This fine novel of D. H. Lawrence’s has been privately printed in Florence, and it is difficult and expensive to buy. This is a pity, because it is probably one of Lawrence’s best books. About the erotic and unconventional aspects of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” which have made it impossible for the book to be circulated except in this subterranean fashion, I shall have something to say in a moment. But “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” is far more than the story of a love affair: it is a parable of post-war England.
Lady Chatterley is the daughter of a Scotch R. A., a robust and intelligent girl, who has married an English landowner from the Midlands coal-mining country. Sir Clifford is crippled in the War, and returns to his family estate, amid the decay and unemployment of the Industrial towns. At first, he occupies himself with literature, mixes with the London literary people, and publishes short stories, “clever, rather spiteful, and yet, in some mysterious way, meaningless”; then later, he applies himself feverishly to an attempt to retrieve his coal mines by the application of modem methods: “once you started a sort of research in the field of coal-mining, a study of methods and means, a study of by-products and the chemical possibilities of coal, it was astounding the ingenuity and the almost uncanny cleverness of the modem technical mind, as if really the devil himself had lent a fiend’s wits to the technical scientists of industry. It was far more interesting than art, than literature, poor emotional half-witted stuff, was this technical science of industry.”
But Sir Clifford, as a result of his semi-paralytic condition is in the same unhappy situation as the hero of “The Sun Also Rises”; and Lady Chatterley, in the meantime, has been carrying on a love affair with the gamekeeper— himself a child of the collieries, but an educated man, who has risen to a lieutenancy during the War, and then, through disillusion and inertia, relapsed into his former status. There has been an understanding between Sir Clifford and his wife that, since he is unable to give her a child himself, he will accept an illegitimate child as his heir. But Connie has finally reached a point where she feels that she can no longer stand Sir Clifford, with his invalidism, his arid intelligence and his obstinate class consciousness: she has fallen in love with the gamekeeper; and when she finally discovers that she is going to have a child she leaves her husband and demands a divorce. We are left with the prospect of the lady and the gamekeeper going away to Canada together.
Now Lawrence’s treatment of this subject is not without its aspects of melodrama. It is not entirely free from his bad habit of nagging and jeering at the characters whom he doesn’t like. Poor Sir Clifford, after all, for example, no matter how disagreeable he may have become, was a man in a most unfortunate situation, for which he was in no way to blame. And, on the other hand, Mellors, the gamekeeper, has his moments of romantic bathos. Yet the characters have a certain heroic dignity, a certain symbolical importance, which enable them to carry off all this.
Lawrence’s theme is a high one: the self-affirmation and triumph of life in the teeth of all the destructive and sterilizing forces—industrialism, physical depletion, dissipation, careerism and cynicism—of modern England; and in general, he has given a noble account of it. The drama which he has set in movement, against the double background of the collieries and the English forests, possesses both solid reality and poetic grandeur. It is the most inspiriting book I have seen which has come out of England for a long time; and—in spite of Lawrence’s occasional repetitiousness and sometimes overdone slapdash tone—one of the best written. D. H. Lawrence is indestructible: censored, exiled, snubbed, he still has more life in him than almost anybody else. And this one of his books which has been published under the most unpromising conditions and which he must have written with full knowledge of its fate—which can, indeed, hardly be said to have seen the light at all—is one of his most vigorous and brilliant. ...
A review by Edmund Wilson