Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. Th_ataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up ne_ittle habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there i_ow no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over th_bstacles. We've got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.
This was more or less Constance Chatterley's position. The war had brought th_oof down over her head. And she had realized that one must live and learn.
She married Clifford Chatterley in 1917, when he was home for a month o_eave. They had a month's honeymoon. Then he went back to Flanders: to b_hipped over to England again six months later, more or less in bits.
Constance, his wife, was then twenty-three years old, and he was twenty-nine.
His hold on life was marvellous. He didn't die, and the bits seemed to gro_ogether again. For two years he remained in the doctor's hands. Then he wa_ronounced a cure, and could return to life again, with the lower half of hi_ody, from the hips down, paralysed for ever.
This was in 1920. They returned, Clifford and Constance, to his home, Wragb_all, the family 'seat'. His father had died, Clifford was now a baronet, Si_lifford, and Constance was Lady Chatterley. They came to start housekeepin_nd married life in the rather forlorn home of the Chatterleys on a rathe_nadequate income. Clifford had a sister, but she had departed. Otherwis_here were no near relatives. The elder brother was dead in the war. Cripple_or ever, knowing he could never have any children, Clifford came home to th_moky Midlands to keep the Chatterley name alive while he could.
He was not really downcast. He could wheel himself about in a wheeled chair, and he had a bath-chair with a small motor attachment, so he could driv_imself slowly round the garden and into the line melancholy park, of which h_as really so proud, though he pretended to be flippant about it.
Having suffered so much, the capacity for suffering had to some extent lef_im. He remained strange and bright and cheerful, almost, one might say, chirpy, with his ruddy, healthy-looking face, and his pale-blue, challengin_right eyes. His shoulders were broad and strong, his hands were very strong.
He was expensively dressed, and wore handsome neckties from Bond Street. Ye_till in his face one saw the watchful look, the slight vacancy of a cripple.
He had so very nearly lost his life, that what remained was wonderfull_recious to him. It was obvious in the anxious brightness of his eyes, ho_roud he was, after the great shock, of being alive. But he had been so muc_urt that something inside him had perished, some of his feelings had gone.
There was a blank of insentience.
Constance, his wife, was a ruddy, country-looking girl with soft brown hai_nd sturdy body, and slow movements, full of unusual energy. She had big, wondering eyes, and a soft mild voice, and seemed just to have come from he_ative village. It was not so at all. Her father was the once well-known R.
A., old Sir Malcolm Reid. Her mother had been one of the cultivated Fabians i_he palmy, rather pre-Raphaelite days. Between artists and culture_ocialists, Constance and her sister Hilda had had what might be called a_esthetically unconventional upbringing. They had been taken to Paris an_lorence and Rome to breathe in art, and they had been taken also in the othe_irection, to the Hague and Berlin, to great Socialist conventions, where th_peakers spoke in every civilized tongue, and no one was abashed.
The two girls, therefore, were from an early age not the least daunted b_ither art or ideal politics. It was their natural atmosphere. They were a_nce cosmopolitan and provincial, with the cosmopolitan provincialism of ar_hat goes with pure social ideals.
They had been sent to Dresden at the age of fifteen, for music among othe_hings. And they had had a good time there. They lived freely among th_tudents, they argued with the men over philosophical, sociological an_rtistic matters, they were just as good as the men themselves: only better, since they were women. And they tramped off to the forests with sturdy youth_earing guitars, twang-twang! They sang the Wandervogel songs, and they wer_ree. Free! That was the great word. Out in the open world, out in the forest_f the morning, with lusty and splendid-throated young fellows, free to do a_hey liked, and—above all—to say what they liked. It was the talk tha_attered supremely: the impassioned interchange of talk. Love was only a mino_ccompaniment.
Both Hilda and Constance had had their tentative love-affairs by the time the_ere eighteen. The young men with whom they talked so passionately and sang s_ustily and camped under the trees in such freedom wanted, of course, the lov_onnexion. The girls were doubtful, but then the thing was so much talke_bout, it was supposed to be so important. And the men were so humble an_raving. Why couldn't a girl be queenly, and give the gift of herself?
So they had given the gift of themselves, each to the youth with whom she ha_he most subtle and intimate arguments. The arguments, the discussions wer_he great thing: the love-making and connexion were only a sort of primitiv_eversion and a bit of an anti-climax. One was less in love with the bo_fterwards, and a little inclined to hate him, as if he had trespassed o_ne's privacy and inner freedom. For, of course, being a girl, one's whol_ignity and meaning in life consisted in the achievement of an absolute, _erfect, a pure and noble freedom. What else did a girl's life mean? To shak_ff the old and sordid connexions and subjections.
And however one might sentimentalize it, this sex business was one of the mos_ncient, sordid connexions and subjections. Poets who glorified it were mostl_en. Women had always known there was something better, something higher. An_ow they knew it more definitely than ever. The beautiful pure freedom of _oman was infinitely more wonderful than any sexual love. The only unfortunat_hing was that men lagged so far behind women in the matter. They insisted o_he sex thing like dogs.
And a woman had to yield. A man was like a child with his appetites. A woma_ad to yield him what he wanted, or like a child he would probably turn nast_nd flounce away and spoil what was a very pleasant connexion. But a woma_ould yield to a man without yielding her inner, free self. That the poets an_alkers about sex did not seem to have taken sufficiently into account. _oman could take a man without really giving herself away. Certainly she coul_ake him without giving herself into his power. Rather she could use this se_hing to have power over him. For she only had to hold herself back in sexua_ntercourse, and let him finish and expend himself without herself coming t_he crisis: and then she could prolong the connexion and achieve her orgas_nd her crisis while he was merely her tool.
Both sisters had had their love experience by the time the war came, and the_ere hurried home. Neither was ever in love with a young man unless he and sh_ere verbally very near: that is unless they were profoundly interested, _talking_ to one another. The amazing, the profound, the unbelievable thril_here was in passionately talking to some really clever young man by the hour, resuming day after day for months… this they had never realized till i_appened! The paradisal promise: Thou shalt have men to talk to!—had neve_een uttered. It was fulfilled before they knew what a promise it was.
And if after the roused intimacy of these vivid and soul-enlightene_iscussions the sex thing became more or less inevitable, then let it. I_arked the end of a chapter. It had a thrill of its own too: a queer vibratin_hrill inside the body, a final spasm of self-assertion, like the last word, exciting, and very like the row of asterisks that can be put to show the en_f a paragraph, and a break in the theme.
When the girls came home for the summer holidays of 1913, when Hilda wa_wenty and Connie eighteen, their father could see plainly that they had ha_he love experience.
_L'amour avait passe par la_ , as somebody puts it. But he was a man o_xperience himself, and let life take its course. As for the mot a nervou_nvalid in the last few months of her life, she wanted her girls to be 'free', and to 'fulfil themselves'. She herself had never been able to be altogethe_erself: it had been denied her. Heaven knows why, for she was a woman who ha_er own income and her own way. She blamed her husband. But as a matter o_act, it was some old impression of authority on her own mind or soul that sh_ould not get rid of. It had nothing to do with Sir Malcolm, who left hi_ervously hostile, high-spirited wife to rule her own roost, while he went hi_wn way.
So the girls were 'free', and went back to Dresden, and their music, and th_niversity and the young men. They loved their respective young men, and thei_espective young men loved them with all the passion of mental attraction. Al_he wonderful things the young men thought and expressed and wrote, the_hought and expressed and wrote for the young women. Connie's young man wa_usical, Hilda's was technical. But they simply lived for their young women.
In their minds and their mental excitements, that is. Somewhere else they wer_ little rebuffed, though they did not know it.
It was obvious in them too that love had gone through them: that is, th_hysical experience. It is curious what a subtle but unmistakabl_ransmutation it makes, both in the body of men and women: the woman mor_looming, more subtly rounded, her young angularities softened, and he_xpression either anxious or triumphant: the man much quieter, more inward, the very shapes of his shoulders and his buttocks less assertive, mor_esitant.
In the actual sex-thrill within the body, the sisters nearly succumbed to th_trange male power. But quickly they recovered themselves, took the sex-thril_s a sensation, and remained free. Whereas the men, in gratitude to the woma_or the sex experience, let their souls go out to her. And afterwards looke_ather as if they had lost a shilling and found sixpence. Connie's man coul_e a bit sulky, and Hilda's a bit jeering. But that is how men are! Ungratefu_nd never satisfied. When you don't have them they hate you because you won't; and when you do have them they hate you again, for some other reason. Or fo_o reason at all, except that they are discontented children, and can't b_atisfied whatever they get, let a woman do what she may.
However, came the war, Hilda and Connie were rushed home again after havin_een home already in May, to their mother's funeral. Before Christmas of 191_oth their German young men were dead: whereupon the sisters wept, and love_he young men passionately, but underneath forgot them. They didn't exist an_ore.
Both sisters lived in their father's, really their mother's, Kensingto_ousemixed with the young Cambridge group, the group that stood for 'freedom'
and flannel trousers, and flannel shirts open at the neck, and a well-bre_ort of emotional anarchy, and a whispering, murmuring sort of voice, and a_ltra-sensitive sort of manner. Hilda, however, suddenly married a man te_ears older than herself, an elder member of the same Cambridge group, a ma_ith a fair amount of money, and a comfortable family job in the government: he also wrote philosophical essays. She lived with him in a smallish house i_estminster, and moved in that good sort of society of people in th_overnment who are not tip-toppers, but who are, or would be, the rea_ntelligent power in the nation: people who know what they're talking about, or talk as if they did.
Connie did a mild form of war-work, and consorted with the flannel-trouser_ambridge intransigents, who gently mocked at everything, so far. Her 'friend'
was a Clifford Chatterley, a young man of twenty-two, who had hurried hom_rom Bonn, where he was studying the technicalities of coal-mining. He ha_reviously spent two years at Cambridge. Now he had become a first lieutenan_n a smart regiment, so he could mock at everything more becomingly i_niform.
Clifford Chatterley was more upper-class than Connie. Connie was well-to-d_ntelligentsia, but he was aristocracy. Not the big sort, but still it. Hi_ather was a baronet, and his mother had been a viscount's daughter.
But Clifford, while he was better bred than Connie, and more 'society', was i_is own way more provincial and more timid. He was at his ease in the narrow
'great world', that is, landed aristocracy society, but he was shy and nervou_f all that other big world which consists of the vast hordes of the middl_nd lower classes, and foreigners. If the truth must be told, he was just _ittle bit frightened of middle-and lower-class humanity, and of foreigner_ot of his own class. He was, in some paralysing way, conscious of his ow_efencelessness, though he had all the defence of privilege. Which is curious, but a phenomenon of our day.
Therefore the peculiar soft assurance of a girl like Constance Reid fascinate_im. She was so much more mistress of herself in that outer world of chao_han he was master of himself.
Nevertheless he too was a rebel: rebelling even against his class. Or perhap_ebel is too strong a word; far too strong. He was only caught in the general, popular recoil of the young against convention and against any sort of rea_uthority. Fathers were ridiculous: his own obstinate one supremely so. An_overnments were ridiculous: our own wait-and-see sort especially so. An_rmies were ridiculous, and old buffers of generals altogether, the red-face_itchener supremely. Even the war was ridiculous, though it did kill rather _ot of people.
In fact everything was a little ridiculous, or very ridiculous: certainl_verything connected with authority, whether it were in the army or th_overnment or the universities, was ridiculous to a degree. And as far as th_overning class made any pretensions to govern, they were ridiculous too. Si_eoffrey, Clifford's father, was intensely ridiculous, chopping down hi_rees, and weeding men out of his colliery to shove them into the war; an_imself being so safe and patriotic; but, also, spending more money on hi_ountry than he'd got.
When Miss Chatterley—Emma—came down to London from the Midlands to do som_ursing work, she was very witty in a quiet way about Sir Geoffrey and hi_etermined patriotism. Herbert, the elder brother and heir, laughed outright, though it was his trees that were falling for trench props. But Clifford onl_miled a little uneasily. Everything was ridiculous, quite true. But when i_ame too close and oneself became ridiculous too… ? At least people of _ifferent class, like Connie, were earnest about something. They believed i_omething.
They were rather earnest about the Tommies, and the threat of conscription, and the shortage of sugar and toffee for the children. In all these things, o_ourse, the authorities were ridiculously at fault. But Clifford could no_ake it to heart. To him the authorities were ridiculous _ab ovo_ , no_ecause of toffee or Tommies.
And the authorities felt ridiculous, and behaved in a rather ridiculou_ashion, and it was all a mad hatter's tea-party for a while. Till thing_eveloped over there, and Lloyd George came to save the situation over here.
And this surpassed even ridicule, the flippant young laughed no more.
In 1916 Herbert Chatterley was killed, so Clifford became heir. He wa_errified even of this. His importance as son of Sir Geoffrey, and child o_ragby, was so ingrained in him, he could never escape it. And yet he kne_hat this too, in the eyes of the vast seething world, was ridiculous. Now h_as heir and responsible for Wragby. Was that not terrible? and also splendi_nd at the same time, perhaps, purely absurd?
Sir Geoffrey would have none of the absurdity. He was pale and tense, withdrawn into himself, and obstinately determined to save his country and hi_wn position, let it be Lloyd George or who it might. So cut off he was, s_ivorced from the England that was really England, so utterly incapable, tha_e even thought well of Horatio Bottomley. Sir Geoffrey stood for England an_loyd George as his forebears had stood for England and St George: and h_ever knew there was a difference. So Sir Geoffrey felled timber and stood fo_loyd George and England, England and Lloyd George.
And he wanted Clifford to marry and produce an heir. Clifford felt his fathe_as a hopeless anachronism. But wherein was he himself any further ahead, except in a wincing sense of the ridiculousness of everything, and th_aramount ridiculousness of his own position? For willy-nilly he took hi_aronetcy and Wragby with the last seriousness.
The gay excitement had gone out of the war… dead. Too much death and horror. _an needed support and comfort. A man needed to have an anchor in the saf_orld. A man needed a wife.
The Chatterleys, two brothers and a sister, had lived curiously isolated, shu_n with one another at Wragby, in spite of all their connexions. A sense o_solation intensified the family tie, a sense of the weakness of thei_osition, a sense of defencelessness, in spite of, or because of, the titl_nd the land. They were cut off from those industrial Midlands in which the_assed their lives. And they were cut off from their own class by th_rooding, obstinate, shut-up nature of Sir Geoffrey, their father, whom the_idiculed, but whom they were so sensitive about.
The three had said they would all live together always. But now Herbert wa_ead, and Sir Geoffrey wanted Clifford to marry. Sir Geoffrey barely mentione_t: he spoke very little. But his silent, brooding insistence that it shoul_e so was hard for Clifford to bear up against.
But Emma said No! She was ten years older than Clifford, and she felt hi_arrying would be a desertion and a betrayal of what the young ones of th_amily had stood for.
Clifford married Connie, nevertheless, and had his month's honeymoon with her.
It was the terrible year 1917, and they were intimate as two people who stan_ogether on a sinking ship. He had been virgin when he married: and the se_art did not mean much to him. They were so close, he and she, apart fro_hat. And Connie exulted a little in this intimacy which was beyond sex, an_eyond a man's 'satisfaction'. Clifford anyhow was not just keen on his
'satisfaction', as so many men seemed to be. No, the intimacy was deeper, mor_ersonal than that. And sex was merely an accident, or an adjunct, one of th_urious obsolete, organic processes which persisted in its own clumsiness, bu_as not really necessary. Though Connie did want children: if only to fortif_er against her sister-in-law Emma.
But early in 1918 Clifford was shipped home smashed, and there was no child.