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Lady Chatterley's Lover | Chapter 17 | Summary

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Summary

Connie Chatterley and Hilda Reid argue in the car. Hilda thinks Connie is degrading herself by being involved with Oliver Mellors. Connie defends herself by saying she is experiencing real tenderness and sensuality with Mellors and perhaps Hilda has never had that. Standing up to her sister is a first, Connie feels great; she is no longer letting herself be dominated by someone else. As they travel to Venice, Connie feels disconnected from everything and does not enjoy any of the cities they visit or places they see. She dislikes being a tourist and wants to return to Wragby.

In Venice they spend their holiday lounging around, sunbathing, dancing, dining out, drinking, and going to exhibitions and plays. They see other young people they know, including Michaelis, and party with them. In one way Connie almost enjoys it. It is numbing, like a narcotic. But she cannot really enjoy it. She has no interest in rubbing her body against anyone else's when dancing, hates the mass of nearly naked bodies at the beach, and likes it best when she and her sister escape the crowds and go off on their own to a lagoon. They hire Giovanni as their gondolier, and he and Daniele, a fellow gondolier, take them to the more secluded lagoon area. Giovanni is ready to sell his body to the women, hoping to earn a big tip, but neither Connie nor Hilda takes him up on it.

Connie receives several letters about news at Wragby. From Clifford's first letter she learns Oliver Mellors's estranged wife, Bertha Coutts, has returned to his cottage and planted her naked self in his bed. Mellors is now staying at his mother's house. His estranged wife is living in his cottage and has no plans to leave it. She refuses to give him a divorce and says he has had a woman at the cottage, that she has found a woman's items in his rooms. And the postman has verified it by saying he heard a woman's voice one morning and saw a motorcar in the lane. Mellors finally forces her out, but she spreads rumors they had sex when she was at the cottage. And she's saying he did all kinds of ghastly sexual things to her when they were together.

The news hits Connie hard, but what repels her is that Mellors had been sensual with Coutts in the past. She considers this common and thinks it would be humiliating if anyone learned of their affair. After she talks to Duncan Forbes, an artist friend who is also vacationing in Venice, she changes her attitude. She realizes Mellors has not done anything despicable. What he had done was given her "exquisite pleasure and a sense of freedom," made her feel alive, and released her own sensuality. So she writes to Mellors and sends the letter to Mrs. Bolton, asking her to deliver it to him. In it she tells him not to worry about the troubles his wife is causing because they will blow over.

Clifford's second letter tells her Coutts is airing "in detail all those incidents of her conjugal life which are usually buried down in the deepest grave of matrimonial silence." This has resulted in a scandal, and the villagers view Mellors as a monster. Clifford interviewed him and asked if he can do his job satisfactorily with all the talk and scandal. Mellors said he had not neglected his work, and people "should do their own fuckin'" rather than listening to tales about someone else's. Clifford considered his language inappropriate and told him so, to which Mellors replied Clifford was not the man "to twit me for havin' a cod atween my legs." Mellors also refused to say whether he had entertained a woman at his cottage, and when Clifford told him he expected decency to be "observed on my estate," Mellors told him to "button the mouths o' a' th' women." Clifford considers Mellors highly impertinent, and the end result is that Mellors is leaving his job and Wragby in about a week.

Connie also receives a letter from Mellors. He explains his estranged wife found a few of Connie's items in the cottage and told everyone he is having an affair with Lady Chatterley. Coutts disappeared after the rector, Clifford, and Mr. Burroughs threatened legal action against her. Clifford then called him in, told him his wife's name had been mentioned in the scandal, and fired him. Mellors tells Connie he is leaving on Saturday and gives an address where he is staying in London. Connie wishes Mellors had stood up to her husband and proudly acknowledged he was her lover.

Analysis

This chapter continues Connie's and Mellors's attempts to extricate themselves from the complications in their lives so they can be together. It also shows how Connie's physical distance from Wragby does not protect her from the messy aspects of their affair. Clifford Chatterley has not informed her of his knowledge of her affair, but Mellors's letter does. As is typical, Clifford brushes over things he wishes did not exist. Connie's desire to be with Mellors is strong, however, and she trusts Mrs. Bolton with a letter for him despite the risk.

Connie's wish that Mellors had admitted the affair to her husband reveals Connie's desire to be done with Clifford regardless of any loss to her reputation. The relationship with Mellors is more real and meaningful than her reputation, her financial security, or anything else Clifford or Wragby can offer. Mellors's lack of comforting words upsets Connie, but it reveals his refusal to influence her. He wants her to make her own decision about leaving Clifford without persuasion based on his own desires. This shows his respect for her as an individual with her own will, rather than an attempt to exert his will over her. It is so different than how Clifford interacts with her. Clifford attempts to control her with his allusions to lofty ideas that are meant to demoralize her and make her question herself—all for the purpose of keeping her captive as part of the fabric of his life, with little thought as to what she wants or desires.

Bertha Coutts represents a woman scorned. She wants to create havoc in Mellors's life not because she desires him but because he no longer desires her. Although she had been living with another man, she had done so by her own free choice. Now that Mellors has asked for a divorce, she faces the fact he has rejected her and it brings out the worst in her. She wants to ruin his reputation, destroy his home, and make him lose his job even though she has nothing to gain from any of this. She is anger personified, the antithesis of love as Connie and Mellors see it as warm hearted.

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