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Our narrator gets us off to a rousing start with a real downer of a statement about how hard life is because "Ours is essentially a tragic age" (1.1). Great, we can't wait to see how this one ends.
See, there's been this war. The Great War. Maybe you've heard of it? And Constance Chatterley is trying to pick up the pieces of her life. Not to be morbid, but, literally, the pieces of her life: her husband, Clifford, has been shipped home "more or less in bits" (1.3).
He manages tosurvive, with only the small matter of paralysis to deal with. Clifford is pretty happy, all things considered. He's got himself a sweet wheelchair, some nice suits, and it's just great to be alive. Oh—but he can't have children, and his brother died in the war, so his family name (and it's good one—even comes along with a title and an estate called Wragby Hall) is going to die out.
His wife is—cue the dramatic irony—named Constance. She looks like a friendly country girl, but she's actually kind of a radical chick.
Her mom was a Fabian, a member of a Socialist group, and she'd grown up around art, music, utopian politics, and probably a lot of really illegal drugs. (Or, hey, maybe legal—they sold heroin over the counter back then.)
She and her sister Hilda had studied music in Germany and hung out with "lusty and splendid-throated" German boys (1.11). Naturally, they had sex with these boys.
It wasn't about the sex, honest. They were just so excited that the boys were talking to them that they figured they might as well give the dudes what they wanted—even though, let's be honest, it's kind of gross.
Women, you see, are above sex. (Sorry guys, this is about to get less than flattering.) Girls only do it because the men insist "on the sex thing like dogs" (1.14) and cry like little babies if they don't get what they want.
When the girls go home for summer break, both their parents can tell they've had sex, but they're kind of hippies so they don't really care. The girls go back to Germany and continue their flings until war hits. Both boys die. The girls are sad, they guess, but pretty soon Hilda marries an older man and Connie takes up with Clifford Chatterley.
Clifford comes from a better background than Connie, but she's way more worldly. He's too busy thinking how ridiculous everything is to be much of a radical. Although, like any kid, he thinks his father is pretty much the most ridiculous thing around.
So, there's this war. Sir Geoffrey, Clifford's father, chops down his trees for the war efforts (they make trenches); Clifford's sister nurses; and Herbert, his brother, goes off to war. He gets himself killed, making Clifford the heir.
Suddenly, the entire future of the Chatterley family rests on Clifford's rather inadequate shoulders. He marries Constance, royally pissing off sister Emma—who has a little bit of a thing for her brother, if you ask us—and then promptly gets himself wounded in battle.
There go Sir Geoffrey's hopes, and there goes Sir Geoffrey to an early grave. Clifford is now the baronet, and Constance is Lady Chatterley. All we need now is the lover.