Tuesday, December 28, 2010


I left off my last blog post promising to talk more about the end of chapter five and Constance's disillusionment with men and sex, so I'll do that now before I read any more.

In chapter five, Constance's affair with Michaelis is intensified when he asks her to marry him; she maintains that she's already married and doesn't really give him an answer, and at the end of the chapter the affair ends rather dramatically.

One of the remarks Lawrence has made frequently is that men finish too quickly, without a thought for their female partners. Luckily for us women of the real world, this is a broad generalization, often incorrect; but for Constance, it is a truth she lives with. She has somehow found a way to use men/Michaelis after they've come to achieve her own orgasm by holding them inside her and rubbing her clit against their base. She does this every time she has sex, because she deserves her satisfaction too.

At the end of chapter five, after they've had sex, Constance as usual finishes herself after Michaelis has already come, and he responds with this outburst: "You couldn't go off the same time as a man, could you? You'd have to bring yourself off! You'd have to run the show!" (page 56)

To Michaelis, Constance is the one with the power in their sexual relationship. Though he is the man, the phallus, the conquerer who sticks his flag in the sand and claims the land, he is essentially left behind while Constance pleasures herself in a place he can't reach, a summit he can't climb. Of course he feels emasculated and resentful. Constance, meanwhile, is completely baffled: "Because after all, like so many modern men, he was finished almost before he had begun. And that forced the woman to be active" (page 57).

Michaelis places all the blame for his bitterness on the women he's been with: "I never had a woman yet who went off just at the same moment as I did" (page 57). If she doesn't reach orgasm, it's like she's "dead in there," and if she comes after he does it's a struggle for him to hang on. Constance doesn't blame men for finishing too soon, because she's still able to go on and come; she has resigned herself to things in this order. Michaelis, however, is bitter about it; yet, he doesn't take any responsibility for being the one who finishes first. He thinks about a woman's sexual experience in terms of a man's, and that means a woman's orgasm should come on a man's schedule.

Michaelis' reaction to what Constance had thought of as the natural way of things has a disastrous effect on Constance: "It killed something in her. [...] There was nothing now but this empty treadmill of what Clifford called the integrated life, the long living together of two people, who are in the habit of being in the same house with one another. Nothingness! To accept the great nothingness of life seemed to be the one end of living." (pages 57-58)

Connie's sexual life is tied to the rest of her life, rather than being separated; each influences the other. Now, with the dismantling of her sexual knowledge--that is, the revelation that men expect women to come just as quickly--the rest of her life is become pointless and routine: an empty treadmill.

More on this as we read the next few chapters!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Sensations of Nothingness

"She was silent. Logic might be unanswerable because it is so absolutely wrong."

Today I read chapters four and five in Lady Chatterly's, and I noted some interesting things about functions of sex both on its own and in the context of say, a marriage, and how it relates to personal fulfillment.

Chapter four features "intellectual discussions" between Clifford Chatterly and his three best friends from Cambridge. One of their topics is sexual freedom. Charlie May introduces the idea that sex is "just an interchange of sensations instead of ideas" (page 32), fundamentally a conversation in a different language. He goes on to say that if he and a woman had similar ideas, they would talk about them; and in the same way, if he and a woman had similar "emotions or sympathies," they should sleep together, because that would be the medium of expressing those emotions or sympathies.

This is a male character discussing a kind of sexual removal similar to the one experienced by Constance and her sister Hilda during their early sexual experiences. Remember, they used their own mental awareness to define their sexual pleasure as a sensation they felt, but one that didn't overpower them, and so they kept themselves separate and "free." Charlie is speaking of the same thing. He uses the sensation of sex as a kind of emotional food for his mental life as an astronomer: "I have my mind: I have certain calculations to make in certain astronomical matters that concern me almost more than life or death. Sometimes indigestion interferes with me. Hunger interferes with me disastrously. In the same way starved sex interferes with me." (page 33).

Now, Charlie is probably just referring to the fact that it's hard for a horny person to think about anything other than sex, and that going too long without it can get distracting. Charlie is an intellectual man, who lives the "mental life" and views sex and emotions as subordinate. But Tommy Dukes, another of Clifford's friends, later argues that intelligence is a whole person: "It would be wonderful to be intelligent: then one would be alive in all parts mentions and unmentionable. The penis rouses his head and says: How do you do?--to any really intelligent person. Renoir said he painted his pictures with his penis...he did too, lovely pictures! I wish I did something with mine. God! when one can only talk! Another torture added to Hades! And Socrates started it" (page 40).

Tommy speaks not as an intellectual, just a soldier; but his comment implies that the body is not separate from intelligence, or the mental life that his friends are so fond of. Sex as an exchange of sensations, then, is not something done just to appease the body so one can get back to the mind. They go together. It's like a more lewd version of Ralph Waldo Emerson's concepts of thought and action, and how one cannot be fully realized without the other (The American Scholar).

Chapter five sees a return to this discussion when Clifford essentially tells Connie to have an affair so that he can have an heir (Clifford is paralyzed from the waist down, and didn't have much interest in sex anyway). He justifies this desire by comparing this casual sex thing to the enduring fabric of higher intimacy that he and Connie have in their marriage: "Do these things really affect us that deeply? ...You had that lover in Germany...what is it now? Nothing almost. It seems to me that it isn't these little acts and little connections we make in our lives that matter so very much. They pass away, and where are they? It's what endures through one's life that matters; [...] It's the life-long companionship that matters. It's the living together from day to day, not the sleeping together once or twice. You and I are married, no matter what happens to us. We have the habit of each other. [...] Little by little, living together, people fall into a sort of unison, they vibrate so intricately to one another. That's the real secret of marriage, not sex; at least not the simple function of sex" (page 45-46).

Clifford subordinates sex because he physically can't participate, but he also subordinates it emotionally because of its perceived importance in intimate relationships. This speech is not just about justifying a fling to create an heir. It's also justifying the lack of sex in between them as married people. Their marriage relies wholly on their mental intimacy; but as we saw in the discussions in chapter four, the mental life requires sexual stimulation to some degree.

The end of chapter five shows Constance's disillusionment with men and sex. But more on that later.

I think I need to start updating every chapter instead of every two or three chapters...I end up having a lot to say.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


"And however one might sentimentalize it, this sex business was one of the most ancient, sordid connections and subjections."

The above quote is from Lady Chatterly's Lover, by D.H. Lawrence, an early 20th century British author. His work is the inaugural novel in what will be my independent study for the spring 2011 semester. I am Caitlin, a student of English Literature, and this blog will serve as a reading journal and discussion forum for the texts in the study. When you reply, reply with substance. I'm interested in debate. I expect it; my independent study is focused on the subject of female sexuality, and as such this blog will be unexpurgated. It will be graphic; it will be controversial.

The semester doesn't start for a few weeks, but I began reading Lady Chatterly's Lover this evening, white zinfandel and homemade fudge from my roommate at the ready. I have just finished chapter three, and thought this might be a good time to go ahead and journal about some things I have found interesting already. First of all, I'm really enjoying it superficially. I've not read Lawrence before, and I like his style. I look forward to the rest of the book--certainly more so than Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters (which I laid down in disgust earlier today after investing in the same number of pages as Lady Chatterly's).

Lawrence doesn't shy away from sex, but as a modern reader it's hard to imagine that this was considered indecent at its publication in 1928; it's so classy. When he references Constance (Chatterly, nee Reid) and her sister Hilda losing their virginity (before marriage), he calls it the "love experience." He also speaks about the differences between how men and women perceive and react to sex. On page 3: "So [Constance and Hilda] had given the gift of themselves, each to the youth with whom she had the most subtle and intimate arguments. The arguments the discussions, were the great thing: the love-making and connection were only a sort of primitive reversion and a bit of an anticlimax. 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."

Women possess this inherent freedom, of which they are totally conscious and in control. Lawrence discusses how women must yield sexually, because men are like children and demand it; but women, though they yield, do not have to give themselves up. Page 4: "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 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." And then he goes on to say that a woman can use a man to achieve her own climax even after his is spent.

This is an interesting concept to consider in the context of a time when female heroines did not have sexual desire, let alone sexual power or freedom. Constance and her sister are not chided by their families for having sex before marriage, and it doesn't prevent them from making good marriages. According to Lawrence, women have the sexual upper hand; they instinctively combine physical sexuality and desire with mental or emotional intimacy, the combination of which is "infinitely more wonderful."

In the above quotes, the girls don't demonstrate overwhelming sexual desire, certainly; their sexual experience comes as acquiescence to men and as companion to the intellectual connections they favor. They do experience desire, however: "In the actual sex thrill within the body, the sisters nearly succumbed to the strange male power" (page 5). It is through the power of their own self-awareness that they are able to recognize sex as a sensation, and keep from surrendering their freedom. There is simultaneously a symbiotic and antithetical relationship between women and sex. One one hand, they can manipulate it for their pleasure; on the other, it threatens to demean them by depriving them of their inner freedom.

Another interesting thing I noticed in these first thirty pages is the dog metaphor that seems to follow sex. "[Men] insisted on the sex thing like dogs" (page 4). And later, when Constance (now married and called Lady Chatterly) has her first affair with an Irish playwright, dogs are referenced numerous times. Michaelis, the playwright, has been successful as a writer, something Sir Clifford Chatterly (Constance's crippled husband) longs for. Success is referred to as the "bitch-goddess," a dog that "roamed, snarling and protective, round the half-humble, half defiant Michaelis' heels, and intimidated Clifford completely: for he wanted to prostitute himself to the bitch-goddess Success, if only she would have him" (page 20). Again, later: "the bitch-goddess, Success, was trailed by thousands of gasping dogs with lolling tongues. The one that got her first was a real dog among dogs, if you go by success!" (page 26) Got her, as in had sex with her. Dogs seem to represent a clear metaphor for sexuality, and animalistic behavior. Michaelis as a person is described as a dog, a mongrel, a "sad dog," and he is Constance's sexual partner. Interesting, this comparison between dogs and humans, both being sexual creatures, both being animals.

That's enough for this evening, I think. I did only read thirty pages, after all. Three hundred and three to go.