By virtue of taking a completely frank, no holds barred approach to describing the most intimate sexual interactions, D. H. Lawrence (DHL) secures for himself complete freedom and total power for describing people's actions, feelings, thoughts to whatever detail he wants.
DHL has a rather meandering style - his mind is constantly moving from place to place, person to person, but at the same time he goes into detail of everything and everyone. As a result, the repetition - which there is plenty - doesn't seem like repetition, and his ideas get drilled into the reader slowly but inevitably. The writer states views of his characters firmly as if they were his own views at the time; he doesn't distance himself from his characters, even though among his characters there is plenty of divergence, contrariness.
DHL's power slowly becomes apparent as you read the book: he is a master of the English language - words, phrases come to him easily. He is also a master of thoughts and emotions. He is able to take the reader into the mind of his characters. All along he remains unattached, as he jumps from character to character - their thoughts/emotions/opinions are their own, they are not affected by DHL's. You get to see opposing views of the same matter and you find both views convincing in their own ways. The sexual interaction is when the complexity of thoughts/emotions is at its highest. And DHL's strength is not just in depicting the action itself, but also the thoughts/emotions of people involved in the act. The pleasure, happiness, disgust, guilt, aggression, desire, disappointment, hope - all of these and other emotions come together during physical intimacy, and DHL paints them beautifully and frankly. I think that is probably what shocked the censor more than the lurid descriptions. (The books was banned in UK for a long time.)
Some of the gems in the book:
"Tenderness and sensuality" is how Connie characterizes the unique qualities of her man.
Clifford felt the devil twist his tail and pretended the angles were smiling on him.
Clifford is so wrapped up in his own immortal self that when he does get a shock he is like a mummy tangled in its bandages.
They don't even give a heartbeat of sympathy.
Sex is basically touch of the closest kind.
They dared everything without risking anything.
Perhaps only people who are capable of real togetherness have that look of being alone in the universe.
In the first two chapters DH Lawrence creates the setting of the story - the newly married couple (Connie and Clifford), crippled husband, their different social backgrounds, their aristocratic but dreary home standing among woods, the surrounding squalor of a coal mine, their recent personal/family history, etc. The writer drops hints of his frank approach towards human sexual behavior. In these two chapters he establishes that a young, vivacious, modern woman has come to stay with her sexually invalid husband in his huge family property surrounded by dreariness and industrial squalor.
In the third chapter, Connie has a sexual fling with a visitor - Michaelis - who has a curious combination of an interior of a hopeless, insecure man of a lower class and the exterior of a successful business man. The encounter is sexually satisfying for Connie, although she can't really love him the way his confused personality is. Here again, DHL shows his deftness with sexual matters, and his curious skill of drilling into a character slowly, repetitively, but surely. His considerable vocabulary is evident.
Chapter 4 can be skipped altogether. It contains discussions of Clifford's intellectual friends about topics ranging from Bolshevism to sex.
In chapter 5 Connie starts falling away from Clifford - due to his strange loneliness and inadequacies. She also has one last disastrous meeting/mating session with Michaelis and falls apart from him completely. His comments about her sexuality shock her into disillusionment with everything. She also has her first casual glimpse of Mellors - their gamekeeper.
In chapter 6 her acquaintance with Mellors grows a bit because of a couple of minor interactions - one in which she watches him taking a bath half naked.
Chapter 7 could have been shorter, but it is important because it shows the steady deterioration of Connie's physical and mental health, her steady disillusionment with Clifford, Wragby, her own body, the men and women around her, the whole world. She finally calls up her sister Hilda for help. Hilda at once takes her away for a checkup which confirms the psychological nature of Connie's problem. Hilda gives Clifford an earful about his negligence of Connie and asks him to get someone for his personal care. Grudgingly Clifford gets one Mrs. Bolton for this purpose freeing Connie from the daily increasingly painful burden of looking after the needs of Clifford. She gets her first break.
Chapter 8 shows more interaction between Connie and Mellors. She finds him difficult and confusing - arrogant sometimes, solitary, insolent. But she also feels pity for him - for his loneliness, his social status (servant to Clifford).
In chapter 9 DHL is at his best when he shows how Mrs. Bolton slowly but surely takes charge of Clifford through her soft and yet firm, subservient and yet subtly bossy, submissive and yet strong-willed, caring and yet unattached, respectful and yet confident, ways of handling him. Clifford, unaware, slowly becomes attached to her, to her services, to her company, even though she allows him to think all along that he is the master and in charge. After 3-4 pages though chapter 9 can be skipped since it gets into Ivy Bolton's long monologues about the low-class citizenry of Tevershall.
Chapter 10 is long - it contains the first few sexual encounters of Connie with Mellors. The first one is essentially Mellors' attempt to soothe her grief at the chicken coop. But, gradually these encounters get better for her, and eventually she is on cloud 9 feeling as happy as never before. DHL beautifully describes her state of mind and body and the transformation she feels within herself. Her feeling all along that the best connection between man and woman was physical (and not intellectual, as Clifford and his cronies used to say) is reinforced. Towards the end, Mrs. Bolton also figures out that Mellors and Connie are lovers.
Chapter 11 can be skipped. It goes into the "state" of England, the sorry state of the coal mines and related industrial culture.
Chapters 12 and 13 are some of the best chapters. They focus entirely on Connie and Mellors: their meetings, their evolving relationship. Once again DHL describes beautifully the intertwined web of physical sensations and emotions/thoughts, the close connection between feelings and passion, the changing perception as the attachment grows. He gives interesting insights into the working of the woman's mind as she deals with the phenomenon of man - the tussle between conflicting reactions, the complexity of emotions.
In chapter 14 Clifford, Mellors, and Connie all come together accidentally. Their interaction brings out Clifford's peculiar qualities, his obstinacy, Connie's growing hatred for Clifford's arrogance and for him as a whole, etc.
In chapter 15, Mellors invites Connie to spend a night at his cottage and she agrees. She slips away from Wragby after dinner. They have a more relaxed interaction since they have the whole night to themselves. Connie asks him questions about his past. Mellors goes into a long monologue about his past life, focusing mainly on his experiences with women. DHL offers an astonishingly detailed and colorful picture of what women are like from a man's point of view, or at least, in this case, from Mellors' point of view. Connie is drawn closer to him now that she understands him better. The sexual depiction gets even more intimate in this chapter. Connie returns to Wragby in the morning unnoticed by anyone.
In chapter 16, the romance continues. This time they meet at the hut on a rainy day and have a blast dancing naked in the rain, having sex out in the open in the rain, and so on. They also have a long discussion about various topics including their future together, Connie's desire to have a child, her plan to go away to Venice for a month, and so on. Mellors speaks his mind more and more freely.
In chapter 17, Connie spends another night with Mellors at his cottage before taking off to Venice with her sister Hilda. She tells Hilda about him and Hilda also meets Mellors. Hilda does not like him at all, primarily because of her bias about "working class" people. So they have a verbal altercation. Mellors takes some of his anger to the bed and the sex is more physical and sensual than tender. Connie feels as if she were a sexual slave, but the experience leaves her feeling free in a way - completely exposed, left with nothing to hide any more, having shared her most intimate knowledge with a man. In the morning, she takes off with Hilda for Venice. DHL describes her thoughts beautifully.
"Tenderness and sensuality" is how describes Connie her man. Hilda wants complete intimacy, i.e. full knowledge of each other between a man and a woman.
Chapter 18 is about Connie's trip abroad: her journey through London, Paris, Switzerland, etc. to Venice. Her stay there at a villa with other people, her frustration with the culture of enjoyment, etc. Towards the end, she discovers through her correspondence about disasters at home: Mellors' wife returns to him, she discovers things left by Connie, gossip in town, Mellors' defamation and decision to leave Wragby, and so on. This development sours Connie's enjoyment of the trip and she writes to Mellors to meet in London.
Chapter 19: Connie and Mellors meet in London. It's a beautifully described meeting of the lovers: partly sad for the recent developments, partly happy for being together, partly afraid of the future with a child on the way. Connie shares her secret with her father, who then meets Mellors and is pleased about his "manliness". Connie and others conspire to involve Duncan Forbes - an artist who wants Connie to model for him - and project him as the father of the child and get a divorce from Clifford. There are various meetings which bring out the peculiar personalities of everyone.
Chapter 20 is the last chapter in which there are no more games or deceits, everyone knows everything, Clifford goes into a fit or rage and defiance, Mellors finds some farm work and they decide to stay apart until he gets his divorce. The book ends with a beautiful letter written by Mellors to Connie in which the man describes all his feelings, his love for Connie, his thoughts about the state of the world, his concern for the unborn child.
Last updated: 28 February 2016
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