Sunday, January 30, 2011


This week, we're reading selections from Intercourse, by Andrea Dworkin (referenced in at least one, if not both, of the Atlantic articles from last week), This Sex Which Is Not One, by Luce Irigaray, and if we have time, the last chapter of James Joyce's Ulysses.

The first chapter we're reading from Intercourse is called "Skinless," which is needless to say an attractive image to start off with. Dworkin's powerfully sensual style lends itself to descriptions of how the skin dissolves in the act of sex. The skin represents physical boundaries and personal identity, both of which are lost during intercourse: "The skin is separation, individuality, the basis for corporeal privacy and also the point of contact for everything outside the self" (26-27).

So that's the title of the chapter. As it relates to sex and sexuality, nakedness reduces us to our most basic humanity: "Sex is the dim echo of that original nakedness, primal, before anything else that is also human" (27). According to Dworkin, men and women respond differently to nakedness:
"The men are tortured in their minds by the meaning of being naked, especially by the literal nakedness of women but also by their own nakedness: what it means to be seen and to be vulnerable. [...] The women are at ease being naked. ...being naked does not unnerve or expose her. [...] Men's nakedness is unbearable to them without the nakedness of a woman; men need women to survive their own nakedness" (40-41).
Dworkin maintains that men's inability to reconcile their nakedness is due to their obsession with identity. Men are self-absorbed; therefore, their sex is wrapped up in abstraction, in looking without touching, in thinking rather than feeling. Men can't really touch because touch is real, and what is real may not be what the man wants. Since men can't really touch, they can never really dissolve their skin, lose their boundaries, and fuse with another person. Throughout the chapter Dworkin examines these ideas in the work of author Kobo Abe, and one of her examples is a man who barricaded a woman in a house with him and shut off the electricity so that in the dark, as long as he didn't touch her, he could pretend she was naked and be comforted, because:
"The women are the escape route from mental self-absorption into reality: they are the world, connection, contact, touch, feeling, what is real, the physical, what is true outside the frenetic self-involvement of the men, the convulsions of their passionate self-regard" (42).
So female sexuality, female nakedness, is earthly and corporeal. Women live in the body while men live in the mind, according to Dworkin. This is interesting to consider because depending on the context, this is either in keeping or in opposition to the widely held belief. Our modern romantic ideas perpetuate the image of women being the aloof lover, the abstracting lover. Women relent to men's demands of physicality indifferently, reluctantly, and only partially. Men require touch and body and often don't think beyond it. However, in religious stories like that of Eve, Lilith, and Mary Magdalene, and in historical perceptions of women, the idea that females were constantly at risk of falling off a sexual precipice prevails. Men were enlightened, rational, leading "the mental life," while women were emotional, subject to fits of hysteria (in other words, excessively physical) and had to be chaperoned whenever men were present lest they abandon themselves to passion.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Today we're moving on to the second Mary Butts piece, "From Altar to Chimney Piece." Hopefully it will make a little more sense than "Brightness Falls." Last time I forgot to give a bit of background, so here are the basics now, right from Wikipedia: she was a British modernist writer and lived from 1890 to 1937. After her death, her work fell into obscurity, revived in the 1980's with the reprinting of her memoir. She lived in Paris for much of the same time period as Stein, and it is with post-WWI Paris that "From Altar to Chimney Piece" begins.

The first few pages of the story describe the quarter of Paris known as Montparnasse, and it sets up a clear conflict. We're introduced briefly to Vincent, a young man (an English soldier, we're led to believe) who falls in love with a female-personified Paris, specifically Montparnasse. It serves as a "supreme tonic" for the health of body and spirit:
"He found a quarter in a princess of cities where people were being good because they were being happy, because, after the lost years, a small tide of earthly joy was rising gently in that place. Or winding in and out of it like a little stream no evil thing could cross. A place where, even if people suffered, a touch of rapture, as though the pain was about something real, a necessary part of something like immortal life. A place where men and women were beginning to live again, beginning to make up for the years that the War had taken" (234-235).
These people are the artists and the lovers and they love the old delights: "love of a party, work, solitude, study, indolence, or an exhilarating row. Love of loving Paris, of good wine, good food; love of one's friends, one's enemies, one's beloved. The lovers went..." (236) and with them the tonic provided by Montparnasse. They're replaced by "imitators and failures" who effectively create a tourist trade:
"parasites on all the arts and all the passions, the men and women harlots and the fashionable purveyors of sexual excitements disguised as art. And with these, their panders, not of social or sexual tastes, but the neurotic vices which follow fashion and have nothing to do with desire. Also the men and women whose hell had not been occasioned by any dislocation of our society, but by the putrid state of their subconscious selves, occasioned by fear, by over-indulgence and sometimes by the intolerable repression of american life." (236).
These parasites are seeking the tonic, but instead of adapting themselves to the quarter they adapt the quarter to them, completely defeating the purpose.

After this introduction, we return to Vincent, and his life is described as never quite full after the War: "He did his duty as a small country gentleman, kept up his classics, his science, his contemporary letters, his friends. Had neither--and he noticed the omission--either love-affairs or any work that implied creation. Not up to the limit of his powers. [...] "They castrated me, after all," he used to tell himself" (238). Though gentle, he's no hero, no extraordinary figure.

There's an anecdote of a dream Vincent has where he is a fish explaining why he doesn't mind that he's unemployed, and as he runs away, he turns into the little mermaid from the original Hans Christian Anderson story, for whom walking on two legs was like walking on knives: "But that was for love's sake. For what love was he bearing a life-time's loss of honorable employment? For a love which had left the earth?? Gone off somewhere behind a space-time curtain into the inconceivable?" (240). Very interesting.

The next sentence is: "It was this that drew him and his friends to artists." This, this sense of absent but still influential love. Montparnasse and the lovers and artists there were his tonic, his answer to what that missing love was: remember the list of "old delights" quoted above. Or perhaps he envies the artists for their "essential health." It seems that Vincent is sometimes envious of full people and their ability to live: "He sneered, as near as he ever came to a sneer, at [life] and his inability to yield to it" (242).

The rest of the story goes something like this: Vincent meets an American girl named Cherry, falls for American girl, loses American girl to a bad crowd, moves on with his life. Interestingly, though, the bad crowd meets in a salon like the ones Stein and her brother would hold for the famous and would-be famous artistic and literary figures of Paris. Is Mary Butts implying that Gertrude Stein was some kind of evil gang leader? Hard to tell.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


So I've been reading The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, aka the autobiography of Gertrude Stein, not closely, but just to get a sense of the woman to inform my readings from Mary Butts' short story collection, From Altar to Chimney Piece. As I said before, the essence of Stein seems to be her perpetual amusement. Not to say that she can't be serious, but she's so endlessly amused by life. Also, the story of Stein's life is as much about her friends' biographies as hers; her history is a timeline of people she's met. As for the style of the book, there are a lot of digressions into various anecdotes. It's the autobiography of a gossip.

Someday, I will finish the whole thing. But now, on to Mary Butts. The first piece is a short story called "Brightness Falls." First of all, the style is really sort of in your face; fast-paced and repetitive and conversational, like an excited rambling person. Also, on the first page we get this:
"When all's said and done, we do hang together against our women, and not wholly from rational reasons. All one finally discovers is that, when they urge us, the loveliest and wisest become all one with the slut" (203).
Interesting. Though it's not yet clear, I'm assuming the first-person narrator is male; and what's represented here is related to the prude-or-slut dichotomy which inspired this independent study.

I'm having a little trouble picking out things to talk about; there's been so little actual content thus far. It's like a drunk person telling a story and giving you all the irrelevant facts. So this post might just be a festival of quotes.
"It is getting more and more inopportune to suppose that women have no secrets unconnected with sex" (210).
Or just the above. I rather like it.

So having now finished, this is what I can gather. The story is a man named Max relating something to the unnamed, thus far un-gendered narrator, and that something has something to do with his wife obsessing over assonant sounds in "Corandel," "Coromandel," and "parallel." She hears these sounds, picks them out everywhere; she seems to have some psychicness attached to them: she wants to intercept her friend Cynthia with Dr. Corandel at the Lincoln Inn, and she knows "it [will] be in Lincoln's Inn, because in Lincoln's Inn there was a map of the Coromandel Coast" (211). Very strange. On 213 Max describes his wife: "Parmys looked coarse; and again that was because Parmys was like an archaic goddess stored with raw power. Not my wife, not Cynthia's friend and belle-femme, but something that is in the foundation of wise woman and child." So there seem to be some connections to female mysticism. This is reinforced by the conclusion to Max's story, in which Parmys and Cynthia have somehow prevented Corandel and his assonant sounds from invading a "place," apparently some parallel dimension, that travels along with and slightly ahead of them. Max is briefly able to "see" this place.

I'm going to be frank; this story is hella confusing. Fascinating to consider narratively, but since all the information is secondhand the most I can glean is that women have almost preternatural connections with the world and each other, and men only understand sometimes.

The One Insane Taboo

Today our reading is an article called "Hard Core" from The Atlantic. The article explores the relationship between porn and our sexuality, and I suggest you read it for yourself. I think the best way for me to approach discussing this is to take just the quotes that stand out to me.
"MEn, so the conventional wisdom goes, tend to desire more than women are willing to give them sexually. The granting of sex is the most powerful weapon women possess in their struggle with men."
We saw a bit of this in the Duke article from yesterday, as we see it in our daily lives. It's rare to find a man, virgin or not, who wants to "wait" in a relationship. We know this not just from stereotypes, but from personal experience. Only once have I personally known such a man; and
we're not talking about men who will wait until the woman is ready, but rather the man who tells the woman that he is not ready.

As for the granting and withholding of sex being a powerful female weapon, that's true too.

"But the reactionary political correctness of the 1990s put forth a proposition even more disastrous to women than free love: sexual equality."
The article argues that sexual equality, and the idea that by communicating our boundaries we could teach men to respect female sexuality, is an "intellectual swindle that leads women to misjudge male sexuality, which they do at their own emotional and physical peril." The argument that sexuality is not neutral stands in direct opposition to my pipe dream from the last post, but I'm okay with that; in our generation and the next couple at least, it's true. Societally, we embrace egalitarian sex because it makes us feel better, but:
"Internet porn, on the other hand, shows us an unvarnished (albeit partial) view of male sexuality as an often dark force streaked with aggression."
Porn, according to this article, shows us not a hyperbolic version of male sexuality, but the real thing, the brutishness that really underlies what we encounter. I find this a little extreme, but not impossible; the best sex, which stripped them of their shame, that Connie and Oliver had in Lady Chatterley's Lover was undoubtedly the roughest and least tender. The article says that this kind of sexuality is "unattractive" and sometimes "dangerous," but not deviant. Porn is not the source, but the result.
"It’s the clash between vulnerability and indifference that transpires after sex that is so savage. This is what Kael called “realism with the terror of actual experience.” The most frightening truths about sex rarely exist in the physical, but instead live in the intangible yet indelible wounds created in the psyche."
The article seems to wish porn were less pervasive, and I'm not sure I agree. I think the furtiveness with which sex and it's attendants have been treated in the past have contributed a lot to this vulnerability and indifference: fear of getting caught, pretending it didn't happen, etc. etc. We've achieved sexual openness. What hasn't happened yet is the combination of acceptance and morality to that openness. We know porn exists, but like sex, do we really think it's okay? Or do we just pretend to because it's the modern thing to do? We still lock the door, pull down the blinds, and test our headphones just to make sure no one but us will hear.

I don't have too much to say on this subject. It's exhausting.

I'm reminded of a quote from Lady Chatterley's, and that's what I'll leave you with:

“It’s the one insane taboo left: sex as a natural and vital thing” (291).

Monday, January 24, 2011


We're now into the second week of classes, and time is a precious commodity! The reading of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas is going slowly; Stein's style is dense. It doesn't feel complex or confusing to read, but I find myself crawling through the pages, so "dense" is the only descriptor I can think of. It's like wading through caramel: delicious, but a serious ritardando compared to Lady Chatterley's and especially Goblin Market.

So we're going to take a break and look at two articles from The Atlantic. The first is called The Hazards of Duke and discusses the "thesis" of a Duke University student named Karen Owen, who slept with 13 Duke athletes and then created a dense PowerPoint with her observations. Her exploits are what we think of as the typically extreme college hook-up, styled after the techniques of I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell author Tucker Max; their impetus was the worst possible kind of one-night stand--short, rude, unfulfilling.

I think the article isn't focused enough to be easily discussed, but the snippets of feminist discourse throughout did catch my eye. As Karen's project progressed it seemed to expand beyond just sex acts into favors; she was described as a fraternity's "ideal pledge," I assume by virtue of her complete submission to the boorish athletes she selected. The following quote stood out to me:
"If what we are seeing in Karen Owen is the realization of female sexual power, [...] What rotten luck that the first true daughter of sex-positive feminism would have an erotic proclivity for serving every kind of male need, no matter how mundane or humiliating, that she would so eagerly turn herself from sex mate to soccer mom, depending on what was wanted from her."
There's a long legacy of female power being subversive, behind the scenes; we have phrases like "Behind every great man, there is a great woman," and a favorite from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, "The man may be the head [of the family], but the woman is the neck." In that way, Karen's behavior is not so unfamiliar--but her kowtowing seems purposeless. What is the result of it? Nothing is preserved but gender roles, and nothing is changed but her reputation. We've been to these dark sexual places with Duke University before (remember the 2006 rape charges levied against three members of the lacrosse team?), so nothing is exposed. I don't understand her motivations.

The article argues that Karen is playing out an old story with her escapades: that she is trying to get revenge on the man (Subject 2 of her study) who took advantage of her, and her shame is manifesting itself in repetition of the humiliation. How does this sort of thing begin? In our liberation from curfews and segregated education and our practice of constantly striving to appear at our most [sexually] attractive, women, the article says, "have ended up with the protections of neither the patriarchy nor those old-school, man-hating radical feminists."

I long to live in a world where women don't need to be protected, but I believe it can only come with a radical change in perception and shift to gender-neutrality. Biologically speaking, women tend to be smaller and have less muscle mass than men, especially in the upper body. This will not change without some kind of physical catalyst and centuries of evolution. To counteract this disparity of actual, quantifiable strength, emphasis must be placed from birth on gender-neutrality. Dolls can't be bought for girls because they are girly, and trucks can't be bought for boys because they are boyish. The decor and toys surrounding a child can't be preemptively arranged or purchased, but only procured after discerning a positive reaction to it from the child. Language and attitudes would have to be closely monitored for leanings; a parent couldn't say "boys don't cry" or "girls don't yell."

Those are just some examples. It's unrealistic, however nice it might be to live in a world where from birth we define ourselves. For it to occur, an entire generation of childbearing adults would have to rigidly check themselves against unwittingly assigning gender, and for full realization, all previous generations would have to die out. Popular media would have to be completely retooled, etc. etc, etc. I believe that is the only way to keep women safe: if men never generalized women as weak, if women never generalized men as strong, protection wouldn't be required.

Unfortunately, I will probably never live to see a world in which I don't have to prove myself to a male population.*
"In [the past], we relied on our own good judgment to keep us safe, but also—and this is the terrible, unchanging fact about being female—on the mercy of the men around us."
Tomorrow, Hard Core.

*I'm obviously speaking in huge generalities. I have many close male friends from whom I have never lacked respect.

Friday, January 21, 2011

This is not about love.

The semester has now begun, and that means that some things about the blog are going to be changing. Since my readings now are compressed (a week for one-two novels, roughly speaking), I won't be able to be as thorough as I was with Lady Chatterley's Lover. This means I'll skip a lot of plot summaries and things, but I'll send you links when available of summaries from Sparknotes, Google Books and Amazon, etc., for those of you reading vicariously through the posts.

Our next set of readings includes The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, by Gertrude Stein, and two short stories by Mary Butts, "From Altar to Chimney Piece" and "Brightness Falls." The Autobiography is interesting so far. According to Donald Sutherland's review on the back cover, Stein wrote the autobiography "largely to amuse herself," and that impression is evident. Stein as perceived by Toklas appears to be outside the world, looking in and laughing coyly at what she sees. I'm really reading the novel to get a sense of her, so it's less a subject of study for me; instead, I'll use the background to inform my readings of Mary Butts, who was a contemporary of Stein's.

So until my next update (probably sometime this weekend, on two articles from The Atlantic: "The Hazards of Duke" and "Hard Core," if you'd like to read ahead of time), enjoy one of my favorite Fiona Apple songs, one I'm beginning to think of as a sort of theme song for the blog:

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


So, when we last left the sisters of Goblin Market, Laura was cut off from the goblin fruit-sellers. She begins to waste away just like Jeanie, the girl in the story Lizzie told. Lizzie watches her sister's declining health with fear, and finally makes a decision:
"Till Laura dwindling
Seemed knocking at Death's door:
Then Lizzie weighed no more
Better and worse;
But put a silver penny in her purse,
Kissed Laura, crossed the heath with clump of furze
At twilight, halted by the brook:
And for the first time in her life
Began to listen and look" (33).
Lizzie previously had always covered her eyes and plugged up her ears, ignoring the sight and sounds of the goblin men and their cries. Now, she's seeking them out, opening her awareness, as it were, to temptation. The goblins cackle at the sight of her and scurry up: "Hugged and kissed her:/Squeezed and caressed her:/Stretched up their dishes,/Panniers and plates" (36). Lizzie tries to buy fruit in bulk to take back to Laura, but the goblins urge her to stay and eat with them. Lizzie stands her ground, though:
"'Thank you," said Lizzie: "But one waits
At home alone for me:
So without further parleying,
If you will not sell me any
Of your fruits though much and many,
Give me back my silver penny
I tossed you for a fee."--(39-40)
The goblins react badly; they drop their charming airs and snarl at her. They attack her, "Held her hands and squeezed their fruits/Against her mouth to make her eat" (42) in a scene that rings clearly of rape, with Lizzie "Like a royal virgin town/Topped with gilded dome and spire/Close beleaguered by a fleet/Mad to tug her standard down" (43). Despite it all, Lizzie keeps her mouth closed, "But laughed in heart to feel the drip/Of juice that syrupped all her face" (44). The semen imagery is clear, but Lizzie sustains herself throughout the attack and is not penetrated by the fruit or juices. Eventually, the goblins disappear and Lizzie hurries home.

When she gets there, she offers herself, covered in pulp and juice, to Laura: "Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices/Squeezed from goblin fruits for you" (49). Laura leaps up and kisses her sister for her perceived sacrifice and tastes again the goblin fruit.
"Her lips began to scorch,
That juice was wormwood to her tongue,
She loathed the feast:
Writhing as one possessed she leaped and sung,
Rent all her robe, and wrung
Her hands in lamentable haste,
And beat her breast" (51).
She's consumed entirely by the fruit again ("Ah! fool, to choose such part/Of soul-consuming care!" 52), her senses fail her and she collapses: "Pleasure past and anguish past,/Is it death or is it life?/Life out of death" (53). Lizzie keeps watch over her through the night, and when dawn breaks, Laura wakes and is as she was before she ate the goblin fruit. The last stanza is an epilogue in which Laura tells her children of her ordeal, and how her sister's virtue saved her.


Goblin Market is surprisingly explicit in its erotic imagery, what with all the sucking and the fire in breasts and everything. Rossetti depicts sexual desire as something evil, something which possesses and consumes a person, which makes sense in the context of Victorian morality and Rossetti's Anglican upbringing. The same flame that Oliver Mellors and Connie Chatterley embrace as a symbol of their love tears Laura apart. Despite its graphic description, this is all in all a more typical message of sexuality, more along the lines of what we expected from "classic" literature.


So, we've finished Lady Chatterley's Lover! What a journey that was. Our next book is actually a fifty-eight page poem called Goblin Market, by Christina Rossetti. It was first published in 1862 and was very well received. Rossetti's brother, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, is a famous pre-Raphaelite painter, and his works are featured alongside the poem in the edition I have. His Proserpine (pictured left), a depiction of a woman from Greek mythology more commonly known as Persephone, is featured on the cover of the book and embodies the themes of forbidden pleasures in his sister's poem.

The poem begins with three goblins trying to tempt the beautiful, virginal sisters Lizzie and Laura into buying their fruit. The fruit becomes a clear metaphor for corruption, as in the Persephone story and the Biblical story of Adam and Eve:

'"No," said Lizzie: "No, no, no;
Their offers should not charm us,
Their evil gifts would harm us"' (7)
Lizzie then runs away so as not to be tempted. Laura, however, stays and observes the goblin men as they approach her somewhat suggestively:
"Brother with queer brother;
Signaling each other,
Brother with sly brother" (10).
As they offer her fruits and flower-wreaths and other delights, she longs to accept, but says she has no money to pay with. The goblins urge her to "Buy from [them] with a golden curl" of hair (13). So she gives them a lock of her hair and in return, they give her fruit:
"She sucked and sucked and sucked the more
Fruits which that unknown orchard bore;
She sucked until her lips were sore;
Then flung the emptied rinds away" (14)
Doesn't that just sound dirty? Upon her return home, her sister Lizzie upbraids her for lingering:
"Should not loiter in the glen
In the haunts of goblin men.
Do you not remember Jeanie,
How she met them in the moonlight,
Took their gifts both choice and many,
Ate their fruits and wore their flowers
Plucked from bowers
Where summer ripens at all hours?
But ever in the noonlight
She pined and pined away;
Sought them by night and day,
Found them no more, but dwindled and grew gray" (15-16)
Jeanie died from want of the fruit of the goblin men. Laura, however, pays no mind to Lizzie's warning, regales her with the wonders of the fruit, and promises to buy more for both of them tomorrow night. They spend the next day, "Lizzie with an open heart,/Laura in an absent dream,/One content, one sick in part" (22). When the evening comes and they go into the glen again, Laura is "most like a leaping flame" (22). In Lady Chatterley's Lover, Oliver in particular was described as experiencing a leaping flame in his bowels when arousal first hit him, and he refers to his and Connie's love in the end as the "little flame" between them (331).

At length Lizzie hears the goblin's cry, but Laura does not:
"Laura turned cold as stone
To find her sister heard that cry alone,
That goblin cry,
"Come buy our fruits, come buy."
Must she then buy no more such dainty fruit?
Her tree of life drooped from the root:
She said not one word in her heart's sore ache;
So crept to bed, and lay
Silent till Lizzie slept;
Then sat up in a passionate yearning,
And gnashed her teeth for baulked desire, and wept
As if her heart would break" (26-27).
So it appears Laura is out of favor with the goblins, and like Jeanie, she craves the "fruit" again. Stay tuned for the dramatic conclusion of Goblin Market in the next post!

"Be tender to it, and that will be its future."

“It’s the one insane taboo left: sex as a natural and vital thing” (291).

Chapter seventeen details the beginnings of Connie’s trip abroad. She gets very little enjoyment out of the atmosphere, the landscape, and the diversions: “This tourist performance of enjoying oneself is too hopelessly humiliating: it’s such a failure” (281).

But there are two developments: Connie finds out that she is pregnant, and Oliver’s wife returns to claim him. He rejects her, but upon hearing the news Connie begins to have doubts:

“She felt angry with him for not having got clear of a Bertha Coutts: nay, for having ever married her. Perhaps he had a certain hankering after lowness. […] It would be well to be rid of him, clear of him altogether. He was perhaps really common, really low” (290).
But no worries; she comes to her senses:
“Oh no! I mustn’t go back on it! I must not go back on him. I must stick to him and to what I had of him, through everything. I had no warm, flamy life till he gave it to me. And I won’t go back on it.”

Things will be rough for Connie and Oliver in the last two chapters. Bertha, upon being rejected, began spewing all kinds of nasty slander about her sex life with Oliver while they were married, and claimed that Oliver had had lovers since their separation (pot calls kettle black, continued on page four). Based on a set of initials she found on the charred remains of her and Oliver’s family portrait, she even went so far as to accuse Connie of being the lover. Connie was still abroad, but Clifford took legal action, and Bertha’s gone into hiding. But Oliver has been sacked, and is leaving for London the same day Connie returns from Venice.

On to chapter eighteen!

Chapter eighteen begins to wrap up the scandal. Connie and Oliver agree to get divorces from their spouses, keeping clear of each other during the proceedings, then getting married and living together to raise their child. Though Oliver has misgivings about raising a child in a world he hates with an uncertain future, Connie says: "Be tender to it, and that will be its future" (306). They have sex, with this lovely sentiment: "And as his seed sprang in her, his soul sprang towards her too, in the creative act that is far more than procreative" (307).

Chapter nineteen!

In chapter nineteen, after receiving a letter from Connie asking for a divorce, Clifford really goes a bit insane. His relationship with Mrs. Bolton becomes quite perverse; he acts like a child with her, but fondles her breasts and kisses her. It's extremely weird, especially for Mrs. Bolton:

"And while she aided and abetted him all she could, away in the remotest corner of her ancient healthy womanhood she despised him with a savage contempt that knew no bounds" (321).

He demands to see Connie again at Wragby. Connie, afraid, enlists Hilda to go with her to help convince Clifford's delusional mind that the child is not his and that she is leaving, and convince him to agree to the divorce which he is threatening to withhold. As they argue, Clifford says he will never divorce Connie because he doesn't believe in love, and therefore her love for Oliver can't be more important than the routine at Wragby, of which she had been a part. So Connie doesn't get her divorce, but she and Oliver proceed with their plans anyway, and the novel ends with Oliver working on a farm to prepare for starting a farm of their own when the child is born.


I very much enjoyed Lady Chatterley's Lover. In the beginning we saw that "a woman could yield to a man without yielding her inner, free self" (4), but as the novel progresses we see that that seems to be the very problem. Connie doesn't really find peace, for lack of a better term, until she and Oliver share the "sheer fiery sensuality" that strips them to their "final nakedness" together (273), where they are both shameless and tender with each other. In between is the struggle to find self-sustaining tenderness and awareness, the two things that were lacking in her life and other relationships. Lack of tender touch and true intimacy diminish a person's humanity and reality, which frustrates their chances for happiness. It is through her sexual relationship with Mellors that Connie finds a tender awareness that flows back and forth between them, reinvigorated with every passing.

Fascinating stuff. Up next, Goblin Market, an epic poem by Christina Rossetti.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Chapter fifteen, as we remember, was all about embracing one's body and reveling in the physical self. In chapter sixteen, Clifford tries to explain to Connie this new scientific theology he's become a fan of. The idea is that "The universe shows us two aspects: on one side it is physically wasting, on the other it is spiritually ascending" (256). To put in the terms we've been using, the physical life is deteriorating while the mental life rises and expands.

Needless to say, Connie disagrees. "Give me the body. I believe the life of the body is a greater reality than the life of the mind: when the body is really awakened to life. But so many people, like your famous wind-machine, have only got minds tacked on to their physical corpses. [...] The human body is only just coming to real life. With the Greeks it gave a lovely flicker, then Plato and Aristotle killed it, and Jesus finished it off" (258). (Remember the Greeks from the last entry?)

To which Clifford says: "The life of the just the life of animals."

And to an extent, Connie agrees: "[Men] are all dogs that trot and sniff and copulate" (273). But humans who embrace their physicality/sensuality/sexuality may rise above the state of animals through "Sheer fiery sensuality, not messiness."

Connie discovers this through one night of such passion, where she is cleansed by Oliver's "piercing thrills of sensuality, different, sharper, more terrible than the thrills of tenderness, but, at the moment, more desirable" (271). She lets him pursue this sensuality, gives him his way, and
"It was sensuality sharp and searing as fire, burning the soul to tinder. Burning out the shames, the deepest, oldest shames, in the most secret places. [...] But it took some getting at, the core of the physical jungle, the last and deepest recess of organic shame. The phallus alone could explore it. And how he had pressed in on her!
And how, in fear she had hated it. But how she had really wanted it! She knew now. At the bottom of her soul, fundamentally, she had needed this phallic hunting out, she had secretly wanted it, and she had believed that she would never get it. Now suddenly there it was, and a man was sharing her last and final nakedness, she was shameless.
What liars poets and everybody were! They made one think they wanted sentiment. When what one supremely wanted was this piercing, consuming, rather awful sensuality. To find a man who dared to do it, without shame or sin or final misgiving! ... What a pity most men are so doggy, a bit shameful, like Clifford! Like Michaelis even! Both sensually a bit doggy and humiliating. The supreme pleasure of the mind! And what is that to a woman? What is it, really, to the man either! He becomes merely messy and doggy, even in his mind. It needs sheer sensuality even to purify and quicken the mind" (271-273).
And that's how one really awakens to life.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Body's Real "Core"

"Because the root of sanity is in the balls." (239)

What Oliver means in the above quote from chapter fifteen of Lady Chatterley's is that what makes people human is in the genitals, and without their humanity, their "spunk," they become empty shells without grounded rationality. They become insane, offering up each other to survive a little longer in the money machine of industry. This makes sense in a lot of ways. The genitals represent an instinctual part of the psyche; consciously or unconsciously, they can also be a core--something reliable. Our genitals are the anchors of our physical selves.

Oliver places a lot of faith in the "human reality" of genitalia and the myriad bodily functions they entail: "I don't want a woman as couldna shit nor piss" (245). Connie is a "real" woman because she inhabits her physical self, her body, her genitals. Obviously all living women expel bodily waste, but Connie isn't shy about her body. She and Oliver spend a lot of time naked in this chapter, in blatant acknowledgement of their flesh.

In fact, they're so excited about their nakedness that they decide to run around nude in the thunderstorm that's raging outside. Between the chill rain and the heat from their bodies, "the rain streamed on them till they smoked" (243). They have sex naked in the middle of the woods, then run back into the cottage to bask in the realness of their bodies.

It's all very pagan (here meaning pre-modern, Grecian, etc), this naked romping and this adoration of the body, when the society all around them promotes the mental, industrial, inorganic life. This imagery persists as Oliver goes outside and comes back with flowers:
"He had brought columbines and campions, and new-mown hay, and oak-tufts and honeysuckle in a small bud. He fastened fluffy young oak-sprays round her breasts, sticking in tufts of bluebells and campion: and in her navel he poised a pink campion flower, and in her maiden-hair were forget-me-nots and woodruff. [...] And he stuck flowers in the hair of his own body, and wound a bit of creeping-jenny round his penis, and stuck a single bell of a hyacinth in his navel" (250).
He's adorning their bodies for the "wedding" of John Thomas and Lady Jane (their genitals, respectively). In many pre-modern traditions, many kinds of plants and flowers were used in such ceremonies, both as decoration and occasionally because of the plant's perceived special or magical properties. There are countless Greek deities, for example, who are depicted with plant adornments, with Dionysus being perhaps one of the most recognizable. He is often shown wound with ivy and holds a thrysus, which is a stalk of fennel or vine.

There are many other examples of flowers in any mythology, and I'm sure you know just as many as I do, so you get the idea. By draping themselves in plants and flowers, Oliver and Connie are harking back to a different time; they are removed from the modern, mental society and embracing the physicality of older traditions.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Conversations with Other Penises

Well! I read three chapters of Lady Chatterley's Lover today whilst sitting in a Panera Bread. They went very quickly, and I only made a couple of notes; while I'd like to say I could fit it all into one post, knowing me, the chances are not high.

So, in chapter fourteen, we get something really exciting: backstory from Oliver! He spills the beans on his former relationships and their effects on him. Oliver's difficulty has been finding a woman who wants and enjoys sex, and more specifically wants him as much as he wants her. He lists off types of women on page 223:
  • most women want a man, but not the sex; "but they put up with it, as part of the bargain"
  • "The more old-fashioned sort just lie there like nothing ... the actual [sex] itself is nothing to them"
  • sly women who "pretend they're passionate and have thrills. But it's all cockaloopy."
  • "the ones that love everything, every kind of feeling and cuddling and going off [...] except the natural one", who "make you go off when you're not in the only place you should be, when you go off"
  • "the hard sort, that are the devil to bring off at all, and bring themselves off"
  • "the sort that's just dead inside"
  • "the sort that puts you out before you really 'come,' and go on writhing their loins till they bring themselves off against your thighs" (aka, lesbians.)
That last one there leads him to comment that "It's astonishing how Lesbian women are, consciously or unconsciously. Seems to me they're nearly all Lesbian." Hmmm. Save that one for the comments.

Oliver is of the firm opinion that real sexual satisfaction is impossible without two engaged and enthusiastic participants who come at the same time: "I wanted to have my pleasure and satisfaction of a woman, and I never got it: because I could never get my pleasure and satisfaction of her unless she got hers of me at the same time. And it never happened. It takes two" (226). Even with his wife, who wanted sex and wanted him, their marriage collapsed because of power dynamics. They couldn't work together, in sex or in life, to come off together in anything. They each used sex to have power over each other.

One morning after Connie and Oliver have slept together at his cottage, with the sunlight streaming in the window, Connie observes Oliver's penis, "So big! and so dark and cock-sure!" (230). And then, Oliver proceeds to have a little conversation with John Thomas.
"The man looked down in silence at the tense phallus, that did not change.--"Ay!" he said at last, in a little voice. "Ay ma lad! tha'rt theer right enough. Yi, tha mun rear thy head! Theer on thy own, eh? an' ta'es no count o' nob'dy! Tha ma'es nowt o' me, John Thomas. Art boss? of me? eh well, tha'rt more cocky than me, an' tha says less. John Thomas! Dost want her? Does want my Lady Jane? Tha's dipped me in again, tha hast. Ay, an' tha comes up smilin'.--Ax 'er then! Ax Lady Jane! Say: Lift up your heads o' ye gates, that the king of glory may come in. Ay, th' cheek on thee! Cunt, that's what tha'rt after. Tell Lady Jane tha wants cunt. John Thomas, an' th' cunt o' Lady Jane!--"
Firstly, see what I mean about reading the dialect? Second, Oliver has personified the genitals as "John Thomas" and "Lady Jane." It's an interesting reminder of the difference in their classes (common John Thomas/Oliver Mellors and aristocrat Lady Jane/Lady Chatterley) from a man who seeks sexual equality.

He also, unsurprisingly, gives his penis its own consciousness, which I've heard as part of many, many apologies in the past.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


If chapter twelve was about Oliver's potency, chapter thirteen was about Clifford's impotence, manifested in a broken bath-chair.

Clifford decides to take a break from industry and take a walk in the woods with Connie--her walking, him sputtering around in the 1920's equivalent of a power scooter. This is a chair designed for level, paved English gardens, not the hills and undergrowth of the forest. There's a path smoothed out by use, so his chair does alright until they come to the crest of a hill, the slope of which dips and then rises again to the well near Oliver's cottage. When they leave, the chair makes it down the small slope from the well and into the valley between the two slopes. Then: "It was a steep and jolty climb. The chair plugged slowly, in a struggling unwilling fashion. Still, she nosed her way up unevenly, ... then she balked, struggled, jerked a little way out of the flowers, then stopped" (204-205).

Clifford's chair stalls. He decides to "let it breathe" for awhile, so they put a stone behind the wheels and wait. When Clifford starts the chair again, "it struggled and faltered like a sick thing." Connie offers to help the poor motor by pushing the chair, but Clifford will hear none of it: "What's the good of the damned thing, if it has to be pushed?" Another pause to let it breathe, then another start, "more ineffectual than the first." (205) Connie keeps begging him to let her push, or to sound his horn for Oliver to come and push.

The chair continues to fail, and Clifford becomes angrier. Oliver says that a push will help the chair along, but Clifford is adamant that the chair can manage on its own. He fights with its levers and gears, and the chair lurches sideways: "But the keeper had got the chair by the rail. Clifford, however, putting on all his pressure, managed to steer into the riding, and with a strange noise the chair was fighting the hill. Mellors pushed steadily behind, and up she went" (207). Clifford cries out victorious, until he realizes that Oliver is pushing, at which point he snarls at the keeper to leave off.

"The keeper stood back [...] The chair seemed to strangle immediately. She stood inert. Clifford, seated a prisoner, was white with vexation. He jerked at the levers with his hand, his feet were no good. He got queer noises out of her. In savage impatience he moved little handles and got more noises out of her. But she would not budge. No, she would not budge. He stopped the engine and sat rigid with anger" (207-208).

Oliver pokes at the engine, Clifford tries her again, and they stutter forward, "the engine doing about half the work, [Oliver] the rest." Clifford snaps at Oliver again to stop pushing, and his chair rolls backwards. Again, he's saved by Oliver catching his chair, to which he gratefully replies: "It's obvious I'm at everybody's mercy!" Finally, he orders Oliver to push him home; but the chair's brake jams, and it won't move. To fix it, Oliver lifts the back end of the chair, Clifford and all, and orders Connie to tug at the brake. Connie begs him not to, for two reasons: the chair is heavy (look at the picture again), and Oliver is weakened by pneumonia he had in the past. She's worried that he'll hurt himself; but they get the brake fixed.

Oliver proceeds then to try and push the chair up the hill; fearful of the keeper's failing strength, Connie pushes too, and they have a lovely little moment right behind Clifford's head: "She looked at his smallish, short, alive hand, browned by the weather. It was the hand that caressed her. She had never even looked at it before. [...] All her soul suddenly swept towards him [...] Shoving with his left hand, he laid his right on her round white wrist, softly enfolding her wrist, with caress. And the flame of strength went down his back and his loins, reviving him. And she bent suddenly and kissed his hand" (210).

Clifford's chair is personified as female, like cars and ships, and this scene with the breaking chair may be read as a metaphor for Clifford's sexual impotence. Let's look again at the quote from pages 207-208: "He jerked at the levers with his hand, his feet were no good. He got queer noises out of her. In savage impatience he moved little handles and got more noises out of her. But she would not budge. No, she would not budge." If we imagine the mechanism of female genitalia in place of the levers and handles of his chair, Clifford sounds a lot like a man who can't give the woman an orgasm. He is impotent, in the sense that he has no strength, stamina or ability in the bedroom for himself (the traditional definition of impotent: unable to sustain an erection) or for the woman he is with--unlike Oliver, who is all potent stimulation and sensation for both himself and Connie.

Speaking of Oliver and Connie: "It was curious, but this bit of work together had brought them much closer than they had been before" (211) Toiling together to push the chair up the hill is representative of other struggles they may face together, and in this they lent strength to each other. It's interesting to imagine if this would have happened for Clifford and Connie, if he'd only let her push the chair in the beginning.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


"What could possibly become of such a people, a people in whom the living intuitive faculty was dead as nails, and only queer mechanical yells and uncanny willpower remained? [...] It was ... a new race of mankind, over-conscious in the money and social and political side, on the spontaneous, intuitive side dead, but dead." (166-167)

The bulk of chapter eleven is a reflection on the new industrial England, which is interesting, but not really the subject of our study. The most relevant part of the chapter is when Connie and Clifford individually hint at the possibility of a child by saying that it's only Clifford's legs and hips that are paralyzed, and that his potency may yet return. Mrs. Bolton immediately takes this gossip to the town and the rumor spreads that Wragby may have an heir after all. Clifford convinces himself that the hypothetical child may really be his, while Connie is thinking of Oliver. Her father and sister have also arranged a trip for her to Venice over the summer, which opportunity she'll take to have a "love affair" abroad and throw the scent off Oliver as the real father of a future child.

In the beginning of chapter twelve, Connie and Oliver have a conversation that begins generally and then comes to a point: that Connie might have a child. Oliver accuses her of having "made use of him," but it's difficult to tell how serious he is, and Connie insists that she simply "liked his body" (page 186).

Leaving unsettled by this exchange, Connie goes back to the sex-hut, feeling she must do something. Oliver is there, tending the hens, and when she arrives, they go inside and have sex. This time, however, there's no magic: "And this time the sharp ecstasy of her own passion did not overcome her; she lay with her hands inert on his striving body, and do what she might, her spirit seemed to look on from the top of her head, and the butting of his haunches seemed ridiculous to her, and the sort of anxiety of his penis to com to its little evacuating crisis seemed farcical. Yes, this was love, this ridiculous bouncing of the buttocks, and the wilting of the poor insignificant, moist little penis. This was the divine love! After all, the moderns were right when they felt contempt for the performance; for it was a performance" (188).

Oliver knows that something was wrong: "It was no good that time. You wasn't there" (189). Connie begins to sob and confesses that she can't love him, even though she wants to, and it makes their lovemaking seem "horrid." Oliver doesn't seem too upset as he tells her that she must take the thing with the thin, the rough with the smooth. He breaks into his Northern English dialect (which is as difficult to read as it is to understand verbally--see the Lord of Swamp Castle from Monty Python and the Holy Grail), which Connie detests; so she resents him for a moment, but as he gets up to leave she begs him to come and hold her again. "It was from herself she wanted to be saved, from her own inward anger and resistance. Yet how powerful was that inward resistance that possessed her!" (my italics; 190)

As he holds her, she becomes small and vulnerable, and Oliver becomes filled with "intense yet tender desire, fr her, for her softness, for the penetrating beauty of her in his arms, passing into his blood" (190). Connie feels his "flame of desire ... and she felt herself melting in the flame." He enters her again, and this time the magic is back: "And her terror subsided in her breast, her breast dared to be gone in peace, she held nothing. She dared to let go everything, all herself, and be gone in the flood" (190-191). In this consummation she "was gone, she was not, and she was born: a woman" (191).

After a brief pause in which Connie marvels for the first time at the mystery of testicles ("What a strange heavy weight of mystery, that could lie soft and heavy in one's hand!"), they have sex again, "And this time his being within her was all soft and iridescent, purely soft and iridescent, such as no consciousness could seize" (192). And after that, Connie loves him; and Oliver says: "I love thee that I can go into thee. [...] It heals it all up, that I can go into thee. I love thee that tha opened to me. I love thee that I came into thee like that" (193-194).

Oliver appears reluctant to directly admit his feelings for Connie, probably because he's still wary of getting close to others; but this chapter is definitely a move towards the love part of this love affair. They're both softening towards each other. There's much less of a back-and-forth between desire and resentment, and there's equal parts tenderness and desire. Lawrence makes a point several times to distinguish between sexual and tender touches: e.g., "His hand passed over the curves of her body, firmly, without desire, but with soft, intimate knowledge" (195).

The chapter ends with her running back to Wragby--she's probably quite late for dinner, after that extensive sexy-time--so we don't get any reflection from either of them yet, but I certainly look forward to it!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

For the men.

Constance is the title character of Lady Chatterly's Lover, obviously, but it takes two to exchange sensations if you know what I mean. We can't forget Oliver Mellors, the brooding gamekeeper thrusting his way into Connie's womb. To that end, a brief look at Oliver after the magical shared orgasm: "He went to the hut, and wrapped himself in the blanket and lay on the floor to sleep. But he could not, he was cold. And besides, he felt cruelly his own unfinished nature. He felt his own unfinished condition of aloneness cruelly. He wanted her, to touch her, to hold her fast against him in one moment of completeness and sleep. [...] It was not desire, not that. It was the cruel sense of unfinished aloneness, that needed a silent woman folded in his arms" (page 156-157).

It looks like he's losing himself to himself, too. And since the quote reminded me of one of my favorite songs, I thought I'd share it with you (along with a video I made with really terrible software).

Thursday, January 6, 2011


Well. Chapter ten was a very long chapter by comparison to its predecessors, and there were a lot of things I took note of; but I will try to be brief and discerning, for those readers who don't get as excited about this stuff as I do. I promise, this is the longest post you'll see in awhile.

Now with headers!

In the beginning of the chapter, Connie is still very much depressed. She has more freedom now that Mrs. Bolton's caring for Clifford, but she is aimless, emotionally lost. Her new relationship with Mellors (whose first name is Oliver, we discover: once upon a time in New York City, anyone?) is not going well. Meanwhile, with Clifford's new foray into industry, whatever traces of real love or tenderness he had in him disappear. He still worships Connie, but he worships her as a symbol and hates her as much as he loves her. His idolatry frightens Connie, too: "his declaration of private worship put her into a panic. [...] It was the cruelty of utter impotence" (page 121). There's nothing between them now; they're just playing parts. Clifford's worship of her marks just how removed they are from each other.

The chapter is predominantly about Connie's identity crisis. It's about more than sex, but sexuality is wrapped up in it; there's also the very subtle undercurrent of maternity throughout the chapter. Oliver (a.k.a Mellors; he's Oliver from now on as far as I'm concerned) is currently raising pheasants in the sex-hut (oops, spoiler) and Connie has been visiting. She admires the hens even though they flaunt what she's lacking: "she found two brown hens sitting alert and fierce in the coops, sitting on pheasant's eggs, and fluffed out so proud and deep in all the heat of the pondering female blood. This almost broke Connie's heart. She, herself, was so forlorn and unused, not a female at all, just a mere thing of terrors" (page 122). My italics. You know, for emphasis.

She and Oliver bond over the hens and the pheasant chicks when they hatch, and the misery underscoring her awe of the creatures sets a fire in Oliver's loins. He leads her into the hut (the sex-hut, remember?) and they have sex for the first time--but Connie's not exactly into it. While it's "the moment of pure peace for him, the entry into the body of a woman," for Connie "the activity, the orgasm was his, all his; she could strive for herself no more" (page 126). She doesn't resist, but she contributes nothing. She's resigned herself to this: "she could bear the burden of herself no more. She was to be had for the taking" (page 127). Perhaps what she can no longer bear is her struggle to define herself within an identity.

On page 132 Connie considers her sexual and personal identities as distinct things. "It wasn't really personal. She was only really a female to [Oliver]. But perhaps that was better. And after all, he was kind to the female in her, which no man had ever been. Men were very kind to the person she was, but rather cruel to the female, despising her or ignoring her altogether. And [Oliver] took no notice of Constance or of Lady Chatterly; he just softly stroked her loins or her breasts." Oliver ministers to the part of Constance that has been neglected by her husband and even, to a point, by Michaelis; and so she goes back to the wood and has sex with him again.

Connie was in "a kind of sleep" when they first had sex, but this time she stays awake and considers it a little bit more, and one of the things that confuses and almost frightens her: "He put his face down and rubbed his cheek against her belly and against her thighs again and again. And again she wondered a little over the sort of rapture it was to him. She did not understand the beauty he found in her, through touch upon her living secret body, almost the ecstasy of beauty. [...] Far down in her she felt a new stirring, a new nakedness emerging. And she was half afraid" (page 136).

STRANGE CH-CH-CHANGES (aka sex becomes good)
The scene on 144-146 is really something magical; I can't relay the full effect without quoting the whole passage. Oliver and Connie have had sex a few times now, and Connie has yet to come, before or after. Obviously Oliver finishes first, and she hasn't had the will to finish herself. This time when they have sex "there awoke in her new strange thrills rippling inside her" (145). She clings to him, unconscious of her own moans; but it's not enough to give her an orgasm. When she feels him stop, she despairs: "she could only wait, wait and moan in spirit as she felt him withdrawing, withdrawing and contracting, coming to the terrible moment when he would slip out of her and be gone. Whilst all her womb was open and soft, and softly clamouring, like a sea-anenome under the tide, clamouring for him to come in again and make a fulfillment for her" (145).

But wait! Here comes the magic: "She clung to him unconscious in passion, and he never quite slipped from her, and she felt the soft bud of him within her stirring, and strange rhythms flushing up into her with a strange rhythmic growing motion, swelling and swellilng till it filled her all cleaving consciousness, and then began again the unspeakable motion that was not really motion, but pure deepening whirlpools of sensation swirling deeper and deeper through all her tissue and consciousness, till she was one perfect concentric fluid of feeling, and she lay there crying in unconscious inarticulate cries. The voice out of the uttermost night, the life! The man heard it beneath him with a kind of awe, as his life sprang out into her. And as it subsided, he subsided too and lay utterly still, unknowing, while her grip on him slowly relaxed, and she lay inert. And they lay and knew nothing, not even of each other, both lost" (145-146).

Damn, that is beautiful. I've italicized my favorite lines. In case you missed it, they orgasmed together; and that was not the whole passage. There's more, and it's reason enough to buy your own copy to read hint hint.

When this scene began, Connie didn't want to have sex with Oliver but also didn't have the heart to fight back. "Giving way, giving up," she called it. Afterwards, "he bent over her and kissed her, and she felt, so he must kiss her for ever" (page 146). They're bonded by orgasm and in a way, they've seen deeper versions of each other.

An interesting quote to consider in the context of sex and identity: "She watched his face, and the passion for him moved in her bowels. She resisted it as far as she could, for it was the loss of herself to herself" (page 146). My italics. Think about that for the comment section.

Pages 147-148 contain an interesting passage on passion versus adoration as self-motivators. As Connie reflects on her feelings for Oliver, she realizes: "It was not the passion that was new to her, it was the yearning adoration." She fears that adoration will cause her to lose herself and become a slave. She compares passion, female passion of will, the passion of her youth, to the Bacchae (followers of Bacchus or Dionysis. Google it. The stories will haunt your dreams--especially the guys), and she feels its power: "but while she felt this, her heart was heavy. She did not want it, it was known and barren, birthless; the adoration was her treasure. It was so fathomless, so soft, so deep and so unknown" (page 148).

Oooh. Things are getting sticky. I promise to not to be late with my next update (which promise I will ensure that I keep by not giving you an ETP).

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Insanity; stability.

"The public responds now only to an appeal to its vices." (page 109)

Tonight I've read chapters eight and nine, and I'm somewhat surprised by them. Though they were both interesting chapters, there wasn't a lot that jumped out at me. Chapter nine is almost exclusively Mrs. Bolton telling stories about Tevershall, the village attached to Wragby. The beginning of the chapter, however, features a quote I rather like: "Civilised society is insane. Money and so-called love are its two great manias; money a long way first. The individual asserts himself in his disconnected insanity in these two modes: money and love" (page 104).

The bitch-goddess gets an honorable mention on page 115. Clifford's imagination has been gripped by Mrs. Bolton's stories of the working men in the Tevershall mine, and he has a revelation: "the bitch-goddess of success had two main appetites: one for flattery, adulation, stroking and tickling such as writers and artists gave her; but the other a grimmer appetite for meat and bones. And the meat and bones for the bitch-goddess were provided by the men who made money in industry."

Mrs. Bolton "[makes] a man of him, as Connie never did," by spurring him to an industrial fervor. He begins to venture out into the mines and research new, efficient technologies in an effort to restore the failing Tevershall coal pits and make them profitable again. This is interesting to compare to chapter eight, where Connie ventures out of Wragby and into the cold, fresh wood: "Connie was strangely excited in the wood, and the colour flew in her cheeks, and burned blue in her eyes. [...] Even she caught the faint, tarry scent of the flowers. And then, being so still and alone, she seemed to get into the current of her own proper destiny" (pages 91-92). Connie's revitalized in nature; Clifford's revitalized in industry: "The very stale air of the colliery was better than oxygen to him" (page 117).

It doesn't seem to be a commentary on the differences between men and women in general because of Mrs. Bolton's combination of femininity and the industrial world, but rather the differences between kinds of consciousness. Constance, in the solitude of the wood, is awakening again to self-awareness, an internal and solitary consciousness. It's something she had once: the inner knowledge that allowed her to maintain her freedom and selfhood as a young, experimental girl. It's also part of her attraction to Mellors: he possesses "the stillness, and the timeless sort of patience, in a man impatient and passionate, that touched Connie's womb" (page 95). That solitude, patience, and inner stability doesn't suit Clifford. "Connie kept him apart, and made him sensitive and conscious of himself and his own states. Mrs. Bolton made him aware only of outside things. Inwardly he began to go soft as pulp. But outwardly he began to be effective" (page 116). Clifford relies on control of his surroundings for his stability.

See you tomorrow (today? After some sleep) with chapter ten. Something tells me it's going to be a good one.

Monday, January 3, 2011


Chapter seven of Lady Chatterly's is a short chapter, but it hits on a couple of very interesting phrases or topics.

In the first part of the chapter, Constance examines her naked body to great disappointment: "Instead of ripening its firm, down-running curves, her body was flattening and going a little harsh. It was as if it had not enough sun and warmth; it was a little greyish and sapless" (page 74).

Earlier descriptions of Constance's body characterize it as robust, curvy, and full of vitality. She's a healthy, glowing woman; but she is now losing that freshness, that youth, though she's only twenty-seven. Her body is going "flat, slack, meaningless" (page 74), and she rebels inwardly against the injustice of neglect. In the absence of physical love and intimacy her body has aged: "Old through neglect and denial, yes denial" (page 75). She despairs of finding that renewing physicality in men: "They had their pathetic, two-second spasms like Michaelis; but no healthy human sensuality, that warms the blood and freshens the whole being" (page 75).

The body continues to be the subject of the first half of the chapter. In a small social gathering at Wragby, the Chatterlys and friends hypothesize about the future, including how future technology and civilization will address the body. Clifford's aunt, Lady Bennerley, adds this to the conversation: "So long as you can forget your body you are happy. [...] And the moment you begin to be aware of your body, you are wretched. So, if civilization is any good, it has to help us to forget our bodies, and then time passes happily without our knowing it" (page 79).

Constance's awareness of her declining body is making her feel wretched, but I don't think forgetting about it or ignoring it is going to solve her problems. In continuing to neglect her body, it will continue to deteriorate until it's nothing but "wisps of smoke," as she says later. The people in this conversation are Clifford's friends, the upper class and leaders of the mental life; they don't live in their bodies, not really. Not like Constance.

Another interesting point of the conversation, though, is the idea of a time when "babies would be bred in bottles" (page 78). Olive, a woman in the party, does not want to have children, and she likes the idea of artificial childbirth: "Anyhow the future's going to have more sense, and a woman needn't be dragged down by her functions" (page 78). That is, a woman need not be defined as a baby-maker. She could have her own life, as Olive says, a sterile "immunised" woman (page 78). Would sexual freedom follow sterility? It's certainly possible; after all, isn't modern birth control a temporary immunization which allows women to have a sex life without the risk of being dragged down by their functions?

Tommy Dukes strikes again as the voice of the visceral with a call for the resurrection of the body. "There may even come a civilization of genuine men and women, instead of our little lot of clever-jacks, all at the intelligence-age of seven. It would be even more amazing than men of smoke or babies in bottles. [...] Give me the resurrection of the body! [...] But it'll come, in time, when we've shoved the cerebral stone away a bit, the money and the rest. Then we'll get a democracy of touch, instead of a democracy of pocket" (page 80). The mental life will fade, and when it does, humanity will again inhabit the body.

It's a nice battle-cry; but then, Tommy also claims that the phallus is the bridge across the chasm into which our civilization will collapse. So, you know, we'll see.

A plot summary, for those reading the book vicariously between the lines of my analysis: Constance's mental and physical depression worsens, and she applies to her sister Hilda for help. After being examined by a family doctor, it's decided that Constance needs more amusement in her life, rather than the dreary existence she has at Wragby just attending to Clifford. Hilda threatens to take Connie away to their father's estate for a few months until she gets better if Clifford won't hire a nurse or manservant to attend to him. Eventually, he caves and Mrs. Bolton is hired to be his nurse. Constance feels the effects of her addition acutely, and begins to improve: "quietly, subtly she was unravelling the tangle of his consciousness and hers, breaking the threads gently, one by one, with patience and impatience to get clear. [...] And Connie felt herself released, in another world, she felt she breathed differently. But still she was afraid of how many of her roots, perhaps mortal ones, were tangled with Clifford's. Yet still, she breathed freer, a new phase was going to begin in her life" (page 89).

See you tomorrow.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Shocked in the Womb

Lawrence is very good for quotes: "Sex and a cocktail: they both lasted about as long, had the same effect, and amounted to about the same thing" (page 68).

1920's one-liners aside, tonight the drink is Stella Artois; the snack, "chewy peanut butter chocolate chip cookies" (currently cooling--time will tell if they are, in fact, chewy); the book, still Lady Chatterley's. Chapter six was an interesting chapter. We've set up a number of ideas, and we're now moving into the meat of the story. The summaries of the novel promise an affair between Constance and the gamekeeper, and the seeds are sown in chapter six.

The chapter begins where five left off (as chapters ought to do): Constance, in the throes of her confusion after the Michaelis affair, discusses things with Tommy Dukes, who appears to be asexual.

Constance begins with the question, "Why don't men and women really like one another nowadays?" (page 59). Tommy disagrees, and it's a sign of the times. In the early 20th century, it became more and more common for men and women to be platonic friends, whereas they were segregated by hobbies and propriety in earlier decades. Tommy, for example, professes that he likes women better than men: "they are braver, one can be more frank with them." Constance goes on to imply, essentially, that there must always be sexual feelings between men and women; even if they're not strong, barely there, the thought must always cross the mind at least once.

Tommy replies with the following:

"A woman wants you to like her and talk to her, and at the same time love her and desire her; and it seems to me the two things are mutually exclusive" (page 59).

He refers to his own experiences. He enjoys the company of women but doesn't desire them sexually (and he makes no comments about desiring men, which is either because of the time period or because Tommy just doesn't care about sex). Connie, however, believes--or hopes--that he is wrong, and that in fact one cannot exist without the other. No love without like, no desire without talk, no talk without love, no desire without like. If you remember back to Connie's premarital lover, she chose him because he was the one she had the best conversations with. This is Connie's ideal relationship, and the ideal relationship of many of us. Love can be intense, desire can be strenuous, and without "like" and "talk" to fill in the down time and give us something to rest on, the relationship becomes a house of cards.

It's not just a female thing, though. Just the other night, we read an article which commented that men will prefer a less attractive woman over a stone-cold fox if they like her better: if she has qualities they like. Clearly, Connie's onto something. We see it all the time in contemporary media: the "falling-for-the-best-friend" and the "257-points-of-compatibility" models especially.

Yet, this kind of relationship is beyond Connie's reach. She feels that there's something missing in male-female relations: "A woman has no glamour for a man any more" (page 60). Tommy asks her if men have glamour for a woman, and the answer is: not much. We're not talking about 1950's Hollywood glamour, at least not in the context of Ava Gardner on the red carpet; glamour can also refer to "an air of charm, romance, and excitement." That is what's lacking between men and women, in Connie's eyes. People are more honest, but not any simpler and the thrill is gone.

In chapter five, Clifford and Constance discussed the possibility of her bearing another man's child and raising it as the heir of Wragby, their estate. Constance gives this some more thought in chapter six, now in the context of her sexual depression: "One might take a lover almost at any moment, but a man who should beget a child on one...wait! wait! it's a very different matter. [...] It was not a question of love; it was a question of a man. Why, one might even rather hate him, personally. Yet if he was the man, what would one's personal hate matter? This business concerned another part of oneself" (pages 68-69). She's making the decision slowly because there is no man she now knows whom she respects enough; but respect even doesn't seem to matter. If she hates the man, how is he the man: what possible reason could she have for birthing the child of a man she hates? More on this later, hopefully. Connie's just a little confused right now.

There's also some interesting commentary on how money is a necessity as long as one is alive, but sex, emotion, everything else in fact can fall to the wayside. Nothing really matters for one's existence but money: "You couldn't spend your last sou, and say finally: So that's that!--No, if you lived even another ten minutes, you wanted a few more sous for something or other" (page 66). This is part of Connie's depression, her incredulous but total acceptance that nothing really matters to her generation: "...dynamic words were half dead now, and dying from day to day. Home was a place you lived in, love was a thing you didn't fool yourself about, joy was a word you applied to a good Charleston, happiness was a term of hypocrisy used to bluff other people, a father was an individual who enjoyed his own existence, a husband was a man you lived with and kept going in spirits" (page 65-66) etc. etc. etc.

The rest of the chapter is dedicated to the beginnings of the relationship between Connie and the gamekeeper, who is called Mellors. Her previous encounters with him have been uncomfortable. An ex-soldier, he sometimes sneers, sometimes salutes, and appears very mercurial. His eyes are described as "all-seeing," and Connie is shy of them. She also has the feeling that he does not respect her.

In chapter six, they first have a confrontation: Mellors has shot a poaching cat in front of his daughter. The two do not get along; it's implied at this point that she was born shortly before or while he was abroad in the army. His wife is shacked up with another tradesmen in the town. Connie, on a walk, hears the child crying about the cat, encounters a brusque Mellors, and takes his daughter back to her grandmother's. Later, Clifford is laid up with the flu and sends Connie to Mellors' cottage with instructions for him.

There's no response when she goes to the door, but hearing sounds around back, she goes and sees Mellors as he's washing. He's "naked to the hips, his velveteen breeches slipping down over his slender loins. And his white slim back was curved over a big bowl of soapy water..." (page 70). Connie skitters away without alerting him, shocked (in her womb) by what she saw.

She reflects on it: "Perfect, white, solitary nudity of a creature that lives alone, and inwardly alone. And beyond that, a certain beauty of a pure creature. Not the stuff of beauty, not even the body of beauty, but a lambency, the warm, white flame of a single life, revealing itself in contours that one might touch: a body!" (page 70). The whiteness of his body is reminiscent of female descriptions from previous works, like 1880's Nana, Zola's decadent story of a sexual woman. Mellors reflects a purity, or at least the appearance of purity, which is desired in females; and like Nana, sexuality goes hand in hand with that outward purity. Constance is attracted to it.

In another testament to Mellors' changeable nature, the gamekeeper Constance meets when she returns to his cottage is warm and kind to her, neither aloof nor insubordinate. Until she gives him his orders, that is; then he removes again. He appears to be a complex character, and I am very interested in learning more about him.

Enough for now. And by the way, the cookies were delicious.