I remember being very excited about watching Lady Chatterley’s Lover at the lovely gardens of Rippon Lea Estate. It was an evening to remember as we sat down with our picnic sets and glasses of wine to watch D H Lawrence’s work being enacted. It was also my first brush with the theatre scene here. The nude scenes were played out with alacrity and what a matured audience. No jeers or whistles. Not that I was expecting that. Hello this is Australia not India, I told myself.
Two years later, I read the book which has been lying for a while. My reading was overtaken by the likes of E. L. James whose trilogy I did complete with avidity. Come on, if one can watch mindless Bollywood or Hollywood films, owning up to reading Fifty Shades of Grey can’t be that embarrassing. To be frank, I had Sons & Lovers when I was doing my Masters in Literature. But it was a long, long time ago and I feel really ancient now. We had all the weird novels in our course, yes weird were how I perceived them then. Stuff like Henry James Washington Square, William M Thackeray’s Vainty Fair or Herman Melville’s Moby Dick - great literary stuff of course. I never appreciated literature when I was studying them and went through my books as hurriedly as I could to scrape through the exams.
Having just finished reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover, I have a new-formed appreciation and regard for Lawrence. Ummm someone’s namesake, except the w is replaced by u. Anyway. For a novel written in the 1920s, it has such a modern theme. Love, relationships, extra marital affairs, class conflict. Maybe not a modern theme but modern because it is a subject explored more now. I guess human beings have always remained the same, except that some things which were hide and bound are perhaps more acceptable now. I had watched the BBC’s show which dealt at length on the Obscenity Trial in Britain surrounding the publishing of the book in 1960. Interesting that such a great novel was considered an obscene work.
Just to quote a synopsis of the novel, “The story concerns a young married woman, Constance (Lady Chatterley), whose upper-class husband, Clifford Chatterley, has been paralysed due to a war injury. In addition to Clifford's physical limitations, his emotional neglect of Constance forces distance between the couple. Her sexual frustration leads her into an affair with the gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors. The class difference between the couple highlights a major motif of the novel which is the unfair dominance of intellectuals over the working class. The novel is about Constance's realisation that she cannot live with the mind alone; she must also be alive physically. This realisation stems from a heightened sexual experience Constance has only felt with Mellors, suggesting that love can only happen with the element of the body, not the mind.”
I wake up and find around me so many Chatterleys. Sometimes marriages are such shams and I have to quote the Indian context because that is where my major experience has been. At least in the western societies, divorce is not a taboo and people are more emotionally and financially independent to call it quits for reasons sometimes as trivial as the partner snoring too much. But then it’s all about choices and people are empowered to make those choices. Yes marriages are as high as the divorces rate here but it is better than leading a life full of lies. In India, so many people I know have extra marital affairs. Again, it is a lifestyle choice for them, keeping themselves busy while the spouses are busy. I do not want to moralise on the issue. The fact is, we have to acknowledge these things happen, and they happen with impunity.
Not that Lady Chatterley’s Lover propagates extra marital affair. The affair between Connie and Mellors is the result of Connie finding herself in a stifling marriage, where she is also bereft of the physical pleasures from her man. There is nothing wrong in seeking pleasure when you find yourself totally bereft of it. At the end she leaves her husband because she has to be true to the one she finally falls in love with. But every break up has its heartaches and Clifford, Connie’s husband, does not take it well.
I gather most of us will not take this kindly. We have been brought up to think that marriage is inviolable but if marriage is frustration and not happiness, should one stay on? That is the potent issue that Lawrence raises in his book. It is an honest book. People with a mind of their own must not be shocked because we as human beings have evolved and cultured far beyond the taboos. The vagaries of life, amen! But thank you Lawrence for a sexual book with oomphs of meanings.