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What Lady Chatterley is really about

Emma Corrin and Jack O’Connell in the Netflix film

When DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover was published in Britain 60 years ago, it “unleashed our grandparents’ libidos”, says Nicholas Harris in UnHerd. The creators of Netflix’s new adaptation are urging us to watch it for the same reason: the film’s lead, Emma Corrin, claims the novel is about finding “power in your sexuality” and “knowing that it’s okay to want pleasure”. It’s a common misconception. Sexual liberation has “constituted the Lady Chatterley myth” ever since it was written. But to read Lawrence’s novel as glorified erotica is to overlook its “raging, intrusive” philosophy, which stems from the author’s reactionary politics and “snarling hostility to modernity”.

Lady Chatterley is really a story about how democracy, mechanisation and war have “made the world hell”. Lawrence’s writing is “most rhapsodic” when detailing how the “industrial apocalypse” turned the masses into “half corpses” and drained the English landscape of its natural vitality. Even the lovers’ “post-coital sweet nothings” are infused with this robust reactionism – Mellors, the lusty gamekeeper, is always “rolling over afterwards for a quick diatribe” about how industrialists are “frantically killing off the last human feeling”. It’s lazy to twist Lawrence’s work into a steamy romp-fest, ignoring the author’s “wildly iconoclastic worldview”: his Romanticism, his “neo-pagan faith in natural aristocracy”, his hatred of the democratic mass. The true point of the novel’s sexual frankness is to highlight the disappearance of all other “beauty and pleasure in this dying world”.