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I recently finished this classic and controversial novel by D.H. Lawrence.

Far from the soft pornographic themes I was expecting, given the controversy the novel procured when it was first published, I found the book to be more of a social satire of early 19th century British politics, social class system and moral norms, than an avant-garde Fifty Shaded of Grey.

Of course, the sex scenes are rather explicit, even for today’s sophisticated reader. Laurence’s descriptions of intercourse in particular, although few, are vivid. But instead of raunchy, we get sensual and passionate. I won’t spend too much time reviewing the novel or singing its praises as that’s been done so many times before. I will, however, mention a few points that caught my attention:

  • The choice of language is quite often raw and grabs the reader’s attention. These words were either used in a different sense a hundred years ago or Laurence was employing them to make a point – we’ll never know. But I found it unnecessary, distracting vulgarity in several instances.
  • I did not find the book particularly well written, especially at the beginning. Many uneven moments arrive throughout the story – moments of sheer brilliance followed by passages that seem to be fighting each other on the page.
  • Laurence uses quite a bit of vocabulary repetition. I’m all for choice repetition when done in a poetic framework. But with this novel, I found myself saying, ‘Laurence, buddy, get a thesaurus!’
  • Not being a British native, I had trouble understanding the dialect in a number of important conversations. I felt like I missed a little of the emotional fodder as a result.

I can certainly understand where all the fuss came from in the early part of the last century when the book was first released. And then again in the 50s. Although only a small portion of the book concerns the love affair between Lady Chatterley and her lover, one can see why a society just coming out of the pedantic, prudish Victorian era would have been affected.

A few movie adaptations have been made of the book over the years. A 1993 version starring Vanessa Redgrave’s daughter Joely Richardson is one, but a far better, more authentic 2006 adaptation is actually by French/Belgian director Pascale Ferran starring French actress Marina Hands.

I watched this latter film recently after finishing the book and found it to be a beautiful, if typically French, representation of Lawrence’s iconic novel.

Leaving out the entire satirical aspect of the story line, the French film deals exclusively with the love affair. Every scene is a painting and the viewer understands why the film won 5 Césars in 2007. A César, for those of you who might not know, is the French equivalent to an Oscar. So, five French Oscars is a pretty big deal.

For those of you who are sensitive to nudity, be forewarned that there is full frontal nudity of both genders in this film. I mention this only because the French don’t consider nudity obscene like some Americans. In fact, I find the French take on nudity quite healthy. I remember as a child being scared by an “acceptable” sex scene that was outrageously violent but showed no nudity, whereas in France the rules seem to be quite the opposite. The human body is presented tastefully, normally, naturally and sexual violence is strictly regulated – perhaps a healthier message for young people in the throes of their sexually awareness.

With slightly bizarre editing from the point of view of an American spectator, the French film uses drop fades, black out titles and voice over narration to carry the story from scene to scene. Many Americans aren’t used to that sort of artsy film making, so it might throw you at first. As might other elements typical of French cinema: the long dialogue-free scenes, the lack of action, the use of emotion to tell the story, the abrupt (perhaps unsatisfying) ending.  Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. I found its expression of intimacy, passion and desire a welcomed change from the recent onslaught of negativity surrounding adult sexuality.

For those of you who have not yet read the novel or seen the film, they’re an adventure – one English, the other French.

Bonne lecture!

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