hips down, paralysed for ever.

This was in 1920. They returned, Clifford and Constance, to his home,

Wragby Hall, the family 'seat'. His father had died, Clifford was now a

baronet, Sir Clifford, and Constance was Lady Chatterley. They came to

start housekeeping and married life in the rather forlorn home of the

Chatterleys on a rather inadequate income. Clifford had a sister, but she

had departed. Otherwise there were no near relatives. The elder brother

was dead in the war. Crippled for ever, knowing he could never have

any children, Clifford came home to the smoky Midlands to keep the

Chatterley name alive while he could.

He was not really downcast. He could wheel himself about in a

wheeled chair, and he had a bath-chair with a small motor attachment,

so he could drive himself slowly round the garden and into the line mel-

ancholy park, of which he was really so proud, though he pretended to

be flippant about it.


Having suffered so much, the capacity for suffering had to some extent

left him. He remained strange and bright and cheerful, almost, one might

say, chirpy, with his ruddy, healthy-looking face, and his pale-blue, chal-

lenging bright eyes. His shoulders were broad and strong, his hands

were very strong. He was expensively dressed, and wore handsome

neckties from Bond Street. Yet still in his face one saw the watchful look,

the slight vacancy of a cripple.

He had so very nearly lost his life, that what remained was wonder-

fully precious to him. It was obvious in the anxious brightness of his

eyes, how proud he was, after the great shock, of being alive. But he had

been so much hurt that something inside him had perished, some of his

feelings had gone. There was a blank of insentience.

Constance, his wife, was a ruddy, country-looking girl with soft brown

hair and sturdy body, and slow movements, full of unusual energy. She

had big, wondering eyes, and a soft mild voice, and seemed just to have

come from her native village. It was not so at all. Her father was the once

well-known R. A., old Sir Malcolm Reid. Her mother had been one of the

cultivated Fabians in the palmy, rather pre-Raphaelite days. Between

artists and cultured socialists, Constance and her sister Hilda had had

what might be called an aesthetically unconventional upbringing. They

had been taken to Paris and Florence and Rome to breathe in art, and

they had been taken also in the other direction, to the Hague and Berlin,

to great Socialist conventions, where the speakers spoke in every civil-

ized tongue, and no one was abashed.

The two girls, therefore, were from an early age not the least daunted

by either art or ideal politics. It was their natural atmosphere. They were

at once cosmopolitan and provincial, with the cosmopolitan provincial-

ism of art that goes with pure social ideals.

They had been sent to Dresden at the age of fifteen, for music among

other things. And they had had a good time there. They lived freely

among the students, they argued with the men over philosophical, soci-

ological and artistic matters, they were just as good as the men them-

selves: only better, since they were women. And they tramped off to the

forests with sturdy youths bearing guitars, twang-twang! They sang the

Wandervogel songs, and they were free. Free! That was the great word.

Out in the open world, out in the forests of the morning, with lusty and

splendid-throated young fellows, free to do as they liked, and—above

all—to say what they liked. It was the talk that mattered supremely: the

impassioned interchange of talk. Love was only a minor accompaniment.


Both Hilda and Constance had had their tentative love-affairs by the

time they were eighteen. The young men with whom they talked so pas-

sionately and sang so lustily and camped under the trees in such free-

dom wanted, of course, the love connexion. The girls were doubtful, but

then the thing was so much talked about, it was supposed to be so im-

portant. And the men were so humble and craving. Why couldn't a girl

be queenly, and give the gift of herself?

So they had given the gift of themselves, each to the youth with whom

she had the most subtle and intimate arguments. The arguments, the dis-

cussions were the great thing: the love-making and connexion were only

a sort of primitive reversion and a bit of an anti-climax. One was less in

love with the boy afterwards, and a little inclined to hate him, as if he

had trespassed on one's privacy and inner freedom. For, of course, being

a girl, one's whole dignity and meaning in life consisted in the achieve-

ment of an absolute, a perfect, a pure and noble freedom. What else did a

girl's life mean? To shake off the old and sordid connexions and


And however one might sentimentalize it, this sex business was one of

the most ancient, sordid connexions and subjections. Poets who glorified

it were mostly men. Women had always known there was something

better, something higher. And now they knew it more definitely than

ever. The beautiful pure freedom of a woman was infinitely more won-

derful than any sexual love. The only unfortunate thing was that men

lagged so far behind women in the matter. They insisted on the sex thing

like dogs.

And a woman had to yield. A man was like a child with his appetites.

A woman had to yield him what he wanted, or like a child he would

probably turn nasty and flounce away and spoil what was a very pleas-

ant connexion. But a woman could yield to a man without yielding her

inner, free self. That the poets and talkers about sex did not seem to have

taken sufficiently into account. A woman could take a man without

really giving herself away. Certainly she could take him without giving

herself into his power. Rather she could use this sex thing to have power

over him. For she only had to hold herself back in sexual intercourse,

and let him finish and expend himself without herself coming to the

crisis: and then she could prolong the connexion and achieve her orgasm

and her crisis while he was merely her tool.

Both sisters had had their love experience by the time the war came,

and they were hurried home. Neither was ever in love with a young man

unless he and she were verbally very near: that is unless they were


profoundly interested, talking to one another. The amazing, the pro-

found, the unbelievable thrill there was in passionately talking to some

really clever young man by the hour, resuming day after day for

months… this they had never realized till it happened! The paradisal

promise: Thou shalt have men to talk to!—had never been uttered. It was

fulfilled before they knew what a promise it was.

And if after the roused intimacy of these vivid and soul-enlightened

discussions the sex thing became more or less inevitable, then let it. It

marked the end of a chapter. It had a thrill of its own too: a queer vibrat-

ing thrill inside the body, a final spasm of self-assertion, like the last

word, exciting, and very like the row of asterisks that can be put to show

the end of a paragraph, and a break in the theme.

When the girls came home for the summer holidays of 1913, when

Hilda was twenty and Connie eighteen, their father could see plainly

that they had had the love experience.

L'amour avait passe par la, as somebody puts it. But he was a man of experience himself, and let life take its course. As for the mot a nervous in-

valid in the last few months of her life, she wanted her girls to be 'free',

and to 'fulfil themselves'. She herself had never been able to be altogether

herself: it had been denied her. Heaven knows why, for she was a wo-

man who had her own income and her own way. She blamed her hus-

band. But as a matter of fact, it was some old impression of authority on

her own mind or soul that she could not get rid of. It had nothing to do

with Sir Malcolm, who left his nervously hostile, high-spirited wife to

rule her own roost, while he went his own way.

So the girls were 'free', and went back to Dresden, and their music, and

the university and the young men. They loved their respective young

men, and their respective young men loved them with all the passion of

mental attraction. All the wonderful things the young men thought and

expressed and wrote, they thought and expressed and wrote for the

young women. Connie's young man was musical, Hilda's was technical.

But they simply lived for their young women. In their minds and their

mental excitements, that is. Somewhere else they were a little rebuffed,

though they did not know it.

It was obvious in them too that love had gone through them: that is,

the physical experience. It is curious what a subtle but unmistakable

transmutation it makes, both in the body of men and women: the woman

more blooming, more subtly rounded, her young angularities softened,

and her expression either anxious or triumphant: the man much quieter,


more inward, the very shapes of his shoulders and his buttocks less as-

sertive, more hesitant.

In the actual sex-thrill within the body, the sisters nearly succumbed to

the strange male power. But quickly they recovered themselves, took the

sex-thrill as a sensation, and remained free. Whereas the men, in gratit-

ude to the woman for the sex experience, let their souls go out to her.

And afterwards looked rather as if they had lost a shilling and found six-

pence. Connie's man could be a bit sulky, and Hilda's a bit jeering. But

that is how men are! Ungrateful and never satisfied. When you don't

have them they hate you because you won't; and when you do have

them they hate you again, for some other reason. Or for no reason at all,

except that they are discontented children, and can't be satisfied

whatever they get, let a woman do what she may.

However, came the war, Hilda and Connie were rushed home again

after having been home already in May, to their mother's funeral. Before

Christmas of 1914 both their German young men were dead: whereupon

the sisters wept, and loved the young men passionately, but underneath

forgot them. They didn't exist any more.

Both sisters lived in their father's, really their mother's, Kensington

housemixed with the young Cambridge group, the group that stood for

'freedom' and flannel trousers, and flannel shirts open at the neck, and a

well-bred sort of emotional anarchy, and a whispering, murmuring sort

of voice, and an ultra-sensitive sort of manner. Hilda, however, suddenly

married a man ten years older than herself, an elder member of the same

Cambridge group, a man with a fair amount of money, and a comfort-

able family job in the government: he also wrote philosophical essays.

She lived with him in a smallish house in Westminster, and moved in

that good sort of society of people in the government who are not tip-

toppers, but who are, or would be, the real intelligent power in the na-

tion: people who know what they're talking about, or talk as if they did.

Connie did a mild form of war-work, and consorted with the flannel-

trousers Cambridge intransigents, who gently mocked at everything, so

far. Her 'friend' was a Clifford Chatterley, a young man of twenty-two,

who had hurried home from Bonn, where he was studying the technical-

ities of coal-mining. He had previously spent two years at Cambridge.

Now he had become a first lieutenant in a smart regiment, so he could

mock at everything more becomingly in uniform.

Clifford Chatterley was more upper-class than Connie. Connie was

well-to-do intelligentsia, but he was aristocracy. Not the big sort, but still 8

it. His father was a baronet, and his mother had been a viscount's


But Clifford, while he was better bred than Connie, and more 'society',

was in his own way more provincial and more timid. He was at his ease

in the narrow 'great world', that is, landed aristocracy society, but he was

shy and nervous of all that other big world which consists of the vast

hordes of the middle and lower classes, and foreigners. If the truth must

be told, he was just a little bit frightened of middle-and lower-class hu-

manity, and of foreigners not of his own class. He was, in some paralys-

ing way, conscious of his own defencelessness, though he had all the de-

fence of privilege. Which is curious, but a phenomenon of our day.

Therefore the peculiar soft assurance of a girl like Constance Reid fas-

cinated him. She was so much more mistress of herself in that outer

world of chaos than he was master of himself.

Nevertheless he too was a rebel: rebelling even against his class. Or

perhaps rebel is too strong a word; far too strong. He was only caught in

the general, popular recoil of the young against convention and against

any sort of real authority. Fathers were ridiculous: his own obstinate one

supremely so. And governments were ridiculous: our own wait-and-see

sort especially so. And armies were ridiculous, and old buffers of gener-

als altogether, the red-faced Kitchener supremely. Even the war was ri-

diculous, though it did kill rather a lot of people.

In fact everything was a little ridiculous, or very ridiculous: certainly

everything connected with authority, whether it were in the army or the

government or the universities, was ridiculous to a degree. And as far as

the governing class made any pretensions to govern, they were ridicu-

lous too. Sir Geoffrey, Clifford's father, was intensely ridiculous, chop-

ping down his trees, and weeding men out of his colliery to shove them

into the war; and himself being so safe and patriotic; but, also, spending

more money on his country than he'd got.

When Miss Chatterley—Emma—came down to London from the Mid-

lands to do some nursing work, she was very witty in a quiet way about

Sir Geoffrey and his determined patriotism. Herbert, the elder brother

and heir, laughed outright, though it was his trees that were falling for

trench props. But Clifford only smiled a little uneasily. Everything was

ridiculous, quite true. But when it came too close and oneself became ri-

diculous too… ? At least people of a different class, like Connie, were

earnest about something. They believed in something.

They were rather earnest about the Tommies, and the threat of con-

scription, and the shortage of sugar and toffee for the children. In all


these things, of course, the authorities were ridiculously at fault. But Clif-

ford could not take it to heart. To him the authorities were ridiculous ab ovo, not because of toffee or Tommies.

And the authorities felt ridiculous, and behaved in a rather ridiculous

fashion, and it was all a mad hatter's tea-party for a while. Till things de-

veloped over there, and Lloyd George came to save the situation over

here. And this surpassed even ridicule, the flippant young laughed no


In 1916 Herbert Chatterley was killed, so Clifford became heir. He was

terrified even of this. His importance as son of Sir Geoffrey, and child of

Wragby, was so ingrained in him, he could never escape it. And yet he

knew that this too, in the eyes of the vast seething world, was ridiculous.

Now he was heir and responsible for Wragby. Was that not terrible? and

also splendid and at the same time, perhaps, purely absurd?

Sir Geoffrey would have none of the absurdity. He was pale and tense,

withdrawn into himself, and obstinately determined to save his country

and his own position, let it be Lloyd George or who it might. So cut off

he was, so divorced from the England that was really England, so utterly

incapable, that he even thought well of Horatio Bottomley. Sir Geoffrey

stood for England and Lloyd George as his forebears had stood for Eng-

land and St George: and he never knew there was a difference. So Sir

Geoffrey felled timber and stood for Lloyd George and England, Eng-

land and Lloyd George.

And he wanted Clifford to marry and produce an heir. Clifford felt his

father was a hopeless anachronism. But wherein was he himself any fur-

ther ahead, except in a wincing sense of the ridiculousness of everything,

and the paramount ridiculousness of his own position? For willy-nilly he

took his baronetcy and Wragby with the last seriousness.

The gay excitement had gone out of the war… dead. Too much death

and horror. A man needed support and comfort. A man needed to have

an anchor in the safe world. A man needed a wife.

The Chatterleys, two brothers and a sister, had lived curiously isol-

ated, shut in with one another at Wragby, in spite of all their connexions.

A sense of isolation intensified the family tie, a sense of the weakness of

their position, a sense of defencelessness, in spite of, or because of, the

title and the land. They were cut off from those industrial Midlands in

which they passed their lives. And they were cut off from their own class

by the brooding, obstinate, shut-up nature of Sir Geoffrey, their father,

whom they ridiculed, but whom they were so sensitive about.


The three had said they would all live together always. But now Her-

bert was dead, and Sir Geoffrey wanted Clifford to marry. Sir Geoffrey

barely mentioned it: he spoke very little. But his silent, brooding insist-

ence that it should be so was hard for Clifford to bear up against.

But Emma said No! She was ten years older than Clifford, and she felt

his marrying would be a desertion and a betrayal of what the young

ones of the family had stood for.

Clifford married Connie, nevertheless, and had his month's honey-

moon with her. It was the terrible year 1917, and they were intimate as

two people who stand together on a sinking ship. He had been virgin

when he married: and the sex part did not mean much to him. They were

so close, he and she, apart from that. And Connie exulted a little in this

intimacy which was beyond sex, and beyond a man's 'satisfaction'. Clif-

ford anyhow was not just keen on his 'satisfaction', as so many men

seemed to be. No, the intimacy was deeper, more personal than that.

And sex was merely an accident, or an adjunct, one of the curious obsol-

ete, organic processes which persisted in its own clumsiness, but was not

really necessary. Though Connie did want children: if only to fortify her

against her sister-in-law Emma.

But early in 1918 Clifford was shipped home smashed, and there was

no child. And Sir Geoffrey died of chagrin.