“Can You Make Me a Cup of Tea?” & Lady Chatterley’s Lover

10th November 1960: Two women in London, with copies of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’, after a jury decided that it was not obscene.

I have never been more exhausted. The pandemic has aged me ten years in seven months.

At least that’s how it seems.

I do not dwell on my looks. I am talking about vitality in everyday life. No wonder. The country is falling apart.

“Could you make me a cup of tea?” I wheedle my husband. I used to make my own tea. Now I collapse on the divan with a pile of books, practically a small library. Tonight my choices are an Arnold Bennett, Jean Stafford’s The Catherine Wheel (one of my favorites), a novella by Anita Desai, and The Virago Book of Ghost Stories. My husband charmingly brings me a cup of what we call “purple tea.” The tea comes in a purple package.

Tea and reading help. I have been reading, of all things, Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I never thought this was one of Lawrence’s better novels, but after The Plumed Serpent and Kangaroo, it is a masterpiece.

This is not Lawrence’s best novel but it is his most famous, banned for obscenity from 1928 until 1960. People read it nowadays as a curiosity rather than as literature. Although there is little in Lady Chatterley that a modern reader, or particularly a cable TV watcher would find pornographic, there are several sex scenes, and some are more explicit than I’d remembered. Lawrence wrote three completely different versions of the book, and I wonder if I read an earlier version before. I am inclined to think I did. I remembered his referring to genitals in terms of ‘”John Thomas” and “Lady Jane,” but did not recall his use of more explicit language.

Lawrence begins this controversial novel:

Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future

The situation is tragic: Lawrence writes elegantly of the heroine Connie’s marriage to Clifford Chatterley, who returns from the war a paraplegic; their non-sexual marriage; and her desire for a child.

The plot is simple, but the prose is sharp and unflinching, and the characters are vibrantly alive. After the war, Connie and Clifford live at Wragford Hall. Clifford becomes a writer of what Connie’s father calls “dead books.” Connie is responsible for the care of Clifford, and becomes run-down. Her sister Hilda tells Clifford he must hire a nurse to relieve Connie.

Until the nurse is hired, we were not aware of all the physical tasks Connie has done for Clifford. Finally, she is free to do what she likes, and spends hours walking in the woods, appreciating nature. She and Mellors, the taciturn gamekeeper, embark on an affair, only it is more than that. Their intense relationship leads to an unusual sexual, intellectual, and spiritual rapport.

Like Rupert in Women in Love, Mellors lectures on the dead mechanical society, and the subjection of men to industrial culture. He also talks about sex: he tells Connie she is the only woman he knows capable of a “real” orgasm, rather than clitoral (though he does not use that word). She ignores this, focusing on their love, while Mellors darkly predicts that the human race will destroy itself after depleting the planet’s resources. (Is he right?) Connie keeps him balanced, thinking that much of what he says is unimportant to the future of their own relationship.

Lawrence loves his characters to discuss ideology and philosophy. Some of it is fascinating, some a bit tiring if you know his other books. But the first half of Lady Chatterley’s Lover is brilliant. Perhaps all that rewriting tired him out.

Resting Your Eyes: Sir Walter Scott’s “Kenilworth” and D. H. Lawrence’s “Kangaroo”

You mat wonder why I bought this Heritage Press copy of Sir Walter Scott’s Kenilworth ($3.50).  I haven’t read Scott in years, and I did not particularly want to read it.   The illustrations by Clarke Hutton are charming but that’s not the reason, either.  The thing is, these oversized books have crisp pages and biggish print. After reading a 19th century reference book with small print cover-to-cover, I need to rest my eyes.

Anyway, Kenilworth is billed as a “historical romance.”

“I love ‘hist-roms,’ ” I said to my husband.

“Hist-roms?”

“Jean Plaidy.” He disapproves of Jean Plaidy on account of the covers, but I do enjoy her novels about the Borgias and the Tudors.

Before I started Kenilworth, however, I decided to read some D. H. Lawrence.  I declared not long ago that he is my favorite writer.  So I curled up with  a small red 1960 hardback copy of his 1923 novel Kangaroo, which I bought  for $6.50.

It is not Lawrence at his best.  Last summer I reread Lawrence’s The Plumed Serpent and found it silly and surreal.  Well, Kangaroo is more of the same.  In The Plumed Serpent, set in Mexico, Don Ramon, a wealthy Mexican landowner, founds an Aztec cult and claims he is the god Quetzalcoatl:  one of his goals is to drive Christianity out of Mexico.

In Kangaroo, set in Australia, a man named Kangaroo wants ” to be with men who are sons of men, not sons of women.  “Man that is born of woman is sick of himself.  Man that is born of woman is tired of his day after day.  And woman is like a mother with a tiresome child:  what is she to do with him?  What is she to do with him? –man that is born of woman.”

This has been going on for pages now.

And then Kangaroo talks about ant-hills.

“But the men that are born like ants, out of the cold interval, and are womanless, they are not sick of themselves. They are full of cold energy, and they seethe with cold fire in the anthill, making new corridors, new chambers–they alone know what for. And they have cold, formic-acid females, as restless as themselves, and as active about the ant-hill, and as identical with the dried clay of the building. And the active, important, so-called females, and the active, cold-blooded, energetic males, they shift twig after twig, and lay crumb of earth upon crumb of earth, and the females deposit cold white eggs of young. This is the world, and the people of the world. And with their cold, active bodies the ant-men and the ant-women swarm over the face of the earth.”

I love Lawrence, so I will finish this.  But do you see why I need Kenilworth?