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Lady Chatterley's Lover | Study Guide

D.H. Lawrence

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Lady Chatterley's Lover | Chapter 4 | Summary



Connie Chatterley is attached to Clifford Chatterley, but he can't give her something she wants from a man. Rather than feeling like the world is full of opportunities, she's feeling her world is becoming smaller and more limited. Some of Clifford's former classmates at Cambridge start hanging out at Wragby on a regular basis. They are intellectuals and prize the life of the mind. They talk about sex, love, and philosophy—the world of ideas and the mind. The most frequent visitors are Charles May, Arnold Hammond, and Tommy Dukes. May is an Irish writer who writes about the stars. Hammond is a married writer with two children. Dukes is a brigadier general in the army.

One evening their talk centers on sex, as it frequently does, and Dukes tells Hammond that Hammond has a property instinct: he says Hammond wants a wife because it fosters his "life of the mind." Dukes says since he's been in the army and out of citizen life he has realized many men have an overdeveloped "craving for self-assertion and success," and they—and Hammond among them—think they will succeed better with a woman's backing and a woman making a comfortable home for them. May turns the conversation to the topic of permissive sex. He thinks since men are free to talk with anyone they want, they should be free to sleep with any women they want. He equates sex with dancing or talking about the weather as it is an "interchange of sensations instead of ideas." The conversation covers promiscuity and satisfying physical needs, with May arguing sex is merely a physical need like hunger that he needs to satisfy in order to allow his mind to fully function. He considers marriage an impediment to his mental processes, something that would detract from his ability to focus on his work and mental life. But just because he considers his mental life more important than sex, it does not mean he wants to live without women or sex. They are something he sometimes needs.

Dukes agrees with May's view of sex as an exchange of physical sensations rather than words as long as the two partners share some ideas and have "some emotion or sympathy in common." In other words, as long as they like each other it's okay to have sex. In fact if they like each other or have something in common, sex is a natural progression of their relationship. To deny it would not be decent. Hammond disagrees and accuses May of squandering energy he should be using for the pursuit of his ideas. By chasing woman he'll rob himself of what he could create if he devoted more time to those ideas. May laughs and says that's okay with him because in his view, Hammond's "pure mind is going as dry as fiddlesticks." Dukes accepts both Hammond's and May's views, saying whatever works for someone is all that matters. Sex is different for everyone. Since Hammond has a property instinct, marriage works for him. Since May wants to run after women, that's right for him as long as he doesn't do it too much.

Dukes then asks Clifford if he thinks "sex is a dynamo to help a man on to success in the world?" Clifford tries to dodge the question, citing his war injury, but Dukes tells him he still has a sound mind. Pressed for an answer, he says he supports getting married and considers the relationship of "man and woman who care for one another" a great thing, with sex perfecting the intimacy.

Connie enjoys listening to the men talk. She feels included because the men are revealing their minds to her. She finds this great fun, an alternative to men kissing her or touching her with their bodies. But she considers their minds cold and has more respect for Michaelis. He forms his own conclusions rather than couching them in "millions of words" or spouting off to celebrate the mechanisms of his thought processes. Connie is attracted to the life of the mind, but she finds the young intellectuals who congregate at Wragby somewhat pretentious. They are too hell-bent on "saving mankind, or on instructing it," rather than just trying to get through it.


The men's talk reveals different attitudes about sex. All of the men are modern and believe in the superiority of the cerebral over the physical. Everything other than the intellectual is of relative insignificance. Sex, being physical, is considered inferior to the life of the mind. Yet some of the men consider sex important to foster the life of the mind.

For Arnold Hammond, a married man, sex is an asset in his quest for success. He views a wife as someone who provides a supporting influence and environment in which he can pursue his intellectual ambitions. Clifford Chatterley, the other married man in this group, also believes a wife is an asset, but it is the shared intimacy, not the physical sex, that makes it valuable. In fact sex is absent in his marriage, but that does not diminish the intimacy. Charles May considers sex an exchange of sensations, like talk. He also views it as a basic primal need, like hunger. He approves of promiscuous sex, believing it benefits the intellectual life, and he feels no need for sex to be limited to married partners. Tommy Dukes acknowledges sex means different things to people. For him sex is necessary to be fully alive. He agrees it is an exchange of sensations, but since he has not met a woman he wants to exchange these sensations with he plans to stay celibate.

Dukes's attitude is the closest to D.H. Lawrence's. Dukes values sexual activity and realizes it is a source of knowledge that cannot be learned through the mind. He also supports profanity, believing there is nothing wrong with saying socially inappropriate words such as shit. Lawrence uses socially inappropriate words throughout his novel, words such as cunt and fuck, because he, too, finds nothing wrong with their use. The words themselves are pure and represent the body and sexual activity, which Lawrence does not consider shameful or objectionable.

Dukes represents the contemporary intellectual who maintains a separation between his intellectual theorizing and how he lives. In theory he values "a good heart, a chirpy penis, a lively intelligence, and the courage to say 'shit!' in front of a lady." In reality he is unable to form a relationship with a woman based on warmth and open sexuality. Even though he believes sex can enrich him and make him whole, he avoids sexual relationships. In contrast Lawrence believes sex not only can enrich a person but also that it is necessary to make a person fully alive. Its pursuit is the pursuit of life. Its avoidance is a life of emptiness and stultification, a void. Clifford, who has no physical life, represents a sexual void. He lacks the ability to learn the knowledge sex can bring. He is sterile and empty, no matter how his mind flourishes. Of all the men he seems the least likely to acknowledge the importance of sex and thus the least likely to be able to fill the void in his life.

Connie recognizes the different types of stimulation, both physical and mental. She has adopted the view of sex as an exchange of sensations, like talk. Yet for her the life of the mind both attracts and repels. She loves listening to the men talk and feels touched by learning their innermost ideas, but she doesn't accept everything they say. She senses something is missing in their lives and their ideas. No matter how well they sound, they are not quite on the mark. Connie observes how the young intellectuals prize themselves on their self-appointed mission to save the world. Lawrence believed only a more open attitude about sex could change the alienation, meaninglessness, and emptiness many people in postwar England and the rest of Europe felt.

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