The Chatterley/Bolton Affair: The Freudian Path of Regression in Lady Chatterley's Lover

By Doherty, Gerald | Papers on Language & Literature, Fall 1998 | Go to article overview

The Chatterley/Bolton Affair: The Freudian Path of Regression in Lady Chatterley's Lover


Doherty, Gerald, Papers on Language & Literature


Over the past thirty years, the sequence of orgasmic encounters between Connie Chatterley and Oliver Mellors, the game-keeper, in Lady Chatterley's Lover has been the object of intense fascination and scrutiny. It all started in 1962 with Frank Kermode's perception, based on his reading of Lawrence's Apocalypse (1932), and Frederic Carter's D. H. Lawrence and the Body Mystical (1932) of a paradigmatic equivalence between an ancient mystery ritual--the Opening of the Seven Seals--and the sequence of erotic encounters between Connie and Mellors ("Spenser" 24-32). The plot of Connie's initiation and mystical rebirth, as Kermode notes, follows "the original plot of Apocalypse" (Lawrence 128). Though subsequent critics have criticized this apocalyptic mythology, both for its bracketing of the socio-political concerns of the novel, and for its evasion of the deep ironies implied in Mellors's final isolation,(1) nevertheless Kermode's typology offers the best account of the erotics of the Connie/Mellors affair, and of the powerful teleology that governs their ritual love-making.(2) It shows how, in this third rewriting of the Chatterley novels, Lawrence transforms history into myth, and sexuality into a pastoral idyll, as he tracks the vicissitudes of Connie's erotic transformation from a frigid resistance to an enthusiast response. The allegory of a seven-stage journey from death into life underwrites a seven-stage sexual eschatology, and endows it with a dynamic sequence and climax.

The erotics of the Chatterley/Bolton affair, by contrast, has provoked merely a marginal comment, since it seems to possess neither the typological nor initiatory nor psychological complexity of its positive counterpart. As such, its role is a purely subordinate one--the dull determinism of the Chatterley/ Bolton erotic decline in inverse relationship to the glamorous upsurge of the Connie/Mellors affair: each exists as a foil for the other. Critics, for the most part, have extracted a single essence to characterize, or a single epithet to write off, the relationship. For H. M. Daleski, it represents a "childish perversity" (301); for Julian Moynahan, a "monstrous, unvital embrace" (77); for John Haegert, a "horrid infantilism" (217). Dennis Jackson is one of the few critics who have detected a distinctive pattern in the lovemaking between Clifford and Ivy Bolton: the death-to-rebirth archetype underwrites its progression. Clifford's access to a "strange new sort of potency" as a consequence of Mrs. Bolton's ministrations provides an "ironic commentary" on the theme of Connie and Mellors's regeneration (266-67).

The present psychoanalytical reading of the Chatterley/ Bolton erotics, works less, however, through a traditional excavation of unconscious motive in character-behavior and action than through the uncovering of a specific Freudian pattern--the most celebrated of all psychoanalytical teleologies, the three stages (oral, anal, genital) in the development of infantile sexuality. In effect, Lawrence deploys the three stages, worked out by Freud in the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality,(3) in his depiction of the progress of the Chatterley/Bolton affair--but he does so through a major reversal. The three stages of the affair enact the three Freudian stages, but through a "backward" declension: they represent the Freudian path of "perversion"--the regression from genital to anal and oral sexual pleasures. Before we turn to Lady Chatterley's Lover, however, this claim needs more theoretical substantiation and elaboration. We can start with the question of how well versed Lawrence was in Freudian theory.

In her catalogue of Lawrence's reading, Rose Burwell notes that it is difficult to determine exactly which of Freud's writings Lawrence actually read, and how far his knowledge of Freud was based on close readings of Freudian texts or on discussions with Frieda, who was Otto Gross's lover in 1907, and with his friends, David Eder and Barbara Low, who were psychoanalysts (256). …

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