Lady Chatterley’s Lover

textual history, study resources, plot, and web links

Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928) is Lawrence’s most controversial novel, and perhaps the first serious work of literature to explore human sexuality in explicit detail. It features some of his most lyrical and poetic prose style alongside the theme of class conflict – acted out between the aristocratic Constance Chatterley, and her gamekeeper-lover Mellors. Some feminist critics now claim the novel to be deeply misogynistic, because part of its argument is that women will reach true fulfillment only by submitting themselves to men. Lawrence wrote the novel three times, and it made important historical impacts twice over: one when it was first published in 1928, and the second in the famous obscenity trial in 1960.

D.H. Lawrence is a writer who excites great passions in his readers – which is entirely appropriate, since that is how he wrote. He is the first really great writer to come from the (more or less) working class, and much of his work deals with issues of class, as well as other fundamentals such as the relationships between men, women, and the natural world.

At times he becomes mystic and visionary, and his prose style can be poetic, didactic, symbolic, and bombastic all within the space of a few pages. He also deals with issues of sexuality and politics in a manner which is often controversial.

D.H.Lawrence portrait


Lady Chatterley’s Lover – textual history

There were in fact three different versions of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The first, written in 1926, is now known as The First Lady Chatterley. Its main focus is on social and political aspects of a mining community, and it has none of the explicit sex scenes or the frank language for which the third version became famous. The first version was not published until 1944.

The second version was called, rather coyly, John Thomas and Lady Jane. The relationship between Constance Chatterley and her gamekeeper (then called Oliver Parkin) is treated in a more gentle manner. Indeed, Lawrence had Tenderness as an alternative title. It was first published in an Italian translation by Mondadori in 1954.

When he finished the third version in 1928 Lawrence encountered immediate opposition to its publication – both by his agents and his publishers. Nobody would touch the book unless he made substantial cuts – which he refused to make. Lawrence was a veteran of battles with publishers and censors, but he believed very passionately that writers should be free to express themselves openly about matters which they believed to be important and true.

Lady Chatterley's Lover - Penguin coverHe reverted to an old-fashioned strategy for publication and raised money by subscriptions, comissioning a Florentine bookseller named Guiseppe Orioli to print the book in his Tipografia Giuntina using Lawrence’s own capital. The 1,000 copies of this first edition printed in July 1928 were sold through Lawrence’s close personal friends. At only two pounds, the book sold quickly, so that by December, this first version was completely sold out. In November, he published another cheaper edition of 200 copies which sold just as quickly as the first.

The novel quickly developed a scandalous reputation, both because of its explicit sexual scenes and because of Lawrence’s (very occasional) use of words such as cunt and fuck which were regarded as completely taboo terms at the time. Lawrence did indeed make money out of the venture, which he shrewdly put into successful investments on the New York Stock Exchange. But two things conspired against him making even more.

Because the book had been privately published, it was not formally copyrighted, and because of its reputation many other printers and publishers issued pirated copies, which sold well and made them, but not Lawrence, healthy profits. The book was pirated on both sides of the Atlantic.

In response to this, Lawrence put forth a second edition in November 1928, again from the tiny Florentine print shop, and then a cheap edition in May 1929 of 3,000 copies in Paris. This edition sold out by August at sixty francs and was the first to include his prefatory essay entitled ‘My Skirmish with Jolly Roger’. This was a defense, explication, and history of the novel that was published posthumously as A Propos of Lady Chatterly’s Lover.

Lawrence became extremely ill in late 1929 and moved to the Swiss Alps and then to the South of France, where he died in 1930. With the death of Lawrence, publishers felt at liberty to expurgate the novel at will. Without a copyright, a publisher who could come up with a clean version had the promise of the novel’s preceding reputation to back up its success.

In 1932, two expurgated versions were published, 2,000 copies in America and 3,440 copies in England. The publishers of this version euphemistically referred to it as an `abridged’ edition. Whole pages were left out with nothing but confusing asterisks left to mark their omissions. There was no consistency in the use of these astriks; some deleted pages were not even mentioned. Every description of the act of sex and all four-letter words which could have been remotely objectional were left out.

The National Union Catalog records fifteen different printings of expurgated versions between the years 1932 and 1943 in America, England, and Paris. A considerable number of these novels were sold, and the black market still carried a full line of assorted unexpurgated copies. The novel continued to have an underground existence and a high reputation as a banned or forbidden work in the post-war years.

When the full unexpurgated edition was published in Britain in 1960, the trial of the publishers, Penguin Books, under the Obscene Publications Act of 1959 was a major public event and a test of the new obscenity law. The 1959 act, introduced by Roy Jenkins, had made it possible for publishers to escape conviction if they could show that a work was of literary merit. One of the objections was for the frequent use of the word ‘fuck’ and its derivatives.

Various academic critics, including E. M. Forster, Helen Gardner and Raymond Williams, were called as witnesses, and the verdict, delivered on November 2, 1960, was not guilty. This resulted in a far greater degree of freedom for publishing explicit material in the UK. The prosecution was ridiculed for being out of touch with changing social norms when the chief prosecutor, Mervyn Griffith-Jones, asked if it was the kind of book ‘you would wish your wife or servants to read’.

[With thanks to Randall Martin.]

Lady Chatterley’s Lover – study resources

Lady Chatterley's Lover Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Penguin Classics – Amazon UK

Lady Chatterley's Lover Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Penguin Classics – Amazon US

Lady Chatterley's Lover Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Wordsworth Classics – Amazon UK

Lady Chatterley's Lover Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Wordsworth Classics – Amazon US

Lady Chatterley's Lover Lady Chatterley’s Lover – annotated Kindle eBook edition

Lady Chatterley's Lover Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Signet Classics – Amazon UK

Lady Chatterley's Lover Lady Chatterley’s Lover –  Signet Classics – Amazon US

Lady Chatterley's Lover The First Lady Chatterley’s Lover – first version – Amazon UK

Lady Chatterley's Lover The Second Lady Chatterley’s Lover – second version – Amazon UK

Lady Chatterley's Lover Lady Chatterley’s Lover – plain text edition at Project Gutenberg

Lady Chatterley's Lover Lady Chatterley’s Lover – audioBook on CD – Amazon UK

Lady Chatterley's Lover Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Cambridge scholarly edition – Amazon UK

Pointer The Complete Critical Guide to D.H. Lawrence – Amazon UK

Red button The Cambridge Companion to D.H.Lawrence – Amazon UK

Red button The Complete Short Novels of D.H.Lawrence – Amazon UK

Lady Chatterley’s Lover – plot summary

Connie Reid is raised as a cultured bohemian of the upper-middle class, and is introduced to love affairs – intellectual and sexual liaisons – as a teenager. In 1917, at 23, she marries Clifford Chatterley, the scion of an aristocratic line. After a month’s honeymoon, he is sent to war, and returns impotent, paralyzed from the waist down.

After the war, Clifford becomes a successful writer, and many intellectuals flock to the Chatterley mansion at Wragby Hall. Connie feels isolated; the intellectuals she meets prove empty and bloodless, and she resorts to a brief and dissatisfying affair with a visiting playwright, Michaelis.

Lady Chatterley's Lover Connie longs for real human contact, and falls into despair, as all men seem scared of true feelings and true passion. There is a growing distance between Connie and Clifford, who has retreated into the meaningless pursuit of success in his writing and in his obsession with coal-mining, and towards whom Connie feels a deep physical aversion. A nurse, Mrs. Bolton, is hired to take care of the handicapped Clifford so that Connie can be more independent, and Clifford falls into a deep dependence on the nurse, his manhood fading into an infantile reliance on her services.

Into the void of Connie’s life comes Oliver Mellors, the gamekeeper on Clifford’s estate, newly returned from serving in the army. Mellors is aloof and derisive, and yet Connie feels curiously drawn to him by his innate nobility and grace, his purposeful isolation, his undercurrents of natural sensuality.

After several chance meetings in which Mellors keeps her at arm’s length, reminding her of the class distance between them, they meet by chance at a hut in the forest, where they have sex. This happens on several occasions, but still Connie feels a distance between them, remaining profoundly separate from him despite their physical closeness.

One day, Connie and Mellors meet by coincidence in the woods, and they have sex on the forest floor. This time, they experience simultaneous orgasms. This is a revelatory and profoundly moving experience for Connie; she begins to adore Mellors, feeling that they have connected on some deep sensual level. She is proud to believe that she is pregnant with Mellors’ child. He is a real, ‘living’ man, as opposed to the emotionally dead intellectuals and the dehumanized industrial workers. They grow progressively closer, connecting on a primordial physical level, as woman and man rather than as two minds or intellects.

Connie goes away to Venice for a vacation. While she is gone, Mellors’ old wife returns, causing a scandal. Connie returns to find that Mellors has been fired as a result of the negative rumors spread about him by his resentful wife, against whom he has initiated divorce proceedings. Connie admits to Clifford that she is pregnant with Mellors’ baby, but Clifford refuses to give her a divorce. The novel ends with Mellors working on a farm, waiting for his divorce, and Connie living with her sister, also waiting.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover – principal characters
Clifford Chatterley landowner, disabled WW1 veteran, and businessman
Constance Chatterley his wife, an intellectual and social progressive
Oliver Mellors ex-soldier, ex-blacksmith, intellectual, and the gamekeeper at Wragby Hall
Mrs (Ivy) Bolton Clifford’s devoted housekeeper
Michaelis successful Irish playwright
Sir Macolm Reid Connie’s father, a painter
Hilda Reid Connie’s sister
Tommy Dukes an intellectual friend of Clifford’s
Duncan Forbes an artist friend of Connie and Hilda
Bertha Coutts Mellor’s wife – who does no appear in the novel

Lady Chatterley’s Lover – film version

2007 French adaptation of the second version of the novel

Pointer See reviews of the film at the Internet Movie Database

Further reading


Pointer Frieda Lawrence, Not I, But the Wind…, New York: Viking Press, 1934.

Pointer Harry T. Moore, The Life and Works of D.H. Lawrence, London: Unwin Books, 1951.

Pointer Keith Sagar, The Life of D.H.Lawrence: An Illustrated Biography, London: Eyre Methuen, 1980.

Pointer John Worthen, D.H.Lawrence: The Early Years: 1885-1912: The Cambridge Biography of D.H. Lawrence, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Pointer Brenda Maddox, The Married Man: A Biography of D.H.Lawrence, London: Sinclair Stevenson, 1994.


Pointer J.T. Boulton (ed), The Selected Letters of D.H. Lawrence, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.


Pointer David Ellis, D.H.Lawrence’s ‘Women in Love’: A Casebook, Oxford University Press, 2006.

Pointer John Worthen, The First ‘Women in Love’ (Cambridge Edition of the Works of D.HLawrence), Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Pointer Graham Handley, Brodie’s Notes on D.H.Lawrence’s ‘Women in Love’, London: Macmillan, 1992.

Pointer Harold Bloom, D.H.Lawrence’s ‘Women in Love’ (Modern Critical Interpretations), Chelsea House Publishers, 1991.

Pointer Anne Fernihough, The Cambridge Companion to D.H.Lawrence, Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Pointer Fiona Becket, The Complete Critical Guide to D.H. Lawrence, London: Routledge, 2002.

D.H.Lawrence painting - The Holy Family

Painting by Lawrence – ‘The Holy Family’

Background reading

Pointer button Mary Freeman, D.H.Lawrence A Basic Study of His Ideas, Grosset and Dunlap, 1955.

Pointer button F.R.Leavis, D.H.Lawrence: Novelist, London: Chatto and Windus, 1955.

Pointer button Mark Spilka, The Love Ethic of D.H.Lawrence, Dobson, 1955.

Pointer button Graham Hough, The Dark Sun: A Study of D.H.Lawrence, New York: Capricorn Books, 1956.

Pointer button Eliseo Vivas, D.H.Lawrence: The Failure and the Triumph of Art, General Books 1960.

Pointer button Kingsley Widmer, The Art of Perversity: D.H.Lawrence’s Shorter Fiction, University of Washington Press, 1962.

Pointer button Eugene Goodheart, The Utopian Vision of D.H.Lawrence, Transaction Publishers, 1963.

Pointer button Julian Moynahan, The Deed of Life: The Novels and Tales of D.H.Lawrence, Oxford University Press, 1963.

Pointer button George Panichas, Adventure in Consciousness: Lawrence’s Religious Quest, Folcroft Library Editions, 1964.

Pointer button Helen Corke, D.H. Lawrence: The Croydon Years, Austin (Tex): University of Texas Press, 1965.

Pointer button George Ford, Double Measure; A Study of D.H.Lawrence, New York: Holt Reinhart and Winston, 1965.

Pointer button H M Daleski, The Forked Flame: A Study of D.H.Lawrence, Evanston (Ill): Northwestern University Press, 1965.

Pointer button Keith Sagar, The Art of D.H.Lawrence, Cambridge University Press, 1966.

Pointer button David Cavitch, D.H.Lawrence and the New World, Oxford University Press, 1969.

Pointer button Colin Clarke, River of Dissolution: D.H.Lawrence and English Romanticism, London: Routledge, 1969.

Pointer button Baruch Hochman, Another Ego: Self and Society in D.H.Lawrence, University of South Carolina Press, 1970.

Pointer button Keith Aldritt, The Visual Imagination of D.H.Lawrence, Hodder and Stoughton, 1971.

Pointer button R E Pritchard, D.H.Lawrence: Body of Darkness, Hutchinson, 1971.

Pointer button John E Stoll, The Novels of D.H.Lawrence: A Search for Integration, University of Missouri Press, 1971.

Pointer button Frank Kermode, D.H. Lawrence, London: Fontana, 1973.

Pointer button Scott Sanders, D.H.Lawrence: The World of the Major Novels, Vision Press, 1973.

Pointer button F.R.Leavis, Thought, Words, and Creativity: Art and Thought in Lawrence, Chatto and Windus, 1976.

Pointer button Marguerite Beede Howe, The Art of the Self in D.H.Lawrence, Ohio University Press, 1977.

Pointer button Alastair Niven, D.H.Lawrence: The Novels, Cambridge University Press, 1978.

Pointer button Anne Smith, Lawrence and Women, London: Vision Press, 1978.

Pointer button R.P. Draper (ed), D.H. Lawrence: The Critical Heritage, London: Routledge & Keegan Paul, 1979.

Pointer button John Worthen, D.H.Lawrence and the Idea of the Novel, London: Macmillan, 1979.

Pointer button Aidan Burns, Nature and Culture in D.H.Lawrence, London: Macmillan, 1980.

Pointer button L D Clark, The Minoan Distance: Symbolism of Travel in D.H.Lawrence, University of Arizona Press, 1980.

Pointer button Roger Ebbatson, D.H.Lawrence and the Nature Tradition: A Theme in English Fiction 1859-1914, Humanities Oress, 1980.

Pointer button Alastair Niven, D.H.Lawrence: The Writer and His Work, New York: Scribner, 1980.

Pointer button Philip Hobsbaum, A Reader’s Guide to D.H.Lawrence, Thames and Hudson, 1981.

Pointer button Kim A.Herzinger , D.H.Lawrence in His Time: 1908-1915, Bucknell University Press, 1982.

Pointer button Graham Holderness, D.H.Lawrence: History, Ideology and Fiction, Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1982.

Pointer button Hilary Simpson, D.H.Lawrence and Feminism, London: Croom Helm, 1982.

Pointer button Gamini Salgado, A Preface to D.H. Lawrence, London: Longman, 1983.

Pointer button Judith Ruderman, D.H.Lawrence and the Devouring Mother, Duke University Press, 1984.

Pointer button Anthony Burgess, Flame Into Being: The Life and Work of D.H.Lawrence, London: Heinemann, 1985.

Pointer button Sheila McLeod, Lawrence’s Men and Women, London: Heinemann, 1985.

Pointer button Henry Miller, The World of Lawrence: A Passionate Appreciation, London: Calder Publications, [1930] 1985.

Pointer button Keith Sagar, D.H.Lawrence: Life Into Art, London: Penguin Books, 1985.

Pointer button Mara Kalnins (ed), D.H. Lawrence: Centenary Essays, Bristol: Classical Press, 1986.

Pointer button Michael Black, D.H. Lawrence: The Early Fiction, Cambridge University Press, 1986

Pointer button Peter Scheckner, Class, Politics, and the Individual: A Study of the Major Works of D.H.Lawrence, Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 1986.

Pointer button Cornelia Nixon, D.H.Lawrence’s Leadership Novels and the Turn Against Women, University of California Press, 1986.

Pointer button Colin Milton, Lawrence and Nietzsche: A Study in Influence, Mercat Press, 1988.

Pointer button Peter Balbert, D.H.Lawrence and the Phallic Imagination: Essays on Sexual Identity and Feminist Misreading, London: Macmillan, 1989.

Pointer button Wayne Templeton, States of Estrangement: the Novels of D.H.Lawrence 1912-17, Whiston Publishing, 1989.

Pointer button Janet Barron, D.H.Lawrence: (Feminist Readings), Prentice Hall, 1990.

Pointer button Keith Brown (ed), Rethinking Lawrence, Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1990.

Pointer button James C Cowan, D.H.Lawrence and the Trembling Balance, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1990.

Pointer button John B Humma, Metaphor and Meaning in D.H.Lawrence’s Later Novels, University of Missouri Press 1990.

Pointer button G M Hyde, D.H.Lawrence (Modern Novelists), London: Macmillan, 1990.

Pointer button Allan Ingram, The Language of D.H. Lawrence, London: Macmillan, 1990.

Pointer button Nancy Kushigian, Pictures and Fictions: Visual Modernism and the Pre-War Novels of D.H.Lawrence, Peter Lang Publishing, 1990.

Pointer button Tony Pinkney, Lawrence (New Readings), Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Weatsheaf, 1990.

Pointer button Leo J.Dorisach, Sexually Balanced Relationships in the Novels of D.H.Lawrence, Peter Lang Publishing, 1991.

Pointer button Nigel Kelsey, D.H.Lawrence: Sexual Crisis (Studies in 20th Century Literature), London: Macmillan, 1991.

Pointer button Barbara Mensch, D.H.Lawrence and the Authoritarian Personality, London: Macmillan, 1991.

Pointer button John Worthen, D H Lawrence (Modern Fiction), London: Arnold, 1991.

Pointer button Michael Bell, D.H.Lawrence: Language and Being, Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Pointer button Michael Black, D.H. Lawrence: Sons and Lovers, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Pointer button Virginia Hyde, The Risen Adam: D. H. Lawrence’s Revisionist Typology, University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992.

Pointer button James B.Sipple, Passionate Form: life process as artistic paradigm in D.H.Lawrence, Peter Lang Publishing, 1992.

Pointer button Kingsley Widmer, Defiant Desire: Some Dialectical Legacies of D.H.Lawrence, Southern Illinois University Press, 1992.

Pointer button Anne Fernihough, D.H.Lawrence: Aesthetics and Ideology, Clarendon Press, 1993.

Pointer button Linda R Williams, Sex in the Head: Visions of Femininity and Film in D.H.Lawrence, Prentice Hall, 1993.

Pointer button Katherine Waltenscheid, The Resurrection of the Body: Touch in D.H.Lawrence, Peter Lang Publishing, 1993.

Pointer button Robert E.Montgomery, The Visionary D.H.Lawrence: Beyond Philosophy and Art, Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Pointer button Leo Hamalian, D.H.Lawrence and Nine Women Writers, Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1996.

Pointer button Anne Fernihough, The Cambridge Companion to D.H.Lawrence, Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Pointer button Fiona Becket, The Complete Critical Guide to D.H.Lawrence, London: Routledge, 2002.

Pointer button James C Cowan, D.H. Lawrence: Self and Sexuality, Ohio State University Press, 2003.

Pointer button John Worthen, D.H.Lawrence: The Life of an Outsider, London: Penguin, 2006.

Pointer button David Ellis (ed), D.H.Lawrence’s ‘Women in Love’: A Casebook, Oxford University Press, 2006.

Other work by D.H.Lawrence

Sons and LoversSons and Lovers This is Lawrence’s first great novel. It’s a quasi-autobiographical account of a young man’s coming of age in the early years of the twentieth century. The setting is working class Nottinghamshire, and the story it focuses on class conflicts and gender issues as young Paul Morrell is torn between a passionate relationship with his mother and his attraction to other women. He is also locked insomething of an Oedipal struggle with his coal-miner father. If you are new to Lawrence and his work, this is a good place to start.
Lady Chatterley's Lover Buy the book at Amazon UK
Lady Chatterley's Lover Buy the book at Amazon US


Women in LoveWomen in Love begins where his previous big novel The Rainbow leaves off and features the Brangwen sisters as they try to forge new types of liberated personal relationships. The men they choose are trying to do the same thing – and the results are problematic and often disturbing for all concerned. Many regard this as his finest novel, where his ideas are matched with passages of superb writing. The locations combine urban Bohemia with a symbolic climax which takes place in the icy snow caps of the Alps.
Lawrence greatest works Buy the book at Amazon UK
Lawrence greatest works Buy the book at Amazon US

D.H.Lawrence – web links

D.H.Lawrence web links D.H.Lawrence at Mantex
Biographical notes, book reviews, study guides, videos, bibliographies, critical studies, and web links.

Project Gutenberg D.H.Lawrence at Project Gutenberg
A major collection of free eTexts of the novels, stories, travel writing, and poetry – available in a variety of formats.

Wikipedia D.H.Lawrence at Wikipedia
Biographical notes, social background, publishing history, the Lady Chatterley trial, critical reputation, bibliography, archives, and web links.

Film adaptations D.H.Lawrence at the Internet Movie Database
Adaptations of Lawrence’s work for the cinema and television – in various languages. Full details of directors, actors, production, box office, trivia, and even quizzes.

D.H.Lawrence D.H.Lawrence archive at the University of Nottingham
Biography, further reading, textual genetics, frequently asked questions, his local reputation, research centre, bibliographies, and lists of holdings.

Red button D.H.Lawrence and Eastwood
Nottinhamshire local enthusiast web site featuring biography, historical and recent photographs of the Eastwood area and places associated with Lawrence.

D.H.Lawrence The World of D.H.Lawrence
Yet another University of Nottingham web site featuring biography, interactive timeline, maps, virtual tour, photographs, and web links.

Red buttonD.H.Lawrence Heritage
Local authority style web site, with maps, educational centre, and details of lectures, visits, and forthcoming events.

© Roy Johnson 2010

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