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The awareness of sex: Richard Madden as Mellors and Holliday Grainger as Lady Chatterley in the recent BBC Television production (BBC Pictures/Hartswood Films. Photo by Josh Barratt)

My first question, as script consultant to the BBC’s recent Lady Chatterley’s Lover, was “cui bono?”. The novel was declared by an Old Bailey jury not to be obscene in 1960, since when it has had more than half a century to gambol freely across our shelves and screens. Two of the concepts on which it turns — marriage and adultery — have lost much of their power since the 1920s. Class distinctions, though extant, carry relatively little threat to love matches which cross them. Mining and industry are now more lamented for their decline than for their inexorable rise. The flannel-trousered Cambridge intellectualism lampooned by the novel no longer predominates either among England’s rulers or its bohemians. The world of which Constance and Mellors implicitly dream is in many respects our own. What need for another replay of the struggle to achieve it? Have not this novel’s battles either been won, left behind, or reversed in aspect?

The director, Jed Mercurio, has recently remarked that since the novel’s struggle to represent sex has been successful, he didn’t want to labour this aspect of it. There has been much comment in the press about his adaptation’s relative lack of visual and verbal sexual explicitness, as compared both to the novel and to its earlier adaptations. But the novel’s battle was not in fact to represent sex explicitly per se, but to depict it in a way that would achieve the aim stated in “A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover”, the essay written by Lawrence in the year after the novel was finished, and placed as the introduction to the second authorised edition.

The essay is a variation on Lawrence’s central theme that in European civilisation the mind and the body have become damagingly separated. The solution which it proposes is not — as elsewhere in his writings — to lose mental consciousness in “blood consciousness”. Rather, it is to force the mind to make a connection with the body:

In the past, man was too weak-minded, or crude-minded to contemplate his own physical body and physical functions, without getting all messed up with physical reactions that overpowered him . . . Yet they should be related in harmony. And this is the real point of this book. I want men and women to be able to think sex, fully, completely, honestly, and cleanly. Even if we can’t act sexually to our complete satisfaction, let us at least think sexually, complete and clean.

The last sentence resonates poignantly with Lawrence’s position of writing the novel whilst dying. But the sentence which precedes it makes it clear that the book is not an incitement to action (“Far be it from me to suggest that all women should go running after gamekeepers for lovers. Far be it from me to suggest that they should go running after anybody.”) Its stated aim is to be profoundly read and thought. The descriptions of Connie’s and Mellors’s “fucking” — so much less realistic and vulnerable to a certain kind of ridicule on the page than in film adaptations — are not aiming at clinical mimesis, but at jolting the reader’s mind into an awareness of what sex, as approved of by the mind, is.

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Ted Parkin
September 25th, 2015
2:09 PM
No amount of fine words or of spin - and Catherine Brown's are as finely spun as it comes - can alter the fact that the BBC/Ged Mercurio's take on D.H. Lawrence's Lady C was lavish nonsense best filed under forget. . . just another costume drama with cardboard cut-out characters and equally unconvincing cottages. . .and did a grave injustice to Lawrence and his powerful pagan novel about the wonderful healing power of nature and love.

Dave Brock
September 25th, 2015
11:09 AM
Catherine Brown is to be congratulated for bringing to the attention of readers the much-needed, sane and healthy thinking about sex which D.H. Lawrence expresses so beautifully well in his great, although now largely neglected essays, A Propos of Lady Chaterley's Lover and Pornography and Obscenity, but her valiant attempt to vindicate the BBC/Mercurio's shallow and cowardly 'fancyfrocks' travesty in film of Lawrence's important and still vitally relevant pagan novel unfortunately omits to acknowledge that the work's timeless central themes are those of the healing power of nature and of having the courage of one's own sexual/emotional tenderness.

Dave Brock
September 25th, 2015
11:09 AM
Catherine Brown does a great service to her readers by bringing to their attention the sane and healthy thinking about sex so beautifully well expressed by D.H. Lawrence in his now neglected great essays, A Propos of Lady C and Pornography and Obscenity, but her valiant attempt to vindicate the BBC/Mercurio's shallow and cowardly travesty in film of Lawrence's powerful, important and still vitally relevant pagan novel, unfortunately omits to acknowledge that the work's central themes are also the healing power of nature and tenderness in love.

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