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Lady Chatterley's Lover | Chapter 1 | Summary

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Summary

Constance Chatterley and Clifford Chatterley marry in 1917, while Clifford is on leave. After he returns to fight at Flanders, he is badly injured. He spends two years recovering at a hospital in England and is discharged with the lower half of his body paralyzed. He and Constance, also called Connie, move to Wragby, his family's estate in the Midlands, in 1920.

Constance Chatterley is "a ruddy, country-looking girl" who is a member of the leisure class. Her father is Sir Malcolm Reid; her deceased mother was a cultivated Fabian, a member of a British society whose aim was to spread socialism gradually. Her parents immersed her and her sister Hilda in the world of progressive ideas. They were surrounded by artists and Socialists and frequently traveled to European cities to visit art museums and attend Socialist conventions. They lived in Dresden, Germany, when they were teens, where both had affairs with young men before they were 18. The main attraction was the talk—arguments and discussions—not love or sex. In fact after having sex both felt "less in love with the boy afterwards." They viewed sex as something glorified by poets, male poets, whereas "women had always known there was something better, something higher." Connie returned to Kensington, England, when she was 18. The Great War, now known as World War I, had started. Her lover and her sisters were both dead. Connie hung out with a new group of men, the Cambridge group, and met Clifford Chatterley through the group.

Clifford Chatterley is 22 when he and Connie first meet. He had studied at Cambridge for two years, then had gone to Bonn, Germany, to study coal-mining technology. When war broke out he joined the military and is a first lieutenant. A member of the aristocracy, his deceased mother had been a viscount's daughter and his father is a baronet. Like other young men he is a rebel of sorts, rebelling against authority—his parents, the government, the governing class, and even the war. He finds everything ridiculous, especially the efforts of his father, Sir Geoffrey Chatterley, to support the war by cutting down the estate's trees for trench props and sending colliery workers off to war.

In 1916 Clifford's brother, Herbert Chatterley, is killed in the war and Clifford becomes the heir to the family's estate and fortune. His father urges him to marry and produce an heir. This both appeals to and repels him. He considers his father a relic of the past with his ridiculous ideas about tradition and patriotism. Yet in a world shattered by war, the idea of marrying is inviting. A wife would provide support and comfort; she would be "an anchor in the safe world."

After Clifford marries Connie in 1917, they have a months-long honeymoon. They consummate the marriage, but the "sex part did not mean much to him." And it did not mean much to Connie, either. Both view their relationship as a very close one in which their intimacy is dependent on something beyond sex.

Analysis

Chapters 1 through 7 provide background on the characters, setting, and themes. In this chapter Lawrence introduces two main characters. Connie and Clifford Chatterley. They are both members of the young intelligentsia, but they have some fundamental differences. Clifford belongs to a higher social class than Connie, but his world is smaller and narrower. Connie is more progressive and has been exposed to a wider variety of people, whereas Clifford is more provincial and has had limited exposure to the world at large. Connie feels at ease with artists, Socialists, and German intellectuals, while Clifford is uncomfortable with people outside his social strata.

While Clifford seems to have youth's typical scorn for authority, he has mixed feelings. He finds his father's overt patriotism ridiculous, yet he is willing to honor tradition and return to his family's estate to continue that tradition and produce an heir. At the same time though, he doesn't seem enthused about it. He appears to be withdrawing from society and using marriage and the estate as safe harbors in a dangerous and menacing world.

While all of postwar England seems newly changed, Clifford's world is especially altered. His physical injury seems to have affected his mind and spirit. His face often shows "the slight vacancy of a cripple." Something within him has died, as if "some of his feelings had gone."

Connie does not share his emptiness. She knows the world has changed because of the war, but she is optimistic and determined to go on living, "no matter how many skies have fallen." She is content being married to Clifford despite their lack of sexual intimacy. For both of them, sexual intimacy is unimportant. Before she married Connie had craved intimacy based on talk, and sex was just something almost accidental. Now married, she views their sexless marriage as superior to one with sex because they have a "deeper, more personal" intimacy than one brought about through physical intimacy. That seems sufficient to her. Clifford does not mind the loss of sex in their marriage, either. He was a virgin when they married, and "the sex part did not mean much to him."

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