18 February 2008
More on the subject of sex and conversation, from Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928), the one D.H. Lawrence novel I hadn’t read, which fell into my lap at the shop last weekend:
‘… I can’t see I do a woman any more harm by sleeping with her than by dancing with her … or even talking to her about the weather. It’s just an interchange of sensations instead of ideas, so why not?’
‘It’s an amusing idea, Charlie,’ said Dukes, ‘that sex is just another form of talk, where you act the words instead of saying them. I suppose it’s quite true. I suppose we might exchange as many sensations and emotions with women as we do ideas about the weather, and so on. Sex might be a sort of normal physical conversation between a man and a woman. You don’t talk to a woman unless you have ideas in common: that is you don’t talk with any interest. And in the same way, unless you had some emotion or sympathy in common with a woman you wouldn’t sleep with her. But if you had…’
‘If you have the proper sort of emotion or sympathy with a woman, you ought to sleep with her,’ said May. ‘It’s the only decent thing, to go to bed with her. Just as, when you are interested talking to someone, the only decent thing is to have the talk out. You don’t prudishly put your tongue between your teeth and bite it. You just say out your say. And the same the other way.’
‘Well, Charlie and I believe that sex is a sort of communication like speech. Let any woman start a sex conversation with me, and it’s natural for me to go to bed with her to finish it, all in due season. Unfortunately no woman makes any particular start with me, so I go to bed by myself; and am none the worse for it … I hope so, anyway, for how should I know? Anyhow I’ve no starry calculations to be interfered with, and no immortal works to write. I’m merely a fellow skulking in the army…’
Silence fell. The four men smoked. And Connie sat there and put another stitch in her sewing … Yes, she sat there! She had to sit mum. She had to be quiet as a mouse, not to interfere with the immensely important speculations of these highly-mental gentlemen. But she had to be there. They didn’t get on so well without her; their ideas didn’t flow so freely. … (Chapter 4)
Of course, in the novel, sex isn’t ‘just talk’, but communication of an earthier, deeper kind. The purely ‘mental’ activities of Clifford Chatterley, and his class, are characterised as physically, and emotionally, impotent, via Clifford’s disability. In contrast, the virile game-keeper, Oliver Mellors, is portrayed as choosing to speak ‘broad Derbyshire’, even though he is perfectly capable of speaking ‘good English’.
Part of Constance’s (Lady Chatterley’s) sexual, and self-, awakening, is attributed to the frankness, and a certain body awareness, with which language can communicate, verbally and sexually, limited neither by politeness nor coarseness (this is after all, still class-obsessed England during the interwar years):
‘Th’art good cunt, though, aren’t ter? Best bit o’ cunt left on earth. When ter likes! When tha’rt willin’!’
‘What is cunt?’ she said.
‘An’ doesn’t ter know? Cunt! It’s thee down theer; an’ what I get when I’m i’side thee, and what tha gets when I’m i’side thee; it’s a` as it is, all on’t.’
‘All on’t,’ she teased. ‘Cunt! It’s like fuck then.’
‘Nay nay! Fuck’s only what you do. Animals fuck. But cunt’s a lot more than that. It’s thee, dost see: an’ tha’rt a lot besides an animal, aren’t ter? — even ter fuck? Cunt! Eh, that’s the beauty o’ thee, lass!’
She got up and kissed him between the eyes, that looked at her so dark and soft and unspeakably warm, so unbearably beautiful.
‘Is it?’ she said. ‘And do you care for me?’
He kissed her without answering.
‘Tha mun goo, let me dust thee,’ he said.
His hand passed over the curves of her body, firmly, without desire, but with soft, intimate knowledge.
As she ran home in the twilight the world seemed a dream; the trees in the park seemed bulging and surging at anchor on a tide, and the heave of the slope to the house was alive. (Chapter 12)
Image: Alpine forget-me-nots. Source: Wikimedia Commons.