D.H. Lawrence

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

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Lady Chatterley’s Lover Summary

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Lady Chatterley’s Lover by British author D.H. Lawrence was published privately in Italy in 1928. Only a censored version was published in the United Kingdom, the United States, and several other countries until 1960 when the book was part of an obscenity trial against publisher Penguin Books. The publisher won the case and Lady Chatterley’s Lover swiftly sold 3 million copies. The book was notorious for its graphic descriptions of sexual intercourse and use of profanity that was taboo at the time. The story is reportedly inspired by events in Lawrence’s own life.

The story begins a few years after WWI as the English recover physically and emotionally from the Great War. Lady Chatterley, also known as Constance, is married to Clifford Chatterley who has inherited Wragby Hall. Constance married Clifford because of their engaging conversations, but he was sent to fight in the war and returned paralyzed from the waist down. After two years of recovery in the hospital, the two of them travel to Wragby Hall.

Constance becomes bored at Wragby Hall as Clifford pursues a writing career. He invites intellectuals to their home as he becomes more interested in success and fame. Meanwhile, he is unable to have sex but is interested in having a child. So long as Constance doesn’t divulge who the real father is, he grants Constance permission to become pregnant. She begins seeking out affairs with visitors, but her sexual encounters are unsatisfying.

Constance’s sister visits Wragby Hall and is concerned with her sister’s well-being. To help Constance take care of her husband, the couple hires a woman named Mrs. Bolton to push him around the house. Mrs. Bolton is a gossip and gives Clifford material for his writing.

To combat boredom, Constance takes walks in the woods around their estate. She meets gamekeeper Oliver Mellors, who breeds pheasants. One day, she happens upon him half-naked, which excites her. She continues her walks through the woods and bumps into Mellors on occasion. One day, he notices that Constance is upset. He brings her into his cabin and seduces her. She attempts to avoid him afterward, but they have another romp in the woods. It’s the most sexually satisfying experience Constance has had in her life.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Bolton suspects that Constance is having an affair. Through her time with Mellors, Constance realizes that she does not love her husband and begins to bemoan the way the world operates only to serve money and industrialization. She continues to visit Mellors in his cabin.

Clifford accompanies Constance one day on her walk through the woods and his wheelchair breaks. When he enlists Mellors to push him up the hill, Constance become angry. She decides to go on a long trip to Italy with her family, where she will pretend to take a highborn lover rather than the gamekeeper. She becomes pregnant with Mellors before she leaves.

While Constance is in Italy, Mellors’ wife returns after he asked for a divorce. She accuses him of infidelity. To avoid scandal within Wragby Hall, Clifford fires Mellors. When Constance returns from Italy, she reconnects with Mellors in London and writes to Clifford that she is pregnant and would like a divorce. He insists that she come to Wragby Hall at least once. She explains that the father is a man named Duncan, but Clifford doesn’t believe this. She confesses that her lover is Mellors, which infuriates Clifford. He refuses to agree to a divorce. Mellors continues to confront his wife about their divorce. The book ends with Constance and Mellors apart but hoping to reunite soon.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover explores the need for cohesion between mind and body to be whole. Constance suffers in her relationship with her husband because their shared life is all mind and no body, whereas her relationship with Mellors has both.

The story also focuses extensively on the class system of early 20th-century England. Constance is an aristocrat whereas Mellors is a working-class man. A relationship between the two at the time is highly unusual and not likely to result in a successful marriage. There is also a growing tension between the town’s down-on-their-luck mine workers and Clifford, who owns the mine.

The book’s obscenity was highly censored for the first few decades of its existence and even banned outright in some countries. Under the Obscene Publications Act of 1959, Penguin Books was prosecuted for the book’s sexual vocabulary but was ultimately found not guilty, allowing the book to be published uncensored for the first time in 1960. This landmark decision would open other publishers to release more explicit material. Since then, the book has become more mainstream and has been adapted numerous times for film, television, radio and theatre. Even into the 21st century, it remains in the minority as an English-language novel that focuses on the intricacies of female sexual desire.