The first edition cover of the novel “Lady Chaterley’s Lover” by D. H. Lawrence. Lawrence who published this privately in 1928 in Italy, then in 1929 in France and Australia. At that time the text was expurgated. An unexpurgated edition wasn’t published until 1960, in England, and an obscenity trial ensued againts the publisher – Penguin Books. Penguin won and ever since the novel has been in print.
An original Penguin edition.
There are now several dozen covers, and different publishers from Bantam, Harper, Ace, to Wordsworth and more in the years since. Back in 1998, during the Perth Arts Festival, an English theatre company brought Lady Chatterley’s Lover to Perth and we decided to go. It was an adaptation for a two character play. It was produced in the grounds of the historic Tranby House on the Swan River (complete with hamper dinner). The play was steamy as are the sex scenes in Lawrences novel, but the play did miss the social commentary out, where Lawrence was critiquing the social order of post WW1 Britain and its classism. Lawrence was also deriding the British penchant for staid morality, at least on the surface. The novel certainly achieved that, but the play lost some of it. Nonetheless, it was well acted 🙂 and enjoyable.
The novel is set where I was born – Nottinghamshire, and where Lawrence grew up. My father’s family always maintained that the game keeper Mellors, while said to be a character based on a composite of real people, was in fact based on one of my father’s great-uncles, who had lived as Mellors had lived.
In another twist, that night, after the play had ended and the crowd had thinned, I went to speak to the director, and told him about that family legend. He told me it was likely true, and that this particular play adaptation was by a woman whose surname was Cannon. I’ve since forgotten her first name, she has most likely died since as she was well into her 70s then. But a real connection by name.
I haven’t pursued any of it as it simply makes for an interesting dinner story, and I have no need to pursue it really. But if it were true, and there are clues to suggest it is, then I have an interesting pedigree.
But pedigree aside, I have always been grateful for Lawrence’s work, and the theme of liberation in Lady Chatterley in particular. I found that my sexual identity wasn’t located in the stereo-typical moralisms of my parents, or religion, or the gatekeepers of society in general. That women weren’t stereotypically just mothers and trapped in a role. I was encouraged by Lawrence’s vision of potential class disintegration, that status and rights were fake compared to real feelings and self-expression. In many ways I experienced Lady Chatterley as iconoclastic, Lawrence tearing at claustrophobic and constipated society. He was ahead of his time in many ways, as his essays show. But he was also just in time – he was there writing and challenging when it was the right time, preparing for a new generation, inspiring others.
I hope we all have a pedigree that has a lineage back to people like Lawrence who stick their necks out for creativity, expression, free thinking, open-mindedness, generosity, and who are visionary, pushing the boundaries of society, looking for liberation, looking to transcend petty moralisms, and hinting at a deeper, richer maturity, not for its own sake, but for the sake of joy and life.
One of my favourite quotes from Lawrence:
“I shall be glad when yo have strangled the invincible respectability that dogs your steps.”