I mentioned Lady Chatterley a few weeks back, and since then I’ve been thinking about her again. In fact I’ve won a prize with her.
From time to time I enter the Spectator literary competitions, and a recent task was to imagine a scene from a famous novel if it had been sponsored by some brand or other.
I imagined D.H. Lawrence being sponsored by McVitie’s:
She watched Mellors take the kettle from the stove and warm the pot. He was a small man, yet wiry, and strong, and opened a packet of McVitie’s chocolate digestives with one forceful gesture.
With infinite delicacy, he then offered the biscuits as they were, in the packet. Sir Clifford had never offered her biscuits except on a plate, and with him she had never tasted more than the thin delight of a Bath Oliver. He saw her shyness.
‘Tek it from t’packet, lass. ’Tis the natural way.’
Daringly, her fingers touched the topmost biscuit. They explored its ridged yet smooth chocolate surface, and grasped it. Then she raised it to her lips.
‘That’s it. Tha does it rightly. And tomorrow I’ll be getting a pack of the plain chocolate variety.’
Connie reddened. This was a man who could see to the depths of her most secret wishes.
(Other winning entries can be read here.)
I thought of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, too, when reading a 1933 detective novel, Mist on the Saltings, by Henry Wade. (This is one of the books I’ve been led to by Martin Edwards’ The Golden Age of Murder. Another was A.P. Herbert’s The House on the River. Edwards’ book is not perfect, but it’s well worth reading.)
The central character of Mist on the Saltings is John Pansel, an artist whose career was interrupted by his war service, and who has never been the same since. His wife, frustrated by their dull existence, is tempted to go off with another man. The book catches very well the dissatisfaction of a man who has fought for his country, but has come home to be marginalised.
The first half of the book is rather painful reading, as we are introduced to the humiliations of the couple, scraping a poor existence that is a long way from their dreams. Then the wife’s would-be-lover is found murdered, and the book becomes a (rather average) police procedural detective story. But the book has a good sense of the disruption caused by the war years when
everyone’s moral sense, their valuation of life, was warped and unnatural.
Reading Mist on the Saltings, I recalled another, better, book about a wife disappointed by what her husband has become after the war: Winifred Holtby’s The Land Of Green Ginger (1927), where a young woman has to deal with her increasingly burdensome and demanding gas-damaged husband.
Both of these books seem to me to be better than Lady Chatterley’s Lover – but as you may have guessed, I’m not a fan of Lawrence.