Since the publication of the first version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in 1928 by David Herbert Richards “D. H.” Lawrence, people just can’t stop criticizing it. If it wasn’t being censored for its subject matter, it was being criticized for including certain four-letter words that cannot be reproduced on this website. Since the subject matter and, to some part, the vocabulary have become tame nearly 100 years later, critics needed something else to deride.
This something else turns out to be the very abrupt and ambiguous ending. After 300 or so pages of torment and passion, the novel ends with a long letter from Mellors in the Midlands to Lady Chatterley in Scotland. Author Lawrence Durrell would complain that Lady Chatterley’s Lover, “The book falls away rather sadly at the end. It had all the ingredients for a big tragedy, but ends on a whimper.” Was that whimper deliberate on Lawrence’s part?
The Whimper of an Ending
Many threads of the plot are left dangling at the end of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Lady Chatterley is so far unsuccessful in obtaining a divorce from her invalid and impotent husband. She is also pregnant with Mellor’s child. Mellors did manage to divorce his despicable wife but due to complicated legal reasons of the times, must live apart from Lady Chatterley for at least six months. It is during this separation that the novel ends.
The final words of the novel are appropriately from Lady Chatterley’s lover himself as opposed to any other character or even Lawrence’s omniscient narrative voice: “John Thomas [the couple’s pet name for Mellor’s penis] says goodnight to Lady Jane, a little droopingly, but with a hopeful heart –” The novel does not even end on a period, called in England (appropriately enough) a full stop. This suggests the story has been deliberately left unfinished. Lawrence does not even report that Mellors signed this letter.
The ambiguous ending seems to have been very deliberate. D. H. Lawrence took great pains with Lady Chatterley’s Lover, publishing three slightly different versions at his own expense. The third and final version is what is usually published today and what this article is based on. Lawrence himself preferred the third version, but the three endings did not change much.
Why was this? Throughout the novel, the reader gets to see things from each character’s point of view and even Lawrence’s point of view. He uses the familiar third person omniscience voice in order to tell the story. He goes to great detail about what flowers the lovers weave into each other pubic hairs and yet leaves the ending trailing off with a hyphen and a quote mark. Why not just tell us what happened to the star-crossed couple?
The Power of Gossip
That’s because Lawrence himself did not know the ending of the novel. The entire novel has been told as if the reader met a series of characters that each had their own opinions of what happened. You heard from Lady Chatterley, from Lord Chatterley, from her father, from the nurse tending to Lord Chatterley, from Mellors and from general society itself. This is how we hear scandals of real people – although we may get quite intimate details from the persons involved, we never really know the true story.
Lawrence hated the strict class society of England. Most of the furor over the novel wasn’t about Lady Chatterley taking up a lover – but that the lover was from a lower class than herself. It was gossip that caught the lovers out and gossip that forced Lord Chatterley to fire his gamekeeper Mellors. It was because of gossip that both lovers had to leave town. Before the novel’s ending, the lovers talked of moving abroad to Canada, Australia or South Africa. Perhaps they did and secretly. They would have to move secretly to avoid the gossip. So the last we hear of them – we who are also gossipers – is this long letter ending with the phrase “a hopeful heart.”
Lawrence himself wrote in A Propos to Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1930) that he does not advise all women to start affairs with gamekeepers. He wanted to show the horrors of war, of modern society (particularly the Industrial Age) and the English class structure. Since the readers are gossips that never discover what happens to the lovers, Lawrence leaves us to speculate on their whereabouts, as gossips do.
This writer (and gossip) prefers to think that the couple and the newborn did manage to sneak abroad under the noses of the English higher classes, perhaps in the chaos surrounding World War II (which Lawrence died before witnessing.) With all due respect to Lawrence Durrell, I prefer to think of their story not “a big tragedy,” but a big triumph.
- Lawrence, D.H. Lady Chatterley’s Lover & A Propos to Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Penguin: 2006.
- SparkNotes: Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Section VIII: Chapters 17 – 19.
- University of Nottingham. “D. H. Lawrence: celebrating a literary life.”