Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Lady Chatterly's Hunka-Hunka Burnin' Love

Much like Dracula, no matter how dead it seemed the last time we saw it, this literary property seems to rise from the crypt and stalk the land again every few years, bringing yawns of terror in its wake. With the latest film adaptation of Lady Chatterly's Lover now in cineplexes, it seems a good time to ask: what's the big deal?

I think this is a case where the controversy far overshadows and outsells the actual book. I have in hand a copy — to be specific, the 35-cent Pocket Books "Cardinal" paperback edition, First Printing, July 1959, which proudly boasts that it "includes every word contained in copy No. 402 of the signed limited edition of 1,000 copies privately printed by the author in Italy in 1928," and even goes so far as to include the full text of Federal District Judge Frederick vanPelt Bryan's ruling in the landmark obscenity trial of Grove Press vs. The Postmaster General

Y'know, towards the end, Lenny Bruce used to bore his audiences to tears by reading this kind of stuff at them.

The book itself is, to be blunt, a snore. It's a sub-Harlequin bodice-ripper slowed down by long passages of class-consciousness babble. Lady Constance is a standard-issue British Upper-Class Twit; Parkin the Gamekeeper may be hunky and earthy now, but it's far too easy to envision him maturing into Owen, the hygenically repellant but sexually obsessed farmer in The Vicar of Dibley. Okay, so the sex scenes are fairly explicit, in a strangely inept way, and the language in places makes use of some earthy Anglo-Saxon terms that were, in the 1920s, probably not found in print outside of porn.

(By way of contrast, in 1968 Richard Hooker, the author of the original MASH novel, had the grace to use "motherf****r." By way of further contrast, I was in a store last night, and the "edgy" young staff had the music cranked, and the "song" that was playing seemed to consist of nothing but the word "motherf****r" chanted over and over again without the asterisks. I have trouble seeing this trend as a positive development in the expressive use of the English language.)

But on the whole: is this book really worth 80 years of well-advertised "controversy" and smug preening by literati all over the world at how this book has subverted the dominant paradigm and upset bluenoses everywhere?

Your thoughts, s'il vous plait?