Dialectical Sensuality v. Currencies of Control: A Note on Lady Chatterley's Lover

I've been revising some of my first poems, including my sonnet sub-sequence on Hector's last days. At the time, I was reading D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, a very fine novel, but I didn't end up finishing the book until recently.

Lawrence puts big themes on the table, still relevant today: class warfare, consumerist subjectivity, hollow marriages, deep reticence about bodies and pleasure. Lawrence does not always strike the right balance (sexual reconciliation is in fact not sufficient for social reconciliation—though the former is necessary for the latter; words/intellect need not be at war with sensual vitality; children cannot be treated as an afterthought). But what he does get right, he gets profoundly right. The book was written in the wake of the Great War, when the mining communities of his home turf were being brutally squeezed. In Nietzschean tones, Lawrence recommends an art of living to resolve the social contradictions. His greatest mistake is to treat the masses as if they can't think, and that they shouldn't anyway—he thinks thought enervating. I maintain that the liberal arts are essential for the art of living. But it's no either/or. He's right about the enemy: it's avarice and envy and all the substitutes for really living (war, money, control). And when there's policing, from whatever religion (including the strange dogmatism of social progressivism), it's usually the Powers seeking to smother the little flames of personhood.

At the end of the book, Mellors is writing to Connie, while the two must remain apart for a time, and this passage tells us much about the crisis that stills envelops us, a crisis of embodiment, of marriage, of existence:

"If you could only tell them that living and spending isn't the same thing! But it's no good. If only they were educated to live instead of earn and spend, they could manage very happily on twenty-five shillings. If the men wore scarlet trousers, as I said, they wouldn't think so much of money: if they could dance and hop and skip, and sing and swagger and be handsome, they could do with very little cash. And amuse the women themselves, and be amused by the women. They ought to learn to be naked and handsome, and to sing in a mass and dance the old group dances, and carve the stools they sit on, and embroider their own emblems. Then they wouldn't need money. And that's the only way to solve the industrial problem: train the people to be able to live, and live in handsomeness, without needing to spend...

"But the colliers aren't pagan, far from it. They're a sad lot, a deadened lot of men: dead to their women, dead to life. The young ones scoot about on motor-bikes with girls, and jazz when they get a chance. But they're very dead. And it needs money. Money poisons you when you've got it, and starves you when you haven't.

"...But of course what I live for now is for you and me to live together. I'm frightened, really. I feel the devil in the air, and he'll try to get us. Or not the devil, Mammon: which I think, after all, is only the mass-will of people, wanting money and hating life. Anyhow I feel great grasping white hands in the air, wanting to get hold of the throat of anybody who tries to live, to live beyond money, and squeeze the life out. There's a bad time coming."