Lady Chatterley's Lover

Lady Chatterley's Lover Summary and Analysis of Chapter 17

Chapter 17

Constance and Hilda disagree on the meaning of Constance's relationship with Mellors. Constance claims that she has found real tenderness with Mellors, and she accuses Hilda of being too self-conscious to achieve such a relationship. Hilda, who is in the middle of a divorce, counters that what she sought was a complete intimacy, in which ideas were shared with another person. Constance thinks that Hilda is a slave to her own idea, whereas Hilda thinks that Constance is a slave to someone else's idea. Constance however, is unconvinced by Hilda, and finally feels as if she has attained freedom from the dominion of her sister.

The two head to London, where they meet with their father, Sir Malcolm. To Constance, everyone in London seems to be spectral or blank. The family travels to Paris. Constance notes that there is some sensuality in this city, but it is worn out. Everything is devoted to the mechanism and tension of money there. Constance believes that Wragby is more real than all these places she travels to. She wonders what people meant to do with just simply "enjoying" themselves as tourists, as she believes the touristic experience is humiliating.

In Italy, the family stays at the Villa Esmeralda, where they hire a gondolier named Giovanni for the time of their stay. Giovanni is an affectionate, but passionless person. There are seven other people also staying in the house, and Constance notes how much they all "enjoy" their time there. Michaelis, her former lover, also turns up in Italy during her stay, and he too likes being drugged with enjoyment, she notices.

Constance is unhappy in Italy. She finds she is happiest only when she is bathing alone.

On one trip, the gondolier Giovanni tries to seduce the two sisters, Hilda and Constance. He brings a man named Daniele, but Daniele is not that interested. Constance meanwhile recognizes that she is pregnant.

Meanwhile Constance receives letters from her husband and from Mrs. Bolton. Clifford tells her that there has been quite a scandal at Wragby Hall because Mellors' wife, Bertha Coutts, has shown up. Bertha broke into Mellors' home and planted herself naked there, so as to seduce Mellors. She would not leave when he refused her, so he escaped to his mother's home in Tevershall. Mrs. Bolton also writes to tell Constance that Mellors' wife found a scent bottle and cigarette butts in Mellors' cottage and started accusing him of sleeping with other women. Bertha also heard from the postman that he had once overheard Mellors with a guest in the early morning.

The ordeal makes Constance angry. She at first is disgusted by the classlessness of the whole affair. She almost envies virgins at this point. She has a desire for respectability. She had left her own perfume bottle out of folly, and the cigarette butts belonged to Hilda. Constance confides in a man at Villa Esmeralda, named Duncan Forbes. He is an artist who is in love with Constance. Duncan tells her that the village won't rest until they've finished Mellors, because they are offended by the idea of someone being open in their sex. After Constance talks to Duncan she starts feeling revolted in the opposite direction: she is not disgusted by the classlessness of the affair, but rather she realizes that Mellors is the only thing that has given her pleasure in life, and that he had not done anything wrong. But she starts to feel as if she does not want to go back to him.

Constance desperately sends a letter to him through Mrs. Bolton. Meanwhile, Clifford writes more to her about the scandal. He has apparently let Mellors go because it was the only way to get rid of the wife, who had begun spreading malicious rumors. He also lectures her about how the current world is really a deep ocean and that one comes up for air only at opportune, transitory moments. He believes it is the destiny of humans to escape this state of affairs.

Mellors writes to Constance that Bertha had found a book with Constance's name. He tells her he will go to London. He writes nothing about Constance herself, which she resents. But she also realizes that this means he is leaving her free to decide. Constance begins to wish that she had told Clifford herself that Mellors was her lover.


Lawrence is notably distinguishing himself from many other philosophers here because true freedom seems to be achieved not through a person's thought and ideas, but rather, by the absence of ideas, the freedom to contradict one's thought. This is the meaning of Hilda and Constance's conversation. Constance believes that Hilda is a slave to her idea that she must find another person who agrees with her thoughts -- she is a slave to her idea of selfhood.

Lawrence makes a commentary on tourism and travel here. This was a relatively new phenomenon during his time, insofar as intercontinental railways made travel between various cities possible. Lawrence sees tourism not as a true experience of other places, but rather he notes that people just try to "enjoy" themselves. He is critiquing it as a capitalist phenomenon where experience of other countries is valuable only in some way tangential to economic value. We might conceive of this critique in more practical terms as the idea that when we go visit a country, that visit is important not for the new experiences we obtain there, but only insofar as the visit itself makes us seem worldly.

Constance is very ambivalent about the Bertha Coutts affair. At first she is disgusted because she has involved herself in an affair that has become a public scandal. This shows that Constance is still subjecting herself to the norms of the public, and is capable of feeling shame about her actions. However, she then has revulsion in the opposite direction, where she realizes that it is society that is actually the sordid thing, and her love with Mellors is the natural, beautiful thing.

Clifford again serves as a mouthpiece for an idealist view of the world that is trying to transcend the sordid and bodily functions of the human being. This is indicative of Lawrence's anti-humanism, and his desire not to separate the human animal from other species so readily. He believed there was potential in the human's natural instincts for true relationships and emotions. This is against Enlightenment values of rationality that would uphold only the mind as the lofty part of man.