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1960 marks one of the only times literary critics have been called as expert witnesses in a trial in the United Kingdom—or maybe anywhere. E.M. Forster, Helen Gardner, and Raymond Williams, an all-star team of scholars, were called as witnesses to convince the British court that Lady Chatterley's Lover was more than just porn. And they succeeded. Lady Chatterley's Lover would join the ranks of works with, as the U.S. had decided a year earlier, "redeeming social or literary value."
Take it from us: Lady Chatterley's Lover isn't just about the dirty bits.
Anxieties about the state of the modern world are probably as old as the world itself. But there's no denying that, in the Western world, they seem to have become a lot more pressing at two major points in recent history: the Industrial Revolution and World War I. Mid-Victorian has the Industrial Revolution covered. For World War I, you have to turn to modernist writers—just like D. H. Lawrence.
World War I was a brutal war, with nasty new killing technologies, like poison gas, gleefully grafted onto old-fashioned military tactics. Staggering numbers of people died. The ones who survived came home with a sense that everything they knew about the world was wrong. There was no common humanity. There was no progress towards a bright new future. Gloomy, right?
Writers picked up on this. Even before the war, they had started to get suspicious of the nice little narrative of 19th-century novels. These novels had Hollywood endings avant la lettre (that's a fancy way of saying that they were Hollywood endings before Hollywood existed): they punished the bad and rewarded the good with a surprise fortune and a happy marriage. After World War I, this suspicion of clear narratives and neat endings ramped up. Writers, artists, and musicians—basically anyone involved in producing any sort of culture—started to experiment with new ways of expressing a new understanding of the world.
D(avid) H(erbert) Lawrence was a man of his time. His books—Sons and Lovers (1913), Women in Love (1920), and, of course, Lady Chatterley's Lover—explored the unhappy relationships of men and women living in a modern world characterized by ennui, dissatisfaction, and hopelessness. You know, standard checkout-lane stuff.
D. H. Lawrence came by his unhappiness honestly. He was the son of a coal miner, so his coal-mining character Oliver Mellors has the voice of someone who knows what he's talking about. After escaping through education and inborn awesomeness, he realizes that the middle and upper classes are just as bad as the working classes. No, it's not really a happy book. And Lawrence has some nasty opinions about anyone who's a not an able-bodied Anglo dude. But if you can read past all that, you might find that what he's saying about the modern word sounds pretty familiar.
The easy answer to "Why should I care?" is "Dude, it's pornography."
But we're not going to give you the easy answer, because the easy answer is boring. Yeah. There's sex. Detailed sex. There are words like "penis" and "loin," and there are also words like "f***" and "cunt." Did Lawrence intend for these scenes to titillate? Who knows. What matters about the scenes is that they express his belief in the power of touch and tenderness.
Because Lady Chatterley's Lover isn't about sex, and it's not even really about love. It's about the desperate need for people to step back from the machines and just have a good cuddle.
If D.H. Lawrence were alive today, he'd have the same concerns. One of the major debates in education and business today is whether it's better to be high-touch or high-tech. Advocates of high-tech insist that computers, iPads, teleconferences, a little website called Shmoop—all these tools of a technologically adept world—improve business, education, and even interpersonal relationships. High-touch advocates say that there's no replacing simple human contact. A teleconference can't take the place of working side by side with someone. A series of educational videos and bulletin boards can't beat a teacher facilitating a discussion in a brick-and-mortar classroom.
Show D.H. Lawrence OkCupid, and he'd probably beat his head against the nearest wall.
You may not be married to a paralyzed English aristocrat, and you may never have seen a pheasant, but the concerns of Lady Chatterley's Lover are the concerns of anyone who has ever uttered the words "screen time." Does sitting in front of a computer or a Playstation really de-humanize us? Can text messages keep families together when their members live on opposite sides of the country? Does having 547 friends on Facebook equal the power of a simple hug? How do we live in the modern world and still think of ourselves as natural beings who are part of a living world?
If you've ever opened up a newspaper (or, let's be honest, a web browser) and felt depressed about the state of the modern world; if you've ever suspected you might be happier baking bread and building fences than learning integral calculus or sitting in front a computer writing a term paper on Lady Chatterley's Lover—this book is for you.
Australia: famous for deadly animals and banning Lady Chatterley's Lover all the way until 1965. Check out the University of Melbourne's special exhibition on banned books
Not banned enough?
A British journalist suggests that maybe we're too liberated.
Get your copy here
Lady Chatterley's Lover can still be a little hard to find in print. Luckily, you don't have to. Here's the full text, ready for you to read without anyone finding out.
Parental Discretion Advised
This website collects a bunch of early 20th-century ads for vibrators as the cure to whatever ails you: obesity, gout, and all.
Meager literary gifts, or huge… talent?
Writers debate D. H. Lawrence's literary merit in preparation for the obscenity trials.
Now For Something Completely Serious
Get your scholarly on with an official D. H. Lawrence website.
Lady Chatterley's Lover (1981)
Full-frontal nudity—male and female. Just don't look here for quality filmmaking. And please don't watch with your parents in the room.
Lady Chatterley (1993)
The BBC classes it up as much as possible, which isn't much.
Lady Chatterley (2006)
Based on the second version of the novel, John Thomas and Lady Jane, this French adaptation combines the best of both worlds: full-frontal nudity and class.
You should hear him on snakes
Dylan Thomas reading Lawrence's "Whales Weep Not!"—a poem made famous in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.
Relatively Safe for Work
Check out the official trailer for the award-winning 2006 French adaptation.
You only need to look at the unmarked cover of this book to know that it's dirty.
U.K. cartoonist Hunt Emerson adapted Lady Chatterley's Lover as a comic book. It's out of print, but you can still check out the cover here: