Blesok no. 86, September-October, 2012
The First Lady Chatterley
(excerpt from the novel)
D. H. Lawrence
He was smiling with a curious pain in his face, and she was watching him, waiting for his answer. “You haven’t been breaking many eggs about him as far as I have noticed lately,” he said.
“I know,” she said. “I feel quite free of him: quite clear. And then a sort of fire comes up in me, and it’s –“
He mused for a time. “And how long does this sort of fire last?” he asked.
“I don't know. I never know.”
“And do you like it or don’t you?” he asked impatiently.
“I don’t know that either. It’s so strong. It’s just him, as if everything in me was on fire, and the fire was him.”
“Hm! – And do you want to be with him?”
“Do you want to be with him now?”
“Yes!” she said.
“Hm! Then I hope the fire will soon die down, for it makes you boring. – How do I throw water on it? – I find people in love a bore, but apparently they’re a beauty chorus compared to the genuine article. Ha ha!” He laughed a little theatrically and pushed himself into a corner of the big sofa, sulking.
She sat silent, with her hands in her lap, forgetting her sewing.
“I think a pregnant woman in a blue muse about the man who got her with child is the last word,” he said. “Why don't you go to your Op if you feel that way about him? Why don’t you ’op it with an ’op, skip and a jump?”
“He’ll be at work in a steel works,” she said.
“More fool him! Any man’s a fool who lets himself be a wage-earning slave, today. Don’t waste any more time about him. Helots and hoplites! How much does he earn a week?”
“Ha ha! Ha ha ha! Fancy the immortal fire hiring itself out at fifty-five shillings a week! Prometheus at tuppence an hour! Op at two dollars a day! ’Op along, sister Mary, ’op along, ’op along! How much have you got, of your own?”
“Five hundred a year, about.”
“Then why don’t you buy him out?”
“He won’t be bought.”
“He’ll be sold, but he won’t be bought. – Fire or no fire, I’m afraid Op’s a fool, and if I were you I’d drink barley water and get the fire out.”
“He says he’s his own sort of fool.”
“Says so, does he! Then he must be an extra one. Fancy priding yourself on being personally a fool! Ha ha! I’m tired of people, Ops, ’oplites and ’elots. Do you know what’s the matter with people today – with me, with you, with everybody, including Op?”
“Just a sterile and stale egoism that cuts us off from everything. It’s not selfishness. Selfishness is still a sort of instinct. It’s egoism, small, complete, and self-willed. With a paltry modern egoism, we are like grit between each other’s teeth and grains of sand in each other’s eyes. Each his own little ego like a grain of sand. It’s not only the seed of Abraham that are like the sands of the seashore, it’s everybody in the world. A whole Sahara of grains of sand, barren, egoistic little individuals who sing like sand sings, in friction: “Alleluia! Here am I! Wonderful, excellent, marvellous I!” And by pretending to take people at their own value, we keep the ball rolling. – “And the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail!” I saw that quotation somewhere. I think it’s fine. Not only the grasshopper is a burden, a ladybird is a burden, everything is a burden that is not oneself. Anything that is not myself is a burden to me. And desire has failed, thank God, so the little grain of sand is completely on its own along with all the other grains of sand. Myself! Myself! Myself! And the people who go about talking violets and pouring syrup over us to mix us into a sand-torte, a sand-cake, they are the foulest egoists of all, pouring the slime of their ego over one, like birdlime.”
Constance sat in silence through this tirade.
“If I believed in a God, I should want him to destroy me. I shouldn’t consider myself fit to live in a God-given world.”
“But a God of love would refuse to destroy you,” she said. “You’d have to destroy yourself or find some other way out.”
“Exactly! That’s just what he would do. I’m a grain of sand on the shores of the ocean of love! Ich armer Tropf! – And don’t imagine that you really love Op. It’s only your ego. And it’ll be his ego even more so. You’ll flatter his vanity. The common people are a thousand times more conceited and egoistic than we are. And if that’s impossible, then they’re more squalid about it. We do at least keep up certain appearances. But they let the mangy dogs of their egos run loose and piss on everybody’s doorpost. They’re just as egoistic as we are, and more foul in their manners. Op’s one of ’em. I could smell it in his letter. “The judge gave me a decree nisi –“ as if the judge had presented him with a silver championship cup. He’s a little egoist like all the rest. And I’ll bet he’s a squalid one, he wouldn’t be willing to be the father of all future Chatterleys if he weren’t. And the divine fire only means your own ego is up to some new little trick. I suppose you think you can put your ego over Op: that he is the simple passionate man who will let you come it over him. That’s usually what love means: the fevered and excited attempt of one individual to impose his ego and his will on another individual: though it’s usually the woman who is more successful at imposing her will and ego on a man. I suppose that’s what you’re after with Op! It’s no fun any more with Clifford! He’s a bony old bird, and his beak and claws are as good as yours any day, so you can only hop round the trouvaille of domestic carrion like a couple of old conjugal crows. But you think Partridge, or whatever his name is, is a more meaty subject for emotion and for subjugation. And if you can’t make a complete conquest and annexation, you can at least establish a protectorate in pure benevolence. But if I know anything about miners and steelworkers, you’ve got about as tough a bit of egoism in front of you as our tough and egoistic post-war world provides. As tough as his own iron, and about as sensitive! He’ll make a parade of his little self and get out of you what he wants – and then basta! Goodbye Dolly, I must leave you!”
Constance, who was sewing, sat smiling to herself, though she attended to every word he said. It seemed to her marvellously good, so clever and true. But of course, like all true things when they don’t really get you on the raw, so amusing! And it didn’t get her on the raw because Duncan was evidently so raw and exacerbated himself.
“Do you remember Voltaire?” she said. “Modesty has fled from our lips and taken refuge in our hearts! It’s my parody to fit my case.”
He twisted like a trapped snake on the sofa.
“It’ll find a full house,” he said. “No accommodation! Your ego is at home in your heart, so there’ll be no corner for modesty to creep into.”
“It has wings!” she said. “It can perch on the bedposts.”
“And drop droppings in your eye! I hope so.”
On the Sunday morning she set off for a drive with Duncan in his little two-seater. Duncan was a clever driver, and he loved speed. They were going for a run in the Peak district.
But as they were passing through Tevershall somebody saluted her. For a moment she did not realise. Then the figure in the navy blue suit and black hat jumped into her consciousness as the car passed on. She looked back. He too was looking back. It was her Op, as Duncan called him.
“Stop a minute! Stop!” she said hastily.
Duncan put on the brakes.
“Something wrong?” he said.
“Only I want to speak to somebody.”
The car stood by the kerb, Constance turning to look round. She waved to Parkin, and he came slowly forward towards the car, lifting the black hat. And in spite of the warmth she felt for him, Constance saw him ridiculous, rather small, rather stiff, with his ragged moustache sticking out and his wary movement. A ridiculous little male, on his guard and wary in his own self-importance! When the sex glamour is in abeyance practically every modern woman sees her man in this light, the light of her contemptuous superiority. It is the sex warmth alone that makes men and women possible to one another. Reduce them to simple individuality, to the assertive personal egoism of the modern individual, and each sees in the other the enemy. The woman, feeling for some reason triumphant in our day, man having yielded most of the weapons into her hands, looks on her masculine partner with ridicule. While the man, knowing he has given up his advantage to the woman and not having strength to get it back, looks on her with intense resentment.
So, Constance leaned out of the car looking at Parkin with her big, innocent blue eyes. And her warm-coloured, attractive face was soft and protectively tender, drawing him near. At the same time she hid her ridicule of him in her heart.
She was feeling triumphant. Sol He had had to come to Tevershall, even in spite of the dreaded wife 1 Constance had not replied to his little note. She felt she had done enough running after him. If anybody was to run he must run this time.
And here he was! No wonder she laughed in her heart in ridicule of him. Her power had been greater than his. He had had to come after all, like a male dog helplessly running after a bitch. And his workman’s face was pale and stiff. She gazed towards him with maternal solicitude on her warm face, and with ridicule laughing up its sleeve in her heart.
“How surprising to see you here!” she said. “When did you come?”
“I com’ this morning. I thought I’d see how Albert was getting on, now the gentlemen are shooting.”
“Oh, he’s getting on all right. There are five guns this year – had you heard? – including Sir Clifford.”
“Ay. My mother told me.”
“This is Mr Forbes – perhaps you’ve seen him before. But he doesn’t shoot.”
Parkin saluted Duncan, looking at him shrewdly with his hard, contracted red-brown eyes. Constance knew those eyes so well. They did not trust her. And they did not yield to her. When desire made them dilate and flash, then they loved her. But when they contracted again they mistrusted her, they did not love her. And now they were contracted almost to pain. She felt almost a maternal tenderness towards them.
But a maternal tenderness only occupies the breast of a woman. It does not go deep down into the sources of her being. There in the depths only the tenderness of the unknown can penetrate, and the warm gleam of the man, the male she loves. The deeps are dark, and in modern woman they are mostly closed up, closed up so completely and walled up so perfectly that their very existence is unsuspected. Only, from out of the walled-up depth come strange heavings and strange maladies.
With Constance, again, the deeps of her female self were closed up, and the mysterious stream of desire was stopped. She was living from her upper, superficial, maternal female self. She wanted to pity Parkin and be maternally kind to him, keeping her deeper self shut off and the mysterious stream that can flow all the time between man and woman walled back. It is the stream of desire, which should flow all the time, as a rule softly and deeply and unconscious, only at periods surging up into definite passionate desire, and sweeping everything before it. The stream of desire is the stream of life itself. It is that which unites us. It is that, even, which makes a nation a nation: the soft, invisible desire of people making a great swarm like a hive of bees. The clue is some unconscious, living idea which draws multitudes of men in a stream of desire. Such an idea as we have roughly described as Liberty and Democracy was the central clue that kept Englishmen streaming in the living activity of desire for so long. Now the idea seems dead, like a dead queen bee.
With Constance – and she knew it – the great stream of the deep desire was most of the time shut off. Her maternal feeling was much more superficial, more under the control of her ego. Her deeper desire was a flow that jeopardised her whole being. If she let it flow in vain, then all was lost.
Her Parkin! Yes, her desire had flowed towards him. But he, what was he? A limited little individual with no beyond. True, he had more mystery, more ‘beyond’ than Clifford. But then Clifford never asked for the stream of her deeper desire. He didn’t want it. A sisterly comradeship, a maternal solicitude – and for the rest he left her free.
Clifford left her free. Whereas this Op made demands upon the deeper woman in her.
“Won’t you come with us?” she said, suddenly opening the door of the small car invitingly. “There’s room for three, easily. You don’t mind, Duncan, do you?”
“Not a bit!” said Duncan. “It’s your funeral.”
“I canna get in here!” said Parkin, recoiling and 1ooking round the village.
“Why not? If it was Albert, he’d get in and think no more of it. Neither would anybody else.”
“Nay, I canna get in here,” repeated Parkin decidedly.
“Well, will you walk across the park to Stacks Gate, and we’ll wait for you there?” she said.
He looked at her with those hard, contracted eyes. He knew so well she was putting her will over him. Yet he wanted to come. And a certain pain she saw in his eyes made her determined to have him.
“I shouldna! And yo’ know it,” he said softly.
“Oh rubbish! You are always afraid. We’ll wait for you then.”
“Well! I’ll be as quick as I can,” he said with a small smile.
And she gloated in her heart, seeing how much he had wanted to come to her, to be near her.
“Don’t hurry too much,” she said, with gentle solicitude.
He turned back to the park gates, and Duncan started the car.
“Op, of course!” he said.
“Yes!” said Constance.
And she sat musing. Her limbs, all her body was full of warm thrills and quivers, because he was going to sit beside her.
“Pity he’s got that moustache and that gap in his teeth,” said Duncan. “Otherwise he’s quite a nice man. Quite pleasant to have a child by him, I should say.”
But Constance did not answer. She was now feeling jealous that Duncan should be there at all. She wanted Op to herself.