Lady Chatterley's Lover | Study Guide

D.H. Lawrence

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Lady Chatterley's Lover | Chapter 5 | Summary

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Summary

One frosty day in February Clifford Chatterley and Connie Chatterley go for a walk in the woods. The air is hazy, filled with sulfur from the pit bank, and only a bit of the blue sky shows. Frost covers everything—the path, the clods of dirt, the leaves, and tufts of dead grass. Everything in the woods is motionless. Clifford loves the woods and wants to preserve it and keep it "shut off from the world."

Clifford and Connie arrive at a clearing on a hill top. Sir Geoffrey Chatterley had cut all the trees for timber for the war. The place is now bare, with nothing but dead plants, tree stumps, and blackened patches of burnt brushwood. Connie can see clear through to the colliery railway and the Stacks Gate works, but she doesn't tell Clifford. Clifford wants the woods to remain untouched by the world, and he would be upset to know there was "a breach in the pure seclusion of the wood" that "let in the world." Clifford is having the trees replanted. As they rest on the top of the rise, he tells Connie he feels it is his family's responsibility to keep the woods intact in order to "preserve some of the old England."

Clifford tells Connie he would like it if she "had a child by another man." He doesn't care much about fatherhood but would like an heir to continue the tradition of preserving this part of England. He doesn't object to Connie having sex with another man in order to get pregnant. He considers "occasional sexual connections" a momentary excitement of less importance than the habit of living together. He believes the secret of marriage is the unity they develop from living together, not sex.

Connie feels both wonder and fear at Clifford's pronouncement. She thinks she could benefit from having sex with someone, as long as she returns to Clifford. She knows her affair with Michaelis is transitory. She asks Clifford if he cares whom she has sex with, and he tells her he trusts she "wouldn't let the wrong sort of fellow" touch her. She presses him on this, as she is clearly letting a man who is the wrong sort touch her. Clifford presses back and wants her agreement that casual sex means nothing to her and that she too thinks a "long life lived together" is what matters. His argument overwhelms Connie. She agrees with his ideas theoretically, but not when she applies them to her actual life. She wonders if it is "her destiny to go on weaving herself into his life all the rest of her life." She tells him she thinks he is right, but that "life may turn quite a new face on it all." She is aware that for now she is content to live with him with occasional adventures, but she knows she may have a different opinion in the future.

As they talk a man with a gun and a dog appears. He frightens Connie, but Clifford calls out to him. It is his gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors. Clifford asks him to turn his wheelchair and get it started and then to accompany them in case the chair sticks. Connie observes the gamekeeper. He reminds her of Tommy Dukes and strikes her more as a free soldier than a servant. Once she and Clifford are in the house, Connie asks about the gamekeeper and where he came from. Clifford explains he is a local Tevershall boy who is the son of a collier. He worked as a blacksmith and the gamekeeper at Wragby before the war, and Clifford hired him as the gamekeeper after the war. He has a wife, but she left him and is living with a collier.

As they talk Connie notices a "certain vagueness" coming into Clifford's eyes. She realizes his soul is wounded. Although his body's wounds have recovered, the damage to his soul is deepening and "fills all [his] psyche." She knows that although he appears healthy and is writing and seeming to get on with life, he is filled with fear and horror, and it is spreading throughout him and to her. This fills her with dread and a feeling of emptiness.

The next day Connie listens to Clifford talk, but now his "brilliant words seemed like dead leaves, crumpling up and turning to powder, meaning really nothing." A terrible sense of boredom envelops her. Their shared mental life, their marriage, their daily habits and intimacy lose their appeal and soon start "to feel like nothingness."

In the summer Michaelis returns to Wragby. He is flying high on the success of his most recent play, and even Clifford acknowledges his success and treats him better than in the past. Michaelis visits Connie in her sitting room and asks her to marry him. She feels nothing for him and tells him she is already married. He tries to persuade her to get a divorce and offers to give her a great time, jewels, dresses, travel, nightclubs, and fame. She still feels nothing at all, except a distinct distaste for success. She agrees to think about his proposal but points out Clifford does count and he is very disabled.

They meet that night and sleep together in his room. Unable to climax at the same time Michaelis does, Connie continues to move against his penis after he has orgasmed and finally brings about her own. Afterward he sneers at her for not climaxing at the same time he does. He accuses her of having to be in charge and bringing "herself off." Connie is shocked to the core. It is a life-changing event. He does not see that it is because he orgasms so quickly she is forced to be active and affect her own climax. He goes off on a tirade and tells her all women are like her. They are either "dead in there" or wait until he's done and bring themselves off. He states he has "never had a woman yet who went off just at the same moment" as he did. She had come so close to loving him, to wanting to marrying him, but his words kill everything she had felt for him—and for any man. Her sense of nothingness grows and the days become even drearier following this disillusionment.

Analysis

D.H. Lawrence uses nature imagery to represent the loss of the old way of life in England and Clifford's desire to preserve tradition. When Clifford and Connie go for a walk, frost covers everything. The frost and sulfur from the coal pit trap the air and make the woods seem unreal, like a suffocating dream. The woods, once a proud forest, are now a remnant of their former glory. They symbolize both Clifford and England itself, which is barely a remnant of its prewar self and no longer the world's major power. It has lost its glory both economically and politically. The lack of game and the loss of the timber represent the natural and human resources depleted from England to fight the war. For example, coal also was used for the war production, and the economy has not yet recovered. What is left behind are tree stumps and barren spaces, and injured veterans and huge voids. Those voids are the loss of purpose for both the country and its people, the meaninglessness and lack of direction that permeates the nation's spirit. Clifford possesses this meaninglessness. He writes stories, but they don't seem to mean anything. Connie is going through the motions of life, but it seems increasingly meaningless to her too.

The frost also represents winter, a season when nothing grows. Wragby is encased as if frozen in time. And Clifford wants to be sure it stays frozen. He does not want the world to intrude on it. He wants to keep it as it has always been. He is even replanting the trees, not so much because he is into reforesting for its own sake but to restore the woods to what they were for tradition's sake. If Clifford could, he would do the same for England and keep it "shut off from the world" so it would never change. The woods, to him, represent prewar England. He doesn't want it altered in any way. And he doesn't want modernity to intrude on it.

The sounds and sights of the colliery from the hilltop clearing demonstrate Clifford's inability to prevent the intrusion of the world on Wragby. The woods are not old England. The world has intruded. The sounds and sights of the coal pit and its workers intrude because of the clearing made for timber during the war. The war has broken the shield separating Wragby and the world beyond it. This represents the emerging breakdown of barriers between the social classes. The working class is encroaching on the estate and the lives of the aristocracy. It will soon be impossible for the aristocracy and the working class to live in separate worlds. The world of the aristocracy, like the woods, is becoming smaller, and the world of the working class is expanding.

In an example of situational irony, Clifford tells Connie he wants no one to trespass in the woods. He believes if he can keep the woods as it is, he can keep his life as it is. Yet it is Connie's excursions in the woods that lead to her liaison with Oliver Mellors, the gamekeeper—and that changes Clifford's world in ways he never foresaw or could imagine.

The nature imagery of the clearing also represents Clifford's sterility. Everything is described as dead and barren: "a ravel of dead bracken," "grasping roots, lifeless," and "patches of blackness." Nothing can grow in these damaged areas, just as Clifford cannot create new life.

Clifford's desire for an heir strikes Connie as cold—merely to continue his family's tradition and ownership of Wragby, not to create a human being who is free to choose his or her own path. As a result Connie begins to consider a life without Clifford. The seeds of discontent with Clifford have taken hold, and she suspects it is merely a matter of time before her desire for self-expression blooms and becomes more important than her life with Clifford.

Mellors's entrance into this scene signifies the contrast between the two men. Both were in the war, and Mellors is also suffering ill effects from it. He is somewhat frail and has difficulty breathing. Yet he is the one moving the chair and Clifford is stuck in it. Mellors appears vibrant, while Clifford appears incapable. Clifford is dependent on both his machinery and others to move, while Mellors is independent and able to function without such aids, despite his semiweakened state.

Connie's perception of Mellors's appearance as "a sudden rush of a threat out of nowhere" foreshadows the impact he will have on her life. He will threaten her life as she knows it and all the security and creature comforts associated with it. Connie interacts with Mellors as she does with the young men that assemble around Clifford—she stays mostly in the background but asks a question or two. Clifford disapproves of her behavior. He treats Mellors as a servant who is beneath him and expects Connie to act the same way. Connie dislikes these social class distinctions. She is more open to the changing England than Clifford and more willing to interact with others in an equal way. She also is very aware of Mellors and that he seems to notice and perceive things about her that her husband is oblivious to. The seeds to their future relationship have been sown, although Connie has no awareness of it. She is, however, totally dissatisfied with her life with Clifford. It has lost all meaning, and she no longer feels even the attraction of the mental life they once shared.

Lawrence uses nature imagery to describe this emptiness, comparing Clifford's "brilliant words" to "dead leaves, crumpling up and turning to powder." Connie now sees those words as totally lacking substance; they could be "blown away on any gust of wind." Despite Clifford's pride in them, they represent his decay, his lack of vitality. They are not "leafy words" but the "fallen leaves of a life that is ineffectual."

Clifford's wound in a way symbolizes England's wound. The country is trying to recover from the war and is making some progress. But there is a deeper wound than what is apparent on the surface. The very psyche of the nation has been wounded, just as Clifford's soul has. And the damage to the nation is insidious and spreading. It has destroyed the country's faith and optimism and has resulted in a generation of youth who are filled with emptiness and a sense of nothingness. Whereas Connie was spared the malaise affecting her generation, it has finally reached her through the emptiness of Clifford and their shared life.

This causes her to consider a life with Michaelis, but on the very day she considers this he turns on her and faults her for her sexual activity—something he has accepted and appreciated in the past. She senses perhaps he fears she was seriously considering marrying him and intentionally said cruel words to her to shatter the relationship. She is crushed, but Michaelis is too similar to Clifford to have offered anything meaningful. He was passive during sex, which required Connie to be active. He is full of talk but fears intimacy. Like Clifford he wants the recognition that comes with success and expects a woman to cater to his activity and his world. Despite his offering Connie all kinds of things to marry him, he never really asks what she wants. He certainly never tries to find out what she wants in bed and makes no effort to please her sexually. Instead he requires her to please herself and then blames her for not climaxing at "just the same moment" as he does, without recognizing his failure to help make that happen.

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