Last night I watched the first two episodes of a 1992 BBC production of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a book I have read many times and love. It is a book that has just about everything I love in a story — a restless and confused heroine trying to be good but filled with longing; a cranky, annoying antagonist who is obnoxious but not evil; a setting of wild and feral loveliness; and, above all, a deeply flawed but utterly luscious hero. Oliver Mellors may well be my favorite hero in all of literature.
I first read Lady Chatterley’s Lover in high school, didn’t every girl? I first fell in love with the woods that was Mellors’ domain. All its hollows and copses and the remains of past follies set my imagination on fire. I love ruins that are in the process of being reclaimed by nature anyway and here was this lonely, wounded man just back from war and returned to a miserable, demanding wife that he can’t bear to live with. So he returns to his job as a game keeper on Sir Clifford’s estate and, as he later tells Connie, is glad to be “done with all that”. Meaning love and sex.
Then along comes Constance Chatterley, the beautiful young wife of the wounded war hero Sir Clifford who is a good enough guy though spoiled, effete, and living in a world that no longer exists. He has lost the use of his legs but, worse than that, he, like many of the post-World War I aristocrats, has lost his position as supreme lord and master. The war has changed everything and, though he still possesses riches, the common folk whose labors supported estates like his, are fed up and sick of their lot in life.
It is not only a book about love and passion but also about class warfare and the denial on the part of the aristocracy that their time is running out. Sir Clifford thinks he can lead his miners back into the mines like he once led his men into battle. His miners thank that’s a pile of crap.
So here is beautiful, sexually deprived Constance, nursing her whiney husband and pretending a life of the mind is enough for them. Her father urges her to “have some fun”, her sister tries to talk her into going off on holidays where they can meet potential lovers. Even Sir Clifford tells her he would understand if she took a lover. But she wants to be good. She wants to be above all that until the fateful day when she comes upon her husband’s gamekeeper washing himself one morning and — ba-BOOM — lust happens.
Well, we all know the rest. Lawrence does a pretty good job considering the times he was writing in. The book is restrained by today’s standards and still managed to get itself banned for a good many years. But it is what Lawrence does with Mellors that I love — Mellors is a man who is wild and feral and earthy and angry, but he is also concerned with the pleasure of the woman he is with. This was something not a lot of books dealt with — some still don’t.
As a girl I loved it when Mellors told Connie, after a particularly tender love scene, that it was particularly good that time because they “came off together”. I wasn’t sure what that meant exactly but it sounded good. In another scene when Connie is weepy and torn between her desire for him and loyalty to her husband they have sex but Mellors says that is wasn’t good that time because “thou weren’t there this time.” That’s another thing — I adored his brogue and the “thous” and the “thys”. Mellors taught Connie about her body — he taught me a thing or two about my own.
So tonight I will watch the final episodes and maybe even get out my copy of the book. Oliver Mellors is the kind of lover you can’t ever give up completely.
Thanks for reading.