56 pages 1 hour read

D. H. Lawrence

Lady Chatterley's Lover

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1928

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Summary and Study Guide


Lady Chatterley’s Lover is a Modernist novel by the English writer D. H. Lawrence. It was written between 1926 and 1928, while Lawrence was living in Italy, and first published privately in 1928. Since it was considered scandalous and obscene, the novel was not widely available in America or the United Kingdom until the 1960s. The novel was controversial because of its explicit sexual content, as well as its depiction of an adulterous affair between an upper-class woman and a working-class man. In telling the story of this relationship, Lawrence explores themes of modernity, existential despair, and conflict between the natural and societal worlds.

This guide uses the 2011 Signet Classics edition.

Content Warning: This novel features outdated and offensive language regarding disabilities, differences in dialect, and sexuality (particularly women’s) that is reproduced only in direct quotes. The story revolves heavily around sexual themes, and some sexual content may be considered explicit.

Plot Summary

The novel is set in England in the 1920s. Constance “Connie” Chatterley and Clifford Chatterley live at Wragby Hall; the house and estate have been owned by the Chatterley family for generations. Clifford was injured fighting in World War I and is paralyzed from the waist down. His injuries mean that he and Connie do not have a sexual relationship, and that he will never be able to father children who can inherit the estate and continue the family line.

Connie becomes bored and lonely at Wragby Hall as Clifford pursues a writing career. He invites intellectuals to their home as he becomes more interested in success and fame. He also suggests that Connie might become pregnant with another man, and then the two of them could raise the child together; he stipulates that he would not want to know the identity of Connie’s lover. Connie does have an affair with an Irish writer, but finds the relationship unsatisfying. Increasingly trapped and isolated, her health declines. Eventually, the couple hires a woman named Mrs. Bolton to act as a caregiver to Clifford to give Connie more leisure and freedom.

Connie takes walks in the woods around the estate and enjoys the peace and freedom of nature. During her walks, she encounters Oliver Mellors, who is employed by Clifford as the gamekeeper of the estate. Connie becomes increasingly intrigued by Mellors, even though he attempts to keep his distance, and she secures access to a small hut where he breeds pheasants. Eventually, Connie and Mellors begin a sexual relationship, which revitalizes Connie and gives her a new capacity to experience pleasure and desire. She and Mellors regularly meet at his cottage and on the grounds of the estate to have sex. Mrs. Bolton eventually deduces that Connie is having an affair but does not tell anyone what she knows.

Almost from the beginning of their relationship, Connie is intrigued by the idea of conceiving a child with Mellors. Clifford has previously agreed to her bearing another man’s child, but she knows he would not tolerate it if he knew she was having an affair with a working-class man. Connie plans to go on a trip to Italy with her father and sister; she hints to Clifford that she may have an affair while she is there, and come back pregnant. Connie intends for her child with Mellors to be passed off as the result of a relationship with an unknown lover.

As she continues her relationship with Mellors, she grows more and more attached to him, and more disdainful and repulsed by her husband. Connie and Mellors begin to talk about the idea of Connie leaving Clifford so the two of them can have a life together. This plan is complicated because Mellors is also married, although he has been estranged from his wife for years. Before Connie leaves for Italy, Mellors initiates divorce proceedings, and she plans to do the same with Clifford once she returns.

While she is in Venice, Connie confirms that she is pregnant as a result of her affair with Mellors. She also learns, via letters, of events occurring in England. Mellors’s estranged wife, Bertha, became enraged when she learned that Mellors wants to divorce her; she began causing trouble, accusing Mellors of having relationships with other women. These accusations are scandalous and awkward, especially because Bertha accuses Connie of being one of the women whom Mellors is involved with. Clifford does not like that one of his employees is involved in a scandal, or that his wife’s name is mixed up in the rumors, so he fires Mellors from his job. Mellors writes to Connie that he has gone to London.

Connie journeys from Venice back to London. By this time, both her father and sister are aware of her relationship with Mellors, and both are unhappy and unsupportive. They believe Connie has a right to happiness, sexual pleasure, and the possibility of having a child, but they do not like her having a relationship with a working-class man. In London, Connie and her family propose that when Connie asks for a divorce, she names a different man as her lover (not Mellors). They believe it will be easier for Connie and Mellors to obtain their respective divorces if their relationship is not known. Connie asks Clifford for a divorce, claiming that she has fallen in love with a man named Duncan.

Clifford is hurt and betrayed, and does not want to divorce Connie. Even when Connie tells him that she is pregnant, he argues that the two of them could raise the child together. In frustration, Connie eventually tells Clifford that Mellors is her lover and the father of her child. Clifford is appalled and tells Connie that he will never divorce her—he cannot stand the thought of her being with a working-class man. Connie has no choice but to wait and hope that Clifford will eventually change his mind; she goes to Scotland to await the birth of her child. Meanwhile, Mellors is working on a small farm while waiting for his divorce to be finalized. It is too risky for him and Connie to be together prior to his divorce, so the two of them will have to endure months of separation. The novel ends ambiguously but hopefully, with Mellors predicting that he and Connie will have a happy future once they can reunite.