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Lady Chatterley's Lover | Study Guide

D.H. Lawrence

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Lady Chatterley's Lover | 11 Things You Didn't Know


The story of an upper-class married woman's affair with a gamekeeper, D.H. Lawrence's 1928 novel Lady Chatterley's Lover shocked readers with its frank language and sexual explicitness. Lady Chatterley's Lover was banned for obscenity and wasn't published in its entirety in the United States until 1959 and in Great Britain until 1960. The notoriety of the book spurred its sales after publication of the uncensored edition, and it immediately became a best seller. Though critics place many of Lawrence's other novels among the greatest literary works of the 20th century, Lady Chatterley's Lover is his best-known novel, considered by as one of the sparks of the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

1. Lady Chatterley's relationship with her gamekeeper may have been based on a real-life affair.

Many critics believe that the love affair between Lady Chatterley and her gamekeeper, Mellors, was based on the real-life affair between Lady Ottoline Morrell and a stonemason named Lionel "Tiger" Gomme. Lady Ottoline was a friend of Lawrence's and a mentor to many of the writers of the time. She was an extremely tall, fascinating woman who was married to a member of parliament. She had affairs with many men—and possibly some women—but her greatest love and "only ecstatic sexual relationship" was Gomme, who died in her arms of a brain hemorrhage.

2. A review in the hunting magazine Field and Stream praised Lady Chatterley's Lover for its information about gamekeeping.

Field and Stream reviewed Lady Chatterley's Lover soon after its publication in the United States in 1959. Whether intentionally or not, the review was hilarious, claiming:

Unfortunately, one is obliged to wade through many pages of extraneous material in order to discover and savor these sidelights on the management of a Midlands shooting estate, and in this reviewer's opinion this book cannot take the place of J.R. Miller's Practical Gamekeeping.

The review also noted the novel's accurate treatment of poaching and pheasant raising.

3. Lady Chatterley's Lover was the subject of a famous obscenity trial in Britain.

In 1959 the British parliament passed a new law against obscenity. When attorney general Reginald Manningham-Buller read the first chapters of Lady Chatterley's Lover, he decided to make the book a test case for the law. In his opening speech the prosecutor counted out the number of bad words Lawrence used throughout the book and seemed rather confused about what was happening in some of the sex scenes, saying: "Not very easy, sometimes, not very easy, you know, to know what in fact he is driving at in that passage." Academic critics, including writer E.M. Forster, spoke in the book's defense, with Forster calling Lawrence one of the great English writers.

The public was thrilled by the trial; newspaper headlines read "Lady C in the Dock Today!" The judge seemed inclined to rule against the book and Penguin, its publisher, but the jury was more sympathetic. After five days at trial, they declared that Penguin was not guilty of publishing obscenity.

4. Lady Chatterley's Lover was put on trial in the United States in 1959.

In 1959 a small American publisher, Grove Press, attempted to publish an unexpurgated version of Lady Chatterley's Lover. Citing the Comstock Act, a federal act passed in 1873 forbidding the circulation of obscene material, the U.S. Postal Service seized copies of the book. Lawyer Charles Rembar defended the book, with experts attesting to its literary merits, but he lost the case. Rembar then sued the postmaster general and won, and the ruling was upheld by an appeals court in 1960, making the publication of the book legal in the United States.

5. Lady Chatterley's Lover became a best seller—30 years after the author's death.

Lady Chatterley's Lover wasn't published in an uncensored version until 1960, three decades after Lawrence's death. After several widely publicized obscenity trials over its sexually explicit content, the book finally went on sale to the general public. On its publication day, November 10, it sold 200,000 copies, making it an immediate best seller.

6. There were three different versions of Lady Chatterley's Lover published, each more explicit than the last.

Lawrence wrote three versions of Lady Chatterley's Lover, all very different. The first was finished in 1926 and is now called The First Lady Chatterley. It has no explicit sex scenes and focuses more on the social and familial ties in its characters' community. The second version is called John Thomas and Lady Jane, the names that Lady Chatterley and Mellors assign to their genitals. While it does include scenes of sexual encounters, they are far more reserved than in Lawrence's final version. That third version was finished in 1928 and privately published, as Lawrence's publishers and agent did not want to deal with the scandal that would ensue from its publication. The first two versions were published in 1944 and 1954.

7. A U.S. senator who hadn't read Lady Chatterley's Lover called it "disgusting," "dirty," and "vile" during a debate over banning it.

In March 1930 the U.S. Senate planned to debate the censorship of foreign books, including Lady Chatterley's Lover, on the grounds of obscenity. Utah senator Reed Smoot led the debate, declaring, "I did not believe there were such books printed in the world. They are lower than the beasts!" When another senator claimed that Smoot had contributed to the popularity of the novel, he leapt to his feet, crying:

I have not read it. It was so disgusting, so dirty and vile that the reading of one page was enough for me. I've not taken ten minutes on Lady Chatterley's Lover, outside of looking at its opening pages. It is most damnable! It is written by a man with a diseased mind and a soul so black that he would obscure even the darkness of hell!

The result of the debate was that Customs agents were not permitted to decide on a book's obscenity but could seize books that would then go before a court to be judged. Both sides believed they had won.

8. The Gotham Book Mart in New York City sold bootleg copies of Lady Chatterley's Lover in the 1920s and 1930s.

The Gotham Book Mart was a famous and beloved bookstore that opened in New York City in 1920. Its owner, Frances Steloff, was devoted to literature. She defied the authorities who had banned Lady Chatterley's Lover in the United States and sold illegal copies of the book through the 1920s and 1930s. The bookstore closed in 2007.

9. Lawrence supposedly liked to climb mulberry trees while nude to stimulate his imagination.

Many writers have peculiar ways of inspiring their imaginations. American writer Benjamin Franklin wrote in the bathtub, and French novelist Colette picked fleas from her cat before putting pen to paper. Lawrence stated that he liked to climb mulberry trees naked to prepare for writing. Apparently there was something about the feeling of the rough bark against his skin that helped him think.

10. Some scholars believe the character of Lady Chatterley was based on Lawrence's wife, Frieda.

Lawrence married Frieda Freiin von Richthofen in 1914. While the couple was living outside Florence in the 1920s, they met Angelo Ravagli, an Italian army officer, and Lawrence taught him English. He didn't realize that his wife was attracted to the younger man, however, and critics believe that when Lawrence was battling the tuberculosis that later killed him, Frieda began an affair with Ravagli. The relationship became the basis for Lady Chatterley's affair. Frieda married Ravagli after Lawrence's death.

11. Some feminist critics considered Lady Chatterley's Lover to be "phallocentric."

Lawrence has long been a target for feminists, and renowned feminist critic Kate Millett took particular aim at Lady Chatterley's Lover. She stated that Lady Chatterley displayed "feminine weakness" by depending on Mellors for fulfillment. Critics claim Lawrence is guilty of phallocentrism, the theory that the phallus, or penis, is the center of both sexual development and the social order. Lawrence himself said "the phallus is the only great old symbol of godly vitality in a man." However, Lawrence also claimed that his novel was intended to help "men and women to think about sex, fully, completely, honestly and cleanly."

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