Lady Chatterley's Lover
by D.H. Lawrence
Constance Chatterley (Connie)
Baby Got Back
Let's start with a little history lesson (don't worry—it's about fashion): Women's fashion changed radically in the 1920s, from long, heavy, tightly corseted dresses to short flapper styles. And women's bodies changed, or were supposed to change, too. Instead of the big breasts and butts that were popular in the turn of the century Edwardian era, small hips and boyish breasts were the new ideals.
Connie is never going to make the front cover of Vogue in this new world. As Lawrence puts it, she's a "ruddy, country-looking girl with soft brown hair and sturdy body, and slow movements, full of unusual energy. She had big, wondering eyes, and a soft mild voice, and seemed just to have come from her native village" (1.9). She's a soft-looking thing, so people think she's dumb. "It was not so at all" (1.9), Lawrence tells us.
But he doesn't offer us much to support it. Connie could be the smartest woman alive and you'd never know it from the way he talks about her body like a total perv, slobbering over her "pointed keen animal breasts" (15.95), and "lovely, heavy posterior" (15.98). Even though he criticizes Clifford's friends for assuming essentially—that if it looks like a country girl it thinks like a country girl—Lawrence isn't interested in much besides her body.
And neither is Mellors, who is constantly touching and admiring her body:
"Tha's got such a nice tail on thee," he said, in the throaty caressive dialect. "Tha's got the nicest arse of anybody. It's the nicest, nicest woman's arse as is! An' ivery bit of it is woman, woman sure as nuts. Tha'rt not one o' them button-arsed lasses as should be lads, are ter! Tha's got a real soft sloping bottom on thee, as a man loves in 'is guts. It's a bottom as could hold the world up, it is!" (15.110).
Sure, this is supposed to help Lawrence support his ideas about the proper relationship between men and women and it's better than him calling her fat, but it really just comes across as lascivious. It's hard to get a good idea of Connie's character when the narrator is constantly interrupting to talk about her boobs.
Turn-Ons: Compassion and Long Walks in the Woods
It's a shame that we don't learn more about Connie, because you get the sense that she is a cool chick. She had an "aesthetically unconventional upbringing" (1.9), meaning that her parents didn't raise her with strict post-Victorian morality. Her parents were artists and socialists, and she studied in Germany with her sister—all things that would make her opinions interesting.
This unconventional upbringing seems to have given her some compassion and sympathy. In fact, compassion appears to be a key component of her character. She even decides to sleep with Michaelis because she feels sorry for him, even though everyone knows that pity sex always comes with an expiration date:
Connie felt a sudden, strange leap of sympathy for him, a leap mingled with compassion, and tinged with repulsion, amounting almost to love. The outsider! The outsider! And they called him a bounder! How much more bounderish and assertive Clifford looked! (3.25)
Connie doesn't just have compassion for all humanity; she even has compassion for the "blind devotion" that the chickens feel for eggs "not their own" (12.112). This open, expansive heart seems to be what attracts Mellors to her. The first time he meets her, he thinks that "She's nicer than she knows" (6.158). And Mellors knows just the man to help her realize that.
The Great Change, #1
But before she can meet Mellors, Connie has to endure the humiliation of Michaelis—who, remember, she only has sex with because she feels sorry for him. When she rejects his offer of marriage, Michaelis attacks her bitterly, accusing her of being frigid in bed and basically being just like all the other girls. This speech "killed something in her. She had not been so very keen on Michaelis; till he started it, she did not want him" (5.145).
But instead of laughing at him for being a little pathetic, Connie really takes it to heart. She doesn't just give up on Michaelis, she gives up on men in general:
Her whole sexual feeling for him, or for any man, collapsed that night. Her life fell apart from his as completely as if he had never existed. (5.146)
After this, she can't handle Clifford and his friends. Like some teenager trapped on a road trip with her parents, she is "exasperatedly bored by it all, by Clifford, by Aunt Eva, by Olive and Jack, and Winterslow, and even by Dukes. Talk, talk, talk! What hell it was, the continual rattle of it!" (7.60).
Only Connie isn't a teenager, and this isn't a roadtrip; she's 27, and this is her life. It's taking its toll on her body, which is "going dull and opaque [...] no gleam and sparkle in the flesh. Old through neglect and denial, yes, denial" (7.7). She's trapped with Clifford, trapped at Wragby, and trapped in her own body. She needs to be rescued. She needs a knight in shining armor, or at least a gamekeeper in funny pants.
And she gets one.
The Great Change, #2
Mellors redeems Connie. He sees something in her—a quiet passion, an untapped sexuality—that no one else does. He sees her as a woman, where everyone else just sees her as Connie. Yeah—you'd think that she'd want people to see her as a person rather than a sex object, but, as it turns out, she likes to be objectified, or at least appreciated for her body.
Even Clifford sees the change in her, and it scares him: "he was frightened at the deep blue blaze of her eyes, and of her soft stillness, sitting there. She had never been so utterly soft and still. She fascinated him helplessly, as if some perfume about her intoxicated him" (10.356). Connie goes from being a dried-up old maid at 27 to a vibrant, vital woman full of life. Literally full of life: she's conceived a child. And it's all thanks to Mellors. When she orgasms with him, it's a rebirth: "she was gone, she was not, and she was born: a woman" (12.147).
So this is great. Connie is rescued and redeemed; yay for Connie. But we still feel a little unsatisfied, so to speak. Yeah, she's different; but there's no real change. It's more of an awakening than an actual character act. And she hasn't done anything on her own—It's all thanks to Mellors. He's the one who proposes sex; he's the one who wakens her body. All the choices she makes later, like going to Venice and divorcing Clifford, are just a result of this.
Is it satisfying? How believable is Connie as a character? Is she just a way for Lawrence to describe his ideal woman, or is she an individual in her own right?
We're not sure, but it's not looking too good for Connie.Connie Chatterley's Timeline