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Wednesday, April 26, 2017

D.H.Lawrence And ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’–Sex And Spiritual Renewal

D.H. Lawrence’s  Lady Chatterley’s Lover had been almost universally criticized as prurient, libertine, and immoral.  In his A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover he dismissed these accusations and wrote a philosophical treatise on the role and nature of sexuality in human experience.

Image result for images book cover lady chatterley's lover

True sexual union, he wrote, was spiritual.
The Catholic Church created marriage by making it a sacrament, a sacrament of man and woman united in the sex communion, and never to be separated except by death; and even when separated by death, still not freed from the marriage.  Marriage as far as the individual went was eternal.  Marriage, making one complete body out of two incomplete ones, and providing for the complex development of the man’s soul and the woman’s soul in unison, throughout a lifetime.  Marriage, sacred and inviolable, the great way of earthly fulfillment for man and woman, in unison, under the spiritual rule of the Church...
The Church established marriage for life, for the fulfillment of the soul during life, not postponing it for the after-death.

Lawrence extended his argument, concluding that marriage – as sacrosanct, permanent, and spiritual – was the principal institution of society.  Strong, sexual, procreative marriages were bulwarks against the State, religious authoritarianism, and mob rule. 

England, Lawrence thought, was in need of spiritual regeneration.  World War I had maimed and killed not only millions of men in combat but had demoralized a whole continent. Rapid industrialization further alienated individuals from each other and more importantly from their own spiritual being.   The social disintegration which resulted made true, strong, permanent, and spiritually fulfilling relations more and more difficult.

English society, he went on, had lost any sense of the primitive and the passionate, valuing intellect and devaluing sensual experience.  The mind was supreme; but divorced from the body and refusing to acknowledge its more original and more potent nature, it was neutered. 

True sex – the physical and emotional ‘coming together’ which was at the core of marriage and human evolution – was also liberating and instrumental in freeing one from the artificial constraints of class, gender, and society. 

Maleness and femaleness, Lawrence thought, were absolute, clearly defined, and primal, and true sex was the way for men and women to realize, appreciate, accept, and fulfill their sexuality.  The phallus might be the initiating instrument of sexual union, but a woman’s sexual energies stimulated and released by it were no less valid and important to physical and spiritual consummation.
Two rivers of blood are man and wife, two distinct eternal streams that have the power of touching and communing and so renewing, making new one another, without any breaking of the connecting link between the two rivers, that establishes the two forever.  And this, this oneness gradually accomplished throughout a lifetime in twoness is the highest achievement of time or eternity.  From it all things human spring, children and beauty and well-made things, all true creations of humanity. And all we know of the will of God is that he wishes this, this oneness, to take place, fulfilled over a lifetime, this oneness within the great dual blood-stream of humanity.

‘Counterfeit’ marriages are the negative counterpart to all this.  “Modern people are just personalities”, he wrote, and “modern marriage takes place when two people are ‘thrilled’ by each other’s personality.
Now this, the affinity of mind and personality is an excellent basis for friendship between the sexes, but a disastrous basis for marriage.  Because marriage inevitably starts with the sex activity, and the sex activity is, and always was and will be in some way hostile to the mental, personal relationship between man and woman.
Finally, Lawrence extends his belief about sexual spirituality beyond humanity itself.  True sexual, spiritual union has much more important implications.
The rhythm of the cosmos is something we cannot get away from without bitterly impoverishing our lives.  The early Christians tried to kill the old pagan rhythm of cosmic ritual and to some extent succeeded.  They killed the planets and the zodiac…They wanted to kill the festivals of the year…
Later, however, the Church restored the mystery, magic, and miracles of pagan belief and in so doing restored man’s link with a more potent universe.
Mankind has got to get back to the rhythm of the cosmos, and the permanence of marriage.
In Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Lawrence’s last novel before his untimely and painful death from tuberculosis at forty-four, he explores all these themes.

Lady Chatterley is a woman from a modestly aristocratic background who married Sir Clifford, a baronet from a distinguished English family.  Shortly after the marriage Sir Clifford goes off to war and returns home an impotent invalid.

Lady Chatterley is faithful and loyal to her husband, but is increasingly frustrated not only by his sexual inattention but because of his arrogance, bullying, and indifference. He is everything Lawrence detests – a shallow, mean-spirited man with no sexual passion and complete ignorance of the ‘true’ nature of sexual union. 

Lady Chatterley meets Mellors, the gamekeeper on the estate, and soon they begin a long sexual relationship which becomes ‘true’.  Lady Chatterley, who has had disappointing sexual adventures before her marriage, finds final fulfillment with Mellors.  She gradually gives up her willfulness and competing desires for dominance and submission (Women in Love), and accepts her femininity and her equal sexual partnership with Mellors.

As part of this epiphany, she wants a child – a fact complicated by her husband’s impotence, social intransigence, and the seeming impossibility of marrying the already-married Mellors. Yet, true to Lawrence’s vision of the centrality of the family, procreation is necessary.  Nothing else can complete the marriage/sexual union. 

The fact that the affair between Lady Chatterley and Mellors is cast as one between social classes and one which is criticized not only for flaunting the sexual mores of late Victorian England but its more social ones, it is the best expression of Lawrence’s conclusions about the pettiness and waywardness of England. Although the relationship between Lady Chatterley and Mellors might be ‘true’, elemental, honest, spiritual, and pagan, it will not likely survive the virulence of English burghers.

The end of the novel is without resolution.  Mellors gets his divorce, hires on as laborer on a small farm, and begins to put his life together after having been dunned out of Tevershall by Sir Clifford and the town.  Lady Chatterley is meanwhile in Italy on vacation – a trip she hopes will resolve her conflicts about leaving Sir Clifford or joining Mellors in what will be a life far from the comfortable and respectable one she has left.

The final pages consist of a long letter from Mellors to Lady Chatterley in which he tells of his new modest life, reflects on his chastity, his age, and their presumed reunion, and hopes for her early return.

The denouement is unclear.  Lady Chatterley may well return to Sir Clifford and bear the child under his name, preferring loyalty and position over ‘true’ love.  She may also join Mellors and begin life as a farm wife, accepting her femininity (the value of marriage, sexual relations, procreation, and child-rearing), and living the simple life that Lawrence has praised.  They have even talked about moving to the colonies.

No choice is good.  Returning to Clifford, bearing Mellors’ child, and living under her even more demanding and cruel husband seems impossible given her new maturity.  Mrs. Bolton, Clifford’s caregiver, says it best:
At the same time, in some corner of her weird female soul, how she despised him and hated him! He was to her the fallen beast, the squirming monster. 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. The merest tramp was better than he.
There would be no way for Lady Chatterley, harboring the same feelings although far less hostile, to return to Wragby. 

Living with Mellors as his wife in rural England will be far different than their exciting assignations in his cottage.  Moving abroad seems too much like an escape – a solution which has neither principle nor satisfaction.

Sir Clifford is devastated by the abandonment of his wife.  He loses all of his arrogance, pretense of superiority and male authority, and breaks down and becomes a baby to be cared for by Mrs. Bolton.   For the first time in the novel Lawrence shows some sympathy for him.

The ending, then, is sad.  No one will win; and most will lose.  Society, says Lawrence – that priggish, censorious, mind-dominated, petty society – always wins; and despite his longing for spiritual renewal for England and mankind, he knows that it will never happen.

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