Before I can say anything about the novel, I have to talk about the novel’s first paragraph. I love novel openings sometimes more than I love novels themselves. This novel has one of the best first paragraphs ever, to be ranked with “A Tale of Two Cities”.
“Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future: but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.”
It almost seems like this is a first paragraph for another novel entirely — certainly not a novel about bored housewives and sexual affairs. The first paragraph, of course, is a reference to the end of WWI, but it could speak to any of a number of times…the end of the French Revolution, the end of the Second World War, or even our own times. It is certainly not a paragraph about ennui.
But in the wake of that first paragraph, I do need to think about the novel as a complete novel…and in this way, I feel like the first paragraph is an obstacle, because this is a novel about ennui, sexual desire, married life…and at times, also about class antagonisms and the relentlessness of progress.
This latter themes — class antagonism and the relentlessness of modernity — clearly put the book in its late 1920s milieu. Presumably, the book was finished before the start of the great depression. But you can see the anxieties about the onset of the industrial world. You can see the intellectual class’s mixed feelings toward Bolshevism. These themes come out in rich — and often moralizing — language.
“This is history. One England blots out another. The mines had made the halls wealthy. Now they were blotting them out as they had already blotted out the cottages. The industrial England blots out the agricultural England. One meaning blots out another. The new England blots out the old England. And the continuity is not organic, but mechanical.”
How would we write this passage today?
“This is (e)history (as seen from an updated Wikipedia post, which may or may not have been written by a hack). One world (digital) blots out another (analog). Now the anonymous “they” were posting their messages over truth. Now data wrangling was used to make truth anolog, disposable. The digital was blotting out the world. Fake, truth, digital, analog…in the great tide of (e)history, everyone’s worlds were becoming private, mobile, cellular, applications to consume, worlds were becoming endlessly self-referential. There was no continuity, only the endless stream of streaming data that refused to flow in any kind of logic the (analog) world had known.”
Is that how D.H. Lawrence would have written about our times. LOL 🙂 #D.H. Lawrence Delete his Facebook Account 😉
And, even in the shadow of the book’s great first paragraph, I feel like the book is a great one.
It is, however, excessively ponderous in its word choice…it is full of internal monologue, narration (telling not showing), romantic language…it is a modern book written in Victorian language.
…for me, this is fine. Because modern writing, which frowns on the excessive and unnecessary often leaves me unfulfilled (not unlike Lady Chatterley). A book about dirty, sordid sex, shouldn’t be too modern…it should smack of the Victorian.
A final word about D.H. Lawrence — I wonder how women feel about this book. If he does succeed at writing the character of Lady Chatterley, if women think he pulls this off as good as or better than female writers, then he has really done something marvelous as a writer — something I’m not sure I’d be able to pull off myself.