Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
in which Lady Chatterley intrudes on the gamekeeper
by Rob Neufeld
How dialect works
Some great writers use dialect to convey a culture they love.
“We ain’t got no choice but to try now,” Anneth Sizemore says at the fateful start of Silas House’s novel, “Clay’s Quilt.” “We can’t pull over and just set on the side of the road until it thaws,” she advises the driver in her moderately colloquial speech.
There are other authors—parody-writers, mostly—who use dialect heavy-handedly to render an alien population quaint.
Southern Appalachia has attracted its healthy share of both the good and bad kind of dialect usage.
In Chapter Eight of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Lawrence does something different with the speech of Mellors, the Chatterleys’ lean, forty-year-old gamekeeper. Dialect is as much a tool as a trait with him; he can turn it on and off.
When Lady Constance Chatterley—Connie—intrudes upon the pheasant coop outpost that is also Mellor’s refuge, he feigns hospitality to cloak resentment. “Am Ah t’ light yer a little fire?” he asks in his East Midlands (Nottinghamshire) patois. Connie knows he speaks mainstream English.
Later on, when she asks him for a duplicate key to his secret hut, pushing her power of ownership, he pours on the gravy. “(I) mun fend for t’bods some other road,” he says. That is, the hut’s hers; he’ll move his pheasant keep elsewhere.
“Why don’t you speak ordinary English?” she demands.
“Me! Ah thowt it wor’ ordinary.”
Mellors, Connie learns in a talk with her crippled husband, Clifford, had risen up through Army ranks from blacksmith in Egypt to lieutenant in India. He’d gone to war after splitting from his wife. His opinions about women were as deeply rooted as his experience of language.
Dialect, in his case, is not a constant, but a growing and shifting part of personality. It is interesting to see how, in Chapter Ten, he presents a third way of talking. Connie has gone to his hut after their first intimacy. Lawrence notes the keeper's modulated use of standard English: "You came then,” he said, using the intonation of the dialect.
The handmaid’s tale
In Chapter Nine, Lawrence shines his light on Ivy Bolton, coal miners’ nurse, who has come to relieve Connie in her nursing of Clifford. It is another subtle study of speech.
Mrs. Bolton takes on the personality of a submissive and loving, yet controlling servant. She strengthens the bond between her and her master through inflection and phrasing.
“Be-yutiful!” she says in admiration of hyacinths Clifford nonetheless wants removed from his room. She tops Clifford’s final word with a high note.
Clifford has become a celebrated writer of social satire, and comes to depend on Mrs. Bolton’s gossip—long, involved tales with true insight.
“I suppose you heard as Miss Allsopp was married last week,” she begins a narrative. Miss Allsopp’s aged father had died in a fall and had made his strict daughter heiress, upon which event she and an older gent started making out like turtledoves, and moved to Kinbrook, where “they say she goes round in a dressing-gown from morning to night, a veritable sight.”
Ivy Bolton, with her church morality and class pride, gets to sing out. Her politically motivated epic—"I serve up these fine folk and you respect me" is the essence of her message—gives voice to an unreported segment of the populace.
When Clifford worries about Bolshevism, Mrs. Bolton reassures him, “The young ones blether sometimes. Not that they care for it really. They only want a bit of money in their pocket” to go gadding about.
Constance Chatterley, eavesdropping, notes how Mrs. Bolton “talked Tevershall.”
It is not unlike Eliza Gant’s rendition of her world in Thomas Wolfe’s short story, “The Web of Earth.”
The pits and the parlor
Tevershall is in the pits. It was once England’s richest coal mine, but is has been exhausted.
Eerily, Mrs. Bolton’s tales of its working families have made a man of Clifford, for he begins to feel connected to the miners as a boss, and turns from effete literature to world-beating industrialism.
A new colliery in another town has turned to big machines and chemical extraction, and Clifford prepares to go the more rapacious route.
Lady Chatterley Lover’s connections to Western North Carolina’s logging towns and Southern Appalachia’s mountaintop removal recommend a new reading of the classic.
Connie begins to feel more and more repulsed by and alienated from Clifford’s lack of sensuality and soul, which had preceded his war injury. Whenever she tries to talk with him, he quotes poetry: Milton, and Shakespeare, and Keats.
Both Connie and Clifford speak the language of the high-cultured parlor.
The language of romance
In the midst of all the verbal jockeying, a romance is taking hold in a way that romance writers might study. The resentment that Connie and Mellors first feel toward each other is poisonous; but their yearning is great.
Connie ventures to Mellors’ yard to view the season’s first daffodils, “fluttering and shivering, so bright and alive, but with nowhere to hide their faces…Perhaps they liked it really; perhaps they really liked the tossing.”
She swoons and sits down against “a young pine tree, that swayed against her with curious life, elastic and powerful, rising up.”
When, in Chapter Ten, Connie and Mellors fall in love and enter a physical relationship, they create a new language, earnest and on common ground.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H, Lawrence, first published 1928, is now available in many editions including a Modern Library hardcover; and, most recently, a Signet paperback.
Book Discussion X meets to discuss Lady Chatterley’s Lover at Accent on Books, 854 Merrimon Ave., Asheville, 7 p.m., Thurs., Jan. 12. Call 252-6225.