Lady Chatterley's Lover
Section VI: Chapters 13 & 14
One Sunday morning, Clifford and Connie go into the woods, which are beautiful in early summer. They discuss the plight of the coal-miners, with Connie complaining about the hideousness and hopelessness of the miners' lives, and Clifford taking the position that he, as a capitalist, is doing his responsibility to provide work for the common people. Clifford theorizes that it is environment that makes people noble or common, that unstoppable and systematic forces are what shape aristocrats and workers; "the individual hardly matters."
Clifford's motorized wheelchair becomes stuck on a sharp incline, and he calls Mellors to come fix it. There is a tense scene in which Clifford insists on getting the chair up the incline on its own power, while Mellors and Connie realize that only pushing will get it up. Connie inwardly scoffs at the powerlessness of Clifford, the man who so recently bragged about the strength and responsibility of the aristocracy. The chair slips, and Mellors--already weakened by pneumonia--lunges to catch it, in the process exhausting himself. Connie is furious at Clifford for his stubbornness, which she holds responsible for the situation.
That night, Connie slips out of the house and meets Mellors; they have planned for her to spend the night at his cottage. She sees that he still has a picture of his wife, Bertha Coutts, and convinces him to burn it and to initiate divorce proceedings. He explains why he married Bertha, in the process telling her about his sexual and emotional history, and initiating their first real conversation. He began his professional career as a clerk, and during his clerkship he had two lovers before Bertha, both women who loved him deeply but who were uninterested in sex. He felt that they were robbing him of his masculinity (they had "nearly taken all the balls out of me"). Taking a more manly job as a blacksmith, he married Bertha because he saw a deep sensuality in her. As it turns out, he was right: they had deep sexual desire for each other. But she began to assert herself too aggressively, holding out when he wanted sex, refusing to have orgasms with him, seizing sexual control. They began to sleep separately, and to hate each other. He went off to the army in India, and she moved in with another man.
After recounting his history of sexual woes, Mellors begins a heated discussion of the purpose of sex, and the nature of sexual satisfaction. He explains his personal credo--"I believe in being warm-hearted. . .in fucking with a warm heart"--and talks about how a proper relationship with a woman involves mutual and simultaneous orgasm. Connie senses a deep despair in him, a belief that true passion and tenderness are dying, that "there's black days coming for us all and for everybody." They begin to quarrel, accusing each other of excessive self-involvement; he accuses her of an inability to open herself tenderly to him. But they resolve their quarrel in a moment of longing and tenderness, after which they have sex on the rug. They fall asleep, and when they wake up in the morning they once again make love. For the first time, she appreciates his penis closely: "so proud! And so lordly!" He begins their tradition of referring to their sex organs as separate from them, John Thomas and Lady Jane. She asks if he really loves her, and he responds as he did earlier in the novel: he loves her "womanness."
In his long discourse on his sexual history and his theory of sexuality, Mellors reveals himself for the first time to the reader. For the first time, the reader has an extended look into Mellors' head, and develops a picture of his past and his personality. It should hardly be taken for granted, I think, that it is an attractive personality. Mellors is a complex character, and the question of whether he is sympathetic is debatable. The English author Lawrence Durrell, writing about Lady Chatterley's Lover, complains, "I find that Lawrence has failed to secure the reader's sympathy for this strange, self-satisfied little boor, so complacent about his 'flamy' body and hard-worked 'prick'. . .Mellors just sits around waiting to be fished out of holes by poor Connie. . .One pities the poor lady when one thinks of the future she promises herself with a man like this--listening to his half-baked twaddle about putting miners into pinafores in order to save their souls." Well, that's Lawrence Durrell's opinion. It need not be taken as absolute truth. It is hardly arguable, though, that Oliver Mellors is a difficult person: he picks fights (his treatment of Connie's sister Hilda is particularly brutal); he is disdainful and condescending, even to Connie; he pleases nobody unless it is in his own interest. Durrell seems right that he has a curious lack of initiative, needing Connie to tell him to divorce his wife and burn her picture. His use of Derbyshire dialect is almost impossibly irritating for both the reader and, at times, for Connie.
It is in his approach to sex that Mellors can be most difficult to appreciate. Difficulty sympathizing with Mellors can amount to a difficult sympathizing with Connie, without which sympathy this novel fails. If Mellors is a braggart and a buffoon, or at least a jerk, it becomes hard to understand why Connie would risk everything to spend her life with him. And it makes the reader reevaluate Connie as protagonist.
Mellors is frustrated because his first two lovers are not really interested in sex with him. He is frustrated by his wife, Bertha Coutts, because she is too sexually aggressive. The reader will note that the crime of which Mellors accuses Bertha--restraining her orgasm until after Mellors', and then using Mellors' penis to come to her own orgasm through her own exertions--is precisely what Connie does to Michaelis. And Michaelis loses the reader's sympathy for his resentment of this behavior. However open Mellors is in his broad sensuality, he seems to have an antagonistic approach to women in this section, especially in referring to Bertha's vagina as a "beak," and speaking of it tearing into him. He resents women who want to be the "active party." In a trope that has become familiar from puerile boys' locker-room talk, he complains that a huge number of women who don't satisfy him, or who are not satisfied by him, are really just lesbians. It may be difficult for the modern reader to sympathize with this man, who brags about the amount of sex that he has had and considers himself a victim because so few of his companions have had orgasms.
It should be remembered that Mellors' ultimate goal, of course, is mutuality, love and tenderness through the bonding experience of simultaneous orgasm. And that what Mellors conveys, more than anything--and despite his failings as a sympathetic character--is an attitude towards sensuality and towards the body, an appreciation of the physical. He is perhaps hyperbolically oversexed; in this, he better serves his propagandistic or idealistic purpose. It might be argued that he is a kind of laboratory creation, an abstracted man with enough experience in sex to be licensed to evaluate human sexual failings. This does not absolve his failings as a character, but merely points out that Mellors is more than a character in a novel; he is an allegorical figure representing sensual, savage man. The relationship between Mellors as allegory and Mellors as personality is complex, and tortured.
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