Lady Chatterley's Lover

Lady Chatterley's Lover Themes

Sexuality as Self Development

Lawrence understands sexuality as an inherent part of the self, where the 'self' is a complete being within the world. This book is about Constance Chatterley's sexual awakening, which, interestingly, does not really begin with her loss of virginity. Initially she comprehends sex as the use of another person for sexual pleasure. This is represented by the fact that she waits until her man has had an orgasm in order to herself achieve orgasm. This is sexuality as an economic exchange. Lawrence saw this as an influence of a capitalistic culture that was detached from its animalistic origins. To comprehend sexuality through such terms means that one is detached from the true source of its energy: the vitality within one's own body. This is why Constance does not initially find sex very pleasurable. For Lawrence, paying attention to the sensuality of the body is important, because, otherwise, one stifles the possibility of experiencing the true vitality of the world.

Male/Female Relations

For Lawrence, the relationships between men and women could never really reach equilibrium. They have an antagonistic relationship, which at the same time can be symbiotic and harmonious. Even though we are supposed to understand that Mellors and Constance are in love, and are able to get their life rhythms into harmony, we also see them disagree on an intellectual level. In Lawrence's view, they must constantly struggle on this intellectual level. This is part of the vitality of life. For example, Constance really wants Mellors to assert that he loves her. She wants him to put their relationship into a scheme that she can define and label. However, Mellors refuses to do this. He instead tells her that she already knows how he feels about her, because she has practically experienced it. Sexuality, in other words, represents the relationship between persons that cannot be expressed through language. However, Constance's effort to comprehend what they have together is also a source of growth. Even as it defies a rigid definition, she still learns from the experience.


Lawrence represents the act of knowing something through the ability to name it. The cognitive part of man, the rational intellect, is exercised through this act of designation. This act of designation is made to parallel the way Clifford behaves towards Constance. For example, when they go out into the woods together, Clifford begins to name all of the flowers and quotes poetry in order to express his own feelings. Constance is very angry that Clifford turns everything into words. Notably, flowers symbolize Constance's sexual awakening. The descriptions of flowers in bloom parallels her newly found desire for the keeper. The flowers are supposed to symbolize something in nature that is inexpressible for Constance, the very expression of which destroys their beauty. Through Clifford's relation to flowers, Lawrence is showing how art and knowledge can serve to destroy the intimacy of immediate experience.

Cultural Decay in a Time of Modernity

The novel opens with a statement about the state of man in the modern age. It takes place after the great disaster of World War I. World War I was generally seen by modernists as a betrayal of the promise of the Enlightenment. Usually we think that mankind is progressing through culture and through the exercise of his rationality. The time prior to World War I was a time in which such a promise seemed capable of realization: there was economic prosperity and more people were becoming educated. However, World War I destroyed the hope that mankind was led entirely by his rational impulses. Thus Lawrence's attitude is very modernist in that he sees his own time as one in which traditional values have been ruined. He is critical of "culture" as it exists in his present, and of the way it mediates man's desires. However, he wants to be able to assert a future even amongst the ruins, and that is his project in Lady Chatterley's Lover.

Class Relations

The hierarchy of the classes in early 20th century Britain is a symbol of the old, aristocratic world order. Clifford is a baron and has inherited an estate. However, he is incapable of procreation. He is an impotent person who tries to hide his emasculation by taking control of other people spiritually and physically through his work as a writer. He retains though a certain kind of status in the eyes of his servant, Mrs. Bolton, who is from a lower class. The main scandal of Lady Chatterley's Lover is not that the fact that Constance has an affair -- she has extramarital sex with other men in the novel. Instead, the main scandal is the fact that Mellors is of a lower class. On the one hand, it seems that Lawrence is romanticizing the lower class and implying that Mellors is more fundamentally connected to nature through his animalistic sex drive. On the other hand, the novel provides a critique of the deadness to which the lower class is susceptible, as seen in depictions of the colliers and their lives. They, too, can easily become mere instruments of society.

Industrial Life and the Mechanism of Society

Lawrence grew up in the English midlands, known as the industrial heart of England. He was raised in a lower-middle class and his father worked as a coal miner. Unlike many other modernists during this time period then, who had the privileges of inheritance and class, Lawrence grew up without such advantages. When he depicts industrial life then there is an obvious ambivalence. On the one hand, he seems to associate it with a potential for primitivism and a child-like attitude towards the world. On the other hand, he thought this potential was gradually waning. (This attitude can be more visibly tracked in his earlier novels, such as Sons and Lovers or The Rainbow.) By the time he writes Women in Love, he seems to see those who live in the industrial midlands as thoroughly deadened by their submission to the mechanistic nature of society. What he means by 'mechanistic nature' is that they serve as parts of a great machine that is working towards the production of more wealth. He is critical of the fact that this wealth is produced without any real end in mind. Men were serving as cogs in a machine without any purpose.

Intellectual Culture

Lawrence saw intellectual conversation and sexual intimacy as diametrically opposed. In Chapter IV, he provides insight into the intellectual approach to sex at the time: intellectuals wanted to use other models, such as economic models of society, in order to comprehend the usefulness of the sex act. In contrast, Lawrence was interested in the purity of the sexual experience. He was interested in it as a realm of possibility, rather than as a realm of knowledge. Interestingly, Tommy Dukes articulates the idea that there is something called "real knowledge" that comes out of one's penis and one's belly (37). This is basically Lawrence's idea throughout the novel. Yet, Tommy Dukes' method of phrasing it philosophically seems to fly in the face of his point. Tommy ends up contradicting himself, and calls himself a "mental lifer" (39) who does not believe in love. This is Lawrence's critique of philosophical language -- the very fact of trying to name something is already an attempt to control it. The sexual act, to Lawrence, was not something that could be named.