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.

No comments:

Post a Comment