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Time of Love in Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Jacqueline Gouirand

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1Among D.H. Lawrence’s novels, Lady Chatterley’s Lover is a striking example of the mastery of space over time. Space structures the novel, symbolic places are opposed : Wragby and the wood, Wragby and Tevershall. In his last novel, Lawrence’s imagination recreates this space of Nottinghamshire, a parcelled out space of an ever mutable England bearing the wounds of the war, a space corresponding to an amputated body symbolically represented by Clifford Chatterley who, early in 1917, was shipped home, smashed up. Clifford wanted the wood, located beyond the park gate, “untouched”: “He wanted nobody to trespass in it” (42). His gamekeeper, who occupies a cottage in the wood and has the hut at his disposal, also dreads all intrusion and defends his space of freedom and solitude, however reduced it may be. When letting Eros enter the wood bordering the park of Wragby, Lawrence has us witness a return to primordial reality, an attempt to escape the chaos characterising the modern world by proposing tender sex.

2In a highly didactic mode, the novel begins with a general historical perspective, offering an appraisal of the post-war situation, the evocation of Clifford and Connie’s past and their married life. Precise notations and quite a number of dates are given in the first three chapters: “They came home to Wragby in the autumn of 1920,” or the following indication, in chapter II: “Clifford and Connie had now been nearly two years at Wragby.”

  • 1 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, Trans. Colin Smith (London: Routledge, 1962), 1 (...)

3Within the walls of Wragby which epitomize her spatial and temporal confinement, in the company of a lame and impotent husband who demands her presence and care and whose tyranny towards her intensifies over the months: “vaguely she knew she was out of connection, she had lost touch with the substantial and vital world”(20). Not only does the shift from the frame of general history to the dramatic scene of chapter IV and the concrete narrative mode of chapter V establish the context for the contrast between Clifford and Mellors, it also epitomises the fact that the novel’s third person narrative is from now on centred on the consciousness of a focal character, Connie. Indeed by returning increasingly to Connie’s point of view, Lawrence brings to the surface the potential for epiphany that is latent in the writing. She refuses to be invaded by the torpor of the mental-lifers who surround her at Wragby. Gradually, more and more consciously, she is led to journey towards an interiority which implies a passing of borderlines, both psychological and ethical. In order to accomplish this, she has to move away from Wragby, the world of mental life and of old forms, the cold world of fake emotions. Her growing restlessness often causes her to rush off across the park, to the wood, her refuge beyond the park gate, a sanctuary of peace. Two epiphanic scenes prepare her for the dispossession of the self and the liberation of her instinctual being: her visionary experience when she comes upon her husband’s game-keeper washing himself unaware at the back of his cottage (66), when what she sees is simply “a body” and she experiences the shock of this vision in her womb; the later scene in which she observes her own naked body, in her room, to which she was led by the earlier vision of the man’s body. The scene of the mirror is significant, as it involves Connie’s awareness, which is at the origin of her conversion. She does not live her body any longer, whereas she should discover her own self in “the mysterious maze of the body.” A sense of lack is inscribed in her life just as it is inscribed in her body, a revelation which spurs her to go to the wood as often as possible. From one visit to another, the connection with the wood becomes stronger and her powers of perception increase when she is among the trees and she progresses through the clearing towards the hut as if she were performing a sacred journey. She then becomes for the reader “an intense human personage that breaks through time,” for “perception is never complete […] the world exceeds our perspective of it. Perception is a synthesis of “horizons” that produces an experience exceeding the world.” 1 Such perpetual excess is offered in Connie.

4Leaving Wragby where “Time went on as the clock does,” she forgets time when she enters into Mellors’ territory: “so she sat in the doorway of the hut in a dream, utterly unaware of time and of particular circumstances” (113). After the epiphany of the chick, of the hatching of the eggs, when she faces the reality of the cycle of life and fecundity, she wants to see the chickens again and again: “she had only one desire now, to go to the clearing and the wood. The rest was a kind of painful dream.” (145)

  • 2 Allison Pease: Mass Culture and the Aesthetics of Obscenity ( C.U.P., 2000),149.
  • 3 Ibid., 163.

5Being out of touch with her husband, now in the care of Mrs Bolton, Connie is fascinated with the new life she discovers in the clearing. Her desire to touch has been transferred to the chicks. She had previously wondered if it were possible to feel ravished without being touched. She will be ravished and touched by a stranger who felt compassion for her in their first sexual embrace, at the same time as she feels passion. Connie’s instinctual being is now freed, she is open to the sensuous potentiality of the self. From a sudden visionary experience to touch and direct sexual experience, this is the way through which Connie’s development in consciousness is achieved, for “the senses must in turn be brought into revitalising relation with the whole of her experience.”2 In this initiatory ritual, which leads a woman to merge with the original force in order to recover her vital energy, a guide is necessary. The game-keeper, conceived as “a product of nature,” “ the natural result of his body’s own propriety,”3 is Lawrence’s best choice. He is beyond any positioning in terms of class in the third version of the novel. His union with Lady Chatterley is the achievement of a sexuality of redemption, the apotheosis for a dying Lawrence who still managed to cry out “yes” to a life which he equates with desire. He sets up a phallic liturgy to prove that the woman’s object of desire is the phallus and, less symbolically, the penis. He thus launches into an explicit exploration of sex, because he is the raging man who rebels against the modern woman and all those who advocate “sex in the head,” who are engaged in cold-hearted fucking. Man and woman should achieve “the right relation,” as defined by Mellors in the evocation of his past life. “I wanted a woman who wanted me and wanted it” (253).

  • 4 Roland Barthes, A Lover's Discourse : Fragments (1990) (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1990), 93. Fi (...)
  • 5 Paul Ricoeur, Temps et Récit II: la configuration dans le récit de la fiction (Paris :Edition du Se (...)

6The discourse on sex has an influence on the novelist’s treatment of time in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, several passages being devoted to this kind of discussion, all the characters being granted their say. After several parentheses, the story of Connie and Mellors, which constitutes the core of the novel, begins in chapter X. It is undoubtedly a love story. “As narrative love is a story which is accomplished in the sacred sense of the word, it is a program which must be completed,” in the words of Barthes.4 As such, it offers a love dynamics and is circumscribed in time. The period from March to June corresponds to Connie’s departure for the continent, to the development and blossoming of the lovers’ relationship, their way to the promised land being traced by the narrator who provides the reader with a significant number of time-markers. Very soon, “the time of calendars and clocks is confronting a time progressively deprived of all measurable character and even of all interest for measurement.”5 Connie cannot ignore that she must be in time at Wragby, for Wragby is ruled by clocks and calendars. Lunch, tea-time, dinner at half past seven, are not supposed to be avoided or delayed. After her first embrace with the keeper, “she had hurried across the park and when she arrived, the doors were fastened and she had to ring” (153). These calls to order will be numerous, from the very beginning of their relationship, intruding on the time of love. This reminds us of Freud’s celebrated principles of reality and pleasure. Lovers often have obstacles to overcome, in the case of Connie and Mellors, Wragby time, the epitome of measured time, is one of them, from the start.

  • 6 Roland Barthes, ibid., 23.
  • 7 Darieck Scott, Extravagant Abjection: Blackness, Power and Sexuality in the African American Litera (...)
  • 8 Roland Barthes, ibid., 37.

7Love is the pursuit embarked upon as a great evolutive movement implying a gradation, an organization of adventures, leading to the fulfillment of desire. Connie’s sexual response to the game-keeper is rendered in erotic episodes which are arranged in a specific sequence. After the first encounter, though she is riddled by doubts, she decides to go to the wood the next day. In the words of Barthes, “I affirm the first encounter in its difference, I desire its return, not its repetition.”6 In spite of the rain, she hurries across the park because she wants to see him and the night is drawing near when she arrives at Wragby. The second sexual encounter makes her aware of “the warm beauty of contact so much deeper than the beauty of vision” (125). The man’s caresses make her knees quiver and, “far down in her, she felt a new stirring, a new nakedness emerging.” (125), an important step for Connie who at last lives her body, for “One’s body takes possession of time, it brings into existence a past and a future for a present.”7 She remains passive during the act, unaware that the lack, which conditions desire, has taken hold of her. In spite of her promise to go back to the wood the next day, she uses one of the strategies of lovers, she makes the other wait: “There is a scenography of waiting, I organize it, manipulate it, cut out a portion of time in which I shall mime the loss of the loved object and provoke all the efforts of a minor mourning.”8

8The time of love is thus suspended during three days. “But the fourth day, she was terribly unsettled and uneasy. She still refused to go to the wood and open her thighs once more to the man” (163). Coming upon the game-keeper by surprise, after her visit to Mrs Flint and her baby in the dense part of the wood which seemed gruesome and choking, she declares that she is late and that she has to run. Defending the time of love against Wragby time, Mellors becomes insistent: “It’s only six o’clock, you’ve got half an hour. Na! Nay, I want you.” (168) He leads her “through the wall of prickly trees” to where, lying on the ground like an animal, she is forcibly taken by him. She feels that her sex is alive and ultimately experiences a simultaneous orgasm, for the first time in her life:

and then began again the unspeakable motion that was not really motion but pure deepening whirlpools of sensation swirling deeper and deeper through all her tissue and consciousness, till she was one perfect concentric fluid of feeling, and she lay there crying in unconscious inarticulate cries[…] And they lay and knew nothing, not even each other, both lost.

  • 9 Pease, ibid., 137.

9The loss of consciousness described in the love scenes can be said to decenter the subjects: “The body, specifically in sexual union, is portrayed in Lawrence as a disinterested being of desire and fulfillment, a moment / place of transcendence that is simultaneously purely physical. Moments of coition are described as moments of unknowing where consciousness […]ebbs and flows, simulating oceanic movement.”9 In these moments, Lawrence’s prose paces itself to the rhythm and tempo of sexual climax.

10When she goes home, Connie realizes that another self is alive in her, and that with this self she adores Mellows. She had been in the habit of spending some time with Clifford until ten at night. This time, he proposes to read Racine and she agrees, but of the Racine she heard not one syllable. The time of love invaded Wragby time, for “she was gone in her own soft rapture” (171). Thus, enclosed in her new world, her introspection launches a time that runs parallel to the narrative time, introspection and action being interwoven.

11Depending on the events, the pace of the story is sped up or is slowed down. The three erotic episodes mentioned above, establishing the relationship between Connie and Mellors, are dealt with in chapter X. At the end of this chapter, the narrator shifts from Connie’s consciousness to the keeper’s, first evoking his past and then his desire to be near her as he stands motionless, on the drive close to her house, at dawn. Insofar as most of chapter XI is another parenthesis devoted to Connie’s visit to Stacks Gate and Uthwaite, passing by car through Tevershall as she reflects that “it had taken her years to realize that the old England she had clung to was really blotted out by this terrifying new and gruesome England.” The narrator drives home the point, by saying through her: “This is history. One England blots out another. |…] And the continuity is not organic, but mechanical.” (201). This is a temporality revealing the contrast between Clifford’s view of history – one time era being replaced by another – and the lovers, who live in contradiction to any historical past, in their time – in what is their boundless present, since they go “beyond everything” in the moment.

12Time-markers are less and less present as the relationship between Connie and Mellors is established and enriched through their successive encounters. The text suddenly jumps from March to May: “Connie went suddenly to the wood directly after lunch.” There is a profusion of time-markers: “on Sunday,” “at half past nine,” “one afternoon,” to name a few.. The reader senses Lawrence’s urge to make his theme clear, the fact that Lady Chatterley’s Lover is the infinite quest for rebirth through the experience of love and sex. Not only does Connie discover the truth of the body. In the end, she will eventually discover the unity of life of which she has been deprived, a new universe, a world of sacred signs and emotions. A world of silence too, represented by Mellors, thus opposed to “the continual rattle of talk” of Clifford. Her allegiance to the phallus, which permits her progress to “the very heart of the jungle of herself,” during the last night they spend before her departure, crowns her fulfillment in this sexuality of communion fusing mind, soul and body. Both have reached a higher state of ontological awareness in their relationship.

13A love story always has a beginning, a middle, an end and an epilogue. It is obvious that Lady Chatterley’s Lover can only suggest that their lovers will live happily ever after. In spite of a separation, which will probably be temporary, a future lies ahead for Connie and Mellors. In the meantime, they will cherish, “the time of love” which has been theirs, the forked flame between them.

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Notes

1 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, Trans. Colin Smith (London: Routledge, 1962), 135.

2 Allison Pease: Mass Culture and the Aesthetics of Obscenity ( C.U.P., 2000),149.

3 Ibid., 163.

4 Roland Barthes, A Lover's Discourse : Fragments (1990) (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1990), 93. First (French) edition, Editions du Seuil, 1979.

5 Paul Ricoeur, Temps et Récit II: la configuration dans le récit de la fiction (Paris :Edition du Seuil 1984), 172.

6 Roland Barthes, ibid., 23.

7 Darieck Scott, Extravagant Abjection: Blackness, Power and Sexuality in the African American Literary Imagination (Sexual Cultures) (New York: New York University Press, 2010), 84

8 Roland Barthes, ibid., 37.

9 Pease, ibid., 137.

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Jacqueline Gouirand, « Time of Love in Lady Chatterley’s Lover », Études Lawrenciennes [En ligne], 48 | 2017, mis en ligne le 20 décembre 2017, consulté le 23 mai 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lawrence/292 ; DOI : 10.4000/lawrence.292

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Jacqueline Gouirand

Université Lyon II

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Études lawrenciennes est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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