Lady Chatterley's Lover
by D.H. Lawrence
Mellors comes out of nowhere. Literally. Connie is terrified of him at first, because "he seemed to emerge with such a swift menace. That was how she had seen him, like the sudden rush of a threat out of nowhere. He was a man in dark green velveteens and gaiters...the old style, with a red face and red moustache and distant eyes. He was going quickly downhill" (5.52).
This is what we call some heavy-handed foreshadowing. Sudden rush out of nowhere: he's about to change her life. "The old style": he's obsessed with some mythic past. "Quickly downhill": just the direction her life is about to go—although not really in a bad way.
Notice that this isn't about Mellors himself yet, just the effect that he's going to have on Connie. Not to worry: we're about to learn a lot about him. At first, Lawrence lets us into his secrets via the body—very appropriate. He approaches Clifford "with the same curious swift, yet soft movements, as if keeping invisible. He was moderately tall and lean, and was silent. He did not look at Connie at all, only at the chair" (5.56). Got that? He's silent, swift, and soft, like a ninja—a ninja of the heart. He sneaks into Connie's life and makes off with her respectability, her stability, and her love.
The other thing we get from this introduction to Mellors is that he's totally self-possessed. He looks at Connie "with a perfect, fearless, impersonal look" (5.59), staring right at her as if she's an equal rather than her husband's servant. But as strong as his mind is, his body is a little weak, "curiously full of vitality, but a little frail and quenched" (5.74).
Given Lawrence's obsession with bodies, this is actually a little odd. In fact, the narrator often mentions that Mellors's body is a little weak. Is it the fault of the modern world? Or is the physical condition of the body not important at all—is it just that you have to be in touch with your body? Could Clifford be like Mellors, if his mind were different?
International Man of Mystery
Mellors is man of contradictions. When he speaks to Clifford at first, he speaks great English, just like a well-educated middle-class or even upper-class man. But he can also slip into dialect. Connie's totally confused, thinking that "he might almost be a gentleman" (5.65).
It's hard for us to realize how important this question of Mellors's class status is. In 21st century America, the word "gentlemen" is pretty meaningless. America has its own version of a class system, but the traditional English social structure doesn't enter into it much. For Connie, it's almost like not being able to figure out what ethnicity someone is, or even what gender. Without knowing whether he's a gentlemen or not, Connie doesn't even know how to talk to him.
Clifford thinks he knows, though. He doesn't think much of Mellors's high-falutin' ways:
"He thinks he's something exceptional [...] some Indian colonel took a fancy to him, and he was made a lieutenant [...] it isn't easy for a man like that to get back to his own level. He's bound to flounder. But he does his duty all right, as far as I'm concerned. Only I'm not having any of the Lieutenant Mellors touch" (8.99).
Since regular people didn't often become army officers, Mellors's success says a lot for his "native breeding" (18.42).
Connie can't figure out why he's just a gamekeeper when he could be working at a much more dignified job. He even keeps a pretty impressive library, with "books about Bolshevist Russia, books of travel, a volume about the atom and the electron, another about the composition of the earth's core, and the causes of earthquakes: then a few novels: then three books on India" (14.269)—which is a lot more impressive than our bookshelves.
These books are holdovers from Mellors's days as a clerk (general office worker). He gets fed up with working in an office and starts blacksmithing: "shoeing horses mostly. It had been my dad's job, and I'd always been with him. It was a job I liked: handling horses: and it came natural to me. So I stopped talking ''fine'', as they call it, talking proper English, and went back to talking broad" (14.100). He may have crossed over the right side of the tracks, but, once there, he found out that he just didn't like it.
These contradictions—gentleman, gamekeeper; commoner, officer; atoms, novels—say a lot about Mellors's view of the world. Sure, he could be working at a respectable job, but he doesn't want to be a desk jockey. Wearing a blue collared shirt and pushing paper (or typing at a computer) at an office all day is exactly his idea of hell, because it's exactly the opposite of what a man should be doing, which is working with his hands at some agricultural-type job. Even working with your hands at a machine shop isn't manly enough for Mellors. Real men don't know anything about machines, but they know a lot about prancing around in red trousers and carving stools (19.165).
Mellors also has a bit of a temper. Connie is attracted to him because he looks "warm and kind [...] wonderfully warm, and kind, and at ease" (6.140), but he can move from that to anger and bitterness in a second. Instead of seeing his temper as a warning sign, Connie thinks it's hot: it "thrilled her and made her limbs go molten" (16.287). This anger is probably part of his general feeling that people should be more open and honest with each other. If he's mad, he's going to say something rather than sit and sulk about it.
The Common Man
Mellors is direct in all areas of his life. For example, when he needs to get dressed he just... gets dressed. Yeah, radical. But Connie has to adjust to it: "He could get up if he liked, and stand there, above her, buttoning down those absurd corduroy breeches, straight in front of her. After all, Michaelis had had the decency to turn away" (12.142). It seems totally vulgar to her to get dressed without even trying to hide it. And to wear corduroy is even worse.
Mellors also eats. Think about it—we never see Clifford eat. For that matter, we never see Connie eat, either. But Mellors eats, and he eats plain, common food: "potatoes and the remains of the chop; also bread in a basket, salt, and a blue mug with beer" (12.9). This is man-food, the steak and spicy wings of the 1920s. It's not fancy aristocrat food; it's hearty peasant food, and you get the idea that Lawrence really approves of Mellors's meal. It's supposed to tell us that Mellors, despite his education and fancy officer-title, is a man of the earth.
He's also a man of his hands. Connie notices that he's good with the chickens, and he's also good at building fires, making love, and of course, destroying picture frames: "sitting where he had sat before, he started to tear off the back-paper from the big frame, and to pull out the sprigs that held the backboard in position, working with the immediate quiet absorption that was characteristic of him" (14.65). We don't get this detailed description of activity anywhere else in the novel, and it keys us into the fact that Mellors is acting as the novel's moral center.
Well, no wonder he's the novel's moral center: he's also the novel's author. Sort of.
It's hard to escape the feeling that Mellors is just a mouthpiece for Lawrence's views—especially when he monologues for pages at a time. He rails against men, women, Bolsheviks, factory workers, the middle classes, aristocrats. Basically, if you're living and breathing, and you're not Mellors, he's got something to criticize. We're not just making this up: D. H. Lawrence was the son of a coal-miner, so there's definitely a little autobiography going on here.)
It's easy to agree with Mellors that "worshipping the mechanical thing" and thinking about money all the time is unattractive (15.60). It's weird, but inoffensive, that he wants men to wear "close red trousers, bright red, an' little short white jackets" (15.85). But it's a little bit harder to agree with his classification of women into five different categories depending on how they feel about sex—which seems more appropriate to a Cosmo article than a piece of Serious Literature.
It's hard to say how people in 1928 would have felt about Mellors, and sure, there would have been lots of different opinions. We have to be honest, though: he doesn't come across too well in the 21st century. It's a little hard to tell what Connie sees in him, especially considering that he doesn't make friends with anyone else—not her sister, not Duncan, and not even really Connie's father.
The only time that we get a hint of the good in Mellors is at the very end, when he writes Connie a frankly beautiful letter:
"My soul softly flaps in the little Pentecost flame with you, like the peace of fucking. We fucked a flame into being. Even the flowers are fucked into being between the sun and the earth. But it's a delicate thing, and takes patience and the long pause. So I love chastity now, because it is the peace that comes of fucking. I love being chaste now. I love it as snowdrops love the snow. I love this chastity, which is the pause of peace of our fucking, between us now like a snowdrop of forked white fire. And when the real spring comes, when the drawing together comes, then we can fuck the little flame brilliant and yellow, brilliant."(19.168-69)
Repetitions of the f-word aside, this is heart-meltingly lovely. It's beautiful writing and his love for Connie really comes through. Until this moment, it hasn't really been clear that he cares about her at all.
If we got a letter like this? We might consider running off with the gamekeeper, too.Oliver Mellors's Timeline