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D H Lawrence discusses Lady Chatterley’s Lover at The Late Writers & Readers Festival with Mark Ulyseas
In Gethsemane: Transcripts of a Journey www.amazon.co.in
Some months ago when the moon played truant with the night and the shadows had taken a day off, a visitor from the twilight zone dropped in unannounced to invite me to the festival. The visitor, the director of the festival, was none other than Sylvia Plath. Her captivating melancholic demeanor was overwhelming so I had to accept the invitation.
There are no tickets or dinners or literary lunches or congregating culture vultures or for that matter book launches or book signing ceremonies. The uniqueness of this 24 x 7 festival is that every visitor can conduct a one on one with any (late) writer or poet by simply walking into a book shop and picking up one of his or her works; and then, reading it in the confines of one’s mind.
So join me dear readers on this truly enchanting journey through the labyrinth of the lexicon world of (late) authors who have often brought enlightenment to oppressed or suppressed peoples.
Just the other day I bumped into David Herbert Lawrence and wife Frieda (nee von Richthofen and cousin of the German Ace Fighter Pilot Baron Manfred von Richthofen aka the Red Baron) walking through the mist covered rice fields. I invited the couple to high tea, which they graciously accepted. So come the day we met at a restaurant to partake of decadence punctuated by the brilliance of David’s words.
This soft spoken author of such controversial works as Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1929) that was greeted with lawsuits for obscenity in England in 1960; and the collection of poems titled Pansies (1929) which was banned on publication in England; had been lambasted by the self appointed guardians of misplaced morality. They had uttered such statements as “…if a search were made through all the literature of all the ages, as foul a book might be found, not fouler…” and “…this book excels in filth…it was created out of the turgid vigour of a poisoned mind…”
After the pleasantries and pastries and steaming Kopi Bali, I asked David to tell me why he wrote Lady Chatterley’s Lover in a style deliberately to provoke the public.
“Mark, I lived in a society that had ‘corseted’ itself in narrow-mindedness to a point that even mention of sexual acts was an abomination. Putting it in print was vulgar. Yet promiscuity thrived in the privacy of homes, boarding houses and wheat fields. My novel is justified in so far as stating the truth, exposing the hypocrisy at that time. I detested the stifling contemporary morality.
The protagonists in the novel, Connie and Mellors, are symbols of individuality for they in a way, crafted their own moral code outside the confines of a prevalent culture. The love affair between an aristocrat and a game keeper is a challenge to society and instigation to reassess its social and sexual prejudices. The graphic rendition in words of the explicit sex scenes was a deliberate attempt to press home my point of view. Has anything changed since I died of tuberculosis in Vence, France in 1930?” he asked while sipping his Kopi Bali.
“Not really”, I replied, “There are pockets of morality that are entrenched in medieval mentality. Methinks the world in your time and now seems curiously unchanged in many ways. Your novel may still be banned in many countries for obscenity. I guess enlightenment is still on its way”.
For those readers who haven’t encountered this prolific writer’s book, here is a brief synopsis.
Constance (Connie) Chatterley is married to Sir Clifford, a writer, intellectual and landowner who is confined to a wheelchair as he has been injured in Flanders in the Great War. The couple reside at Wragby Hall in the Midlands. Connie has a short but unsatisfying affair with a well-known playwright, Michaelis, which is then followed by a steamy and passionate relationship with the game keeper, Oliver Mellors. She gets pregnant, goes to Venice to obscure the baby’s parentage. Finally, Connie decides to tell her husband the truth for she wants to be married to Mellors who is already married to someone else. The novel ends with Connie and Mellors, briefly separated, awaiting divorce from their respective spouses.
I requested David to read an excerpt from his novel that showed his sensitive portrayal of a woman. I handed him my copy.
He took the book from me and said that he would read aloud a part prior to Connie finding love in the arms of Mellors.
When Connie went up to her bedroom she did what she had not done for a long time: took off her clothes, and looked at herself naked in the huge mirror. She did not know what she was looking for, or at, very definitely, yet she moved the lamp till it shone full on her.
And she thought, as she had thought so often, what a frail, easily hurt, rather pathetic thing a human body is, naked; somehow a little unfinished, incomplete!
She had been supposed to have rather a good figure, but now she was out of fashion: a little too female, not enough like an adolescent boy. She was not very tall, a bit Scottish and short; but she had a certain fluent, down-slipping grace that might have been beauty. Her skin was faintly tawny, her limbs had certain stillness, her body should have had a full, down-slipping richness; but it lacked something.
….her breasts were rather small, and dropping pear-shaped. But they were unripe, a little bitter, without meaning hanging there….
She looked into the other mirror’s reflection at her back, her waist, her loins. She was getting thinner, but to her it was not becoming. The crumple of her waist at the back, as she bent back to look, was a little weary…the longish slope of her haunches and her buttocks had lost its gleam…only the German boy had loved it, and he was ten years dead, very nearly. How time went by!
Ten years dead, and she was only twenty-seven. The healthy boy with his fresh, clumsy sensuality that she had then been so scornful of! Where would she find it now? It was gone out of men. They had their pathetic, two-seconds spasms like Michaelis; but no healthy human sensuality, that warms the blood and freshens the whole being.
…but the front of her body made her miserable. It was already beginning to slacken, with a slack sort of thinness, almost withered, going old before it had ever really lived. She thought of the child she might somehow bear. Was she fit, anyhow?
She slipped into her nightdress, and went to bed, where she sobbed bitterly. And in her bitterness burned a cold indignation against Clifford, and his writings and his talk: against all the men of his sort who defrauded a woman even of her own body.
The sense of deep physical injustice burned at her very soul. –
David put down the book and for a moment looked out at the pink bougainvillea cascading over the ledge. The silence that hung heavy in the air was broken by Frieda’s soft voice announcing that they had to catch the Red Baron’s plane which was due to take off from the nearby football field. But before leaving the restaurant David put his hand on my shoulder and said,
“I have traveled with Frieda to Italy, the French Riviera, Germany, Ceylon, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, Mexico and the United States. Alas, I wish I had come to Bali and tasted its unabashed sensuality and luscious lifestyle. Maybe I will return in a coming lifetime for it appears I would be accepted here without prejudice.”
Twilight had set in as the plane roared off into the rising moon.
Nightfall blanketed my soul as I walked home to my woman friend clutching in my sweaty hands the paperback edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
I shall leave you with this poem by D H Lawrence titled Conundrums
Tell me a word
That you’ve often heard,
Yet it makes you squint
When you see it in print!
Tell me a thing
That you’ve often seen,
Yet if put in a book
It makes you turn green!
Tell me a thing
That you often do,
When described in a story
Shocks you through and through!
Tell me what’s wrong
With words or with you
That you don’t mind the thing
Yet the name is taboo!
Sections of this article appeared in my column Paradox in Paradise in www.thebalitimes.com
© Mark Ulyseas