Connie travels to Venice by way of London, Paris, and the overland route through the Alps. She finds herself awakened to sensuality in peoples' bodies, noticing how few people have truly alert bodies, and how few places have any appreciation of sensuality. She longs to be back in Wragby, away from the cloud of tourists bent single-mindedly on enjoying themselves. In Venice, she and Hilda join her father, Sir Malcolm and several others, including Duncan Forbes, as guests in the home of a rich Scotsman, Sir Alexander. Connie has a pleasant but not fabulous time in Venice, bathing with Hilda on remote beaches across the lagoon, ferried by the gondoliers Daniele and Giovanni.
Soon, however, she gets letters from Clifford and Mrs. Bolton, telling her that Bertha Coutts, Mellors' wife, has come back to him. He expelled her from the house, but she broke in again, and he has gone to live with his mother, abandoning the house to Bertha. Bertha apparently found perfume in the house, and the postman also recalls hearing a woman with Mellors one morning; they do not, of course, know that this woman was Connie, but Mellors is suspected of adultery, and Bertha is spreading rumors accusing him of sexual deviancy. Connie's first reaction is a revulsion against Mellors. She feels humiliated to be associated with a commoner like him, with somebody who would marry Bertha Coutts. But she comes around, remembering his tenderness to her and how he awakened her sexually. She sends a note of support to Mellors through Mrs. Bolton. With a second letter from Clifford, and one from Mellors, Connie learns that the situation has gotten worse. Bertha Coutts has begun to spread the rumor that Connie herself was Mellors' paramour. Coutts has been silenced by an injunction from Clifford. When Clifford confronted Mellors with questions about his sexual conduct, Mellors responded disrespectfully; Clifford then fired Mellors, who went to London. Meanwhile, Connie is now certain that she is going to bear Mellors' child.
Connie and her family return to London, where she meets up with a dejected Mellors. Mellors says that they should call their relationship off: he has nothing to offer her, and he is too proud to live on her money, as a consort to an aristocrat. But they go back to her room and make love, and she tells him that she admires the courage of his tenderness, his ability to ignore shame and appreciate the physical. She urges him to trust the tenderness between them, and to disregard the worldly differences. He agrees to stay with her, and even to love their child, despite his fears about the future of society.
Connie discusses her situation with her father, who, despite his happiness that she has found sexual satisfaction, is outraged that her lover is a commoner. But Sir Malcolm agrees to meet Mellors, and they get along well, discussing sex earthily: they have a common ground in sensuality. Between Hilda--who still hates Mellors--Connie, Sir Malcolm, and Mellors, they develop a plan. Mellors will lay low and pursue his divorce with Bertha. Connie will pretend that she is having an affair with Duncan Forbes, who will be named as the father of the child and the co-respondent in the divorce (if Mellors is named as father, his admission of adultery will complicate his own divorce). Clifford is more likely to accept Connie's having an affair with Duncan, a member of the leisured class, than with Mellors, a gamekeeper. Duncan agrees to pose as the father, despite Mellors' insulting his art by calling it soulless and self-indulgent.
Connie sends Clifford a letter, telling him that she loves Duncan, and asking for a divorce. Clifford, despite having inwardly anticipated this, goes into shock. Mrs. Bolton comforts him and tends to hi; more than ever, he becomes like a child in her arms. They enter into a perverse relationship, both sexual and parental. She cares for him, and even loves him, but also despises him for his weakness. Clifford refuses to divorce Connie, demanding that she come to Wragby. She does come, and in a confrontation is forced to admit that her paramour is not Duncan but Mellors. Clifford is outraged, and, furious, accuses her of depravity; he continues to refuse to divorce her. She leaves Wragby, and goes with Hilda to Scotland. Mellors, meanwhile, works on a farm, making money and waiting out the six-month divorce proceedings.
The novel ends with a letter sent from Mellors to Connie, summing up the message of the novel about the social blight upon England. The masses of men are emasculated, poor, hopeless, devoted only to getting and spending money. Without a radical change, the future is bleak. Only with a mass transformation, a realization of the power of sensuality, will people restore humanity and joy to their lives. Mellors comforts himself with thoughts of Connie, and the passion that exists between them: "we fucked a flame into being."
This is not a novel that ends with an epiphany, nor a climactic scene of action and emotion. Rather, it fades away. Instead of a revelation, there is a careful summary of the novel's central ideological messages; instead of tragedy or triumph, there is a certain measured circumspection, a tenuous promise of hope in a vague future. The English author Lawrence Durrell held this anticlimactic ending against the novel: "The book falls away rather sadly at the end. It had all the ingredients for a big tragedy, but it ends on a whimper."
Perhaps, however, the ending of Lady Chatterley's Lover should be evaluated remembering that the novel is as much an ideological tract as a work of living fiction. One way of reading Lady Chatterley's Lover is to view the narrative as the means rather than the end of the novel. This approach to the novel implies that in Lady Chatterley's Lover, the plot and the dialogue serve the purpose of conveying more effectively the novel's ideology, its set of social messages. Only secondarily do the characters assume depth and fictional reality; their primary function is to enact scenes that dramatize the novel's agenda. Thus it could be argued that Mellors is less a three-dimensional character in his own right than an embodiment of D.H. Lawrence's principles of sensuality and irreverence.
Lawrence Durrell faults Lady Chatterley's Lover for avoiding the "big tragedy" that might have brought a satisfying and dramatic ending to the narrative. But this sort of ending would not have been in keeping with the social purpose of the novel. Throughout, Lady Chatterley's Lover--most explicitly through the character of Mellors, in his role as the author's spokesman--expresses a deep pessimism about the future of English society. Mellors is reluctant to bring children into the world, which he feels is bound for disaster. In the postwar world of Lady Chatterley's Lover, tradition has been discarded, men have been emasculated and dehumanized by industry and greed, and women have forgotten sensuality.
There may be little room for optimism, but Connie convinces Mellors that there is room for hope. And the novel ends with Mellors writing Connie a letter that balances its condemnation of English society with a proposal for a massive societal transformation, and that ends both "droopingly" and "with a hopeful heart." Mellors awaits his divorce, while Connie is left in limbo, awaiting Clifford's consent for a divorce. A child will be born, but it remains to be seen whether Mellors and Connie will be able to live together and raise the child under the protection of their love, or whether circumstances will come between them. Thus the future of the protagonists is uncertain, just as the future of the English society portrayed in Lady Chatterley's Lover remains uncertain. A great tragedy, or a happy reunion, would run counter to the perspective of the novel on the broader future of society.
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