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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

DH Lawrence and Charlotte Bronte: Bringing Sexy Back?


For the last week or so I've been delving into two books; the high-minded Victorian tale of The Professor by Charlotte B and the uber-scandalous Lady Chatterley's Lover, by DH Lawrence.

Unsurprisingly to all who have read the latter, Lady Chat bears as much resemblance to one of those Harlequin romances as to anything else. This is not to say that the book is terrible or even bad. Obviously Lawrence has a great deal of skill with words and literary talent and a lot to say; but in between the sometimes-titillating sometimes-dated sex scenes, the book was actually filled with many boring passages railing about industralization and intellectualization (we get it, DH, let's reject our mechanized, over-thinking society and get it on). This is strikingly similar to the problem I have with romance novels, which as a genre I truly admire for their popularity and readability. I can just never get through the non-sex parts in any of them without being impatient and bored, so I give up.
Anyway, I'm glad I read Lady Chatterley because of its social import and also because obviously there's still something appealing to all of usabout the lady of the house mixing it up with the groundskeeper--didn't Eva Longoria have a thing with her gardener on Desperate Housewives? I should give DH a fair shake and read The Rainbow and Women in Love.

Also, DH Lawrence seems to have had some serious issues with female pleasure taking longer than male pleasure. Was he concerned deep down that his, ahem, pen wasn't potent and sharp enough?


Onto far less explicit pastures. The Professor, which is essentially a precursor to the more well-known Villette, was so much more than a minor novel to me, its humble peruser. Told from the perspective of a young man who goes to Belgium to teach young ladies, the book was chock full of repressed sex, and that's why it was so darn good.
First of all, there's the knowledge that the book is being written by a woman posing as a man writing from the perspective of a man who's in love with a woman (who may be a stand in for the author herself) which definitely gives the read a sexy, gender-bending feel.
Secondly, there' a desperate love triangle between the "sensually beguiling" Belgian Zoraide Reuter, a beautiful, charming, intelligent and wicked schoomistress, our narrator William Crimsworth, a remarkable self-controlled teacher with a weakness for the fairer sex, and the sweet and good-tempered Frances Henri, the latter's star pupil, who (yes, she does) gets excited and feels most comfortable when she's being dominated and scolded by her teacher/"master."
The fact that all of this arises from Bronte's repressed personal life, and the knowledge that the book's composition came on the heels of Bronte's unrequited love affair in Belgium is mysterious and far more of a mental turn-on than all the four letter words DH Lawrence so daringly inserts (no pun intended) into Chatterley. While there's no awkward naming of genitalia in Bronte's Professor, all the smouldering passion that breaks the surface only at certain times carried me through its pages in a truly stimulating whirr of anticipation.

2 comments:

  1. Based on a few of your posts, you seem to have become a fan of Elizabeth Gaskell.

    How about reading "Ruth" her story about the adventures of an unexpectedly pregnant and abandoned unmarried girl.

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  2. ksotikoula10:24 AM

    I agree with your comments about the two books (Professor and Chatterley).
    I have also always felt "Jane Eyre" by Charlotte Bronte to have so much more sexual tension than Lawrence's scandalous production and far more correct psychological depth. What I mean is simply that I was never really convinced that the reason why Connie had a relationship with her gamekeeper was because she wanted a child. Their first sexual contact is very awkward. Charlotte Bronte would have been so much better in describing the process. In my opinion Connie was in fact only half-alive and a clearly strong physical experience like sex would help her to feel she was still inhabiting her body. Otherwise she would end up cutting herself as pain is also another way of ensuring you are still inside your body.
    The two authors C.B. and D.H.L. have been compared too often mainly because C.B's psycho-sexual analysis of her heroines was not to be found again after nearly a century when Lawrence's novels with startling blatant sexual scenes appeared. Charlotte Bronte's sense of sexuality however I feel is so much different. Reviewers talk about her redefining desire through repression as even a sign of it, is a representation of feeling underneath. Why Jane Eyre's unmistakable palpable sexual tension is so superior to Lawrence is partly due to the psychological handling of the dynamics by C.B in the position of her two heroes (despotic man-independent woman entangled in power-related, sexually-charged, antagonistic relationship) but also to the prolongation of satisfaction of the desire, of the suspense and the sense of powerful feelings threatening to shatter fragile surface, but most of all the desire in this novel tends to become torturing merely because it can not be fulfilled. Every time Jane has to reject her most desired object we are filled with longing. There was no such feeling in Lady Chatterley's lover. To be honest I haven't read any other novel by D.H.L (but I intent to) and I have read all of C.B's who is my favorite author.
    One last note: I am not sure whether I see this subject this way, because I am a woman and C.B's writing is naturally more close to me. I would really like to hear a man's opinion about it too. A male friend of mine didn't find Jane Eyre as having any particular sexual tension. He found their relationship completely natural (which certainly is, but was startling brave for JE's era of appearance), but also added warned me he had no knowledge of the Victorian mores.

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