Forbidden Love

LadyChatterleyBanned Book Week is upon us. In that time of year when we begin to think of spooky, scary things, the prohibition of literature naturally comes to mind. Every year I try to read a banned or challenged book for the occasion. This year I went to perhaps the jugular vein of banned books, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D. H. Lawrence. Now, I’m not a romance reader, but I was curious about this sexually explicit novel that had been banned to the point of being outlawed and was now considered a classic. Lawrence’s last novel, it tells the tale of a woman escaping a loveless marriage with the help of lover below her social class. The steamy bits are tame by today’s standards, but Lawrence does use several words that are still rarely heard in the media due to their offensiveness. From my perspective the story was a bit too drawn out, and the fawning wasfs a bit over the top. What struck me even more, however, was the fact that this novel was largely about social justice. Not that Lawrence was an activist, but his concern for the poor and discarded of the industrial revolution is quite clear throughout the novel. The privileged having affairs within their class is acceptable. The scandal is that a titled lady falls for a common gamekeeper.

I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey, a franchise that has made even romance writers jealous. From the criticisms I hear, however, the concern is less the sex than it is the lack of literary value. I’m sure Fifty Shades of Grey is a banned book in some location. Still, the deeper concern for humanity that runs through Lady Chatterley’s Lover is part of its appeal. Several times I put the book down thinking, “this isn’t just surface stuff.” It is, baldly put, the search for redemption. Sir Clifford is an invalid who wants to control others. In an era when men laid claim to control of women’s sexuality this was no small demand. He also sees his coal miners as pieces in a larger game that is, it turns out, only to his own benefit.

Although the book ends with the lovers parted, and hoping for reunion, Lawrence’s final words turn toward economic oppression. Mellors (the gamekeeper) writes, “If you could only tell them that living and spending isn’t the same thing!… If only they were educated to live instead of earn and spend…” He defines Mammon as “wanting money and hating life.” No doubt, the book was a vehicle for Lawrence’s desire to see writing about sex to be part of literature and not pornography. Still, there is something deeper here. The story is more than carnality, although carnality is what brought it to fame. It is a banned book that proclaims liberty that, despite the license of contemporary society, is not really as free as it might seem. As banned book week unfolds, it is a moral obligation, I believe, to read those books that have threatened settled mindsets and raised the ire of censors. In so doing, we learn what it is to be human.

Billion Dollar Babies

Yesterday I attended a holiday-themed concert. It was an unusual mix of the archaic and post-modern in that although many traditional holiday pieces were sung, the readings were from an assortment of writers, some still living. The theme, not surprisingly, was the wonder of birth. One of the readings was from D. H. Lawrence, a writer more often associated on the making of babies end of the equation. Nevertheless, as the soporific music flowed I found myself once again thinking of special babies.

The concept of a special child marked at birth has an ancient pedigree. Long before Samuel, Samson, and Moses there were ancient heroes known from their unusual births. The theme is at least as old as Sargon of Akkad, and probably even older. Those who grow to achieve great things in life must, by back-formation, have had a wonderful birth. Of course, when they were born nobody knew they were special yet, and so our mythopoeia demands we devise incredible births for them. Anyone who is a parent knows that time stops and the entire world stands in rapt silence as your own child is born. All babies are billion-dollar babies.

The subtext to all of this is that without even looking for a special child we should realize that all people have inherent value. If religions truly taught that message there would be a lot less religious violence in the world and the dreams of many more infant dreamers might be attained. Perhaps all religions should take the stories of their own origins more to heart and hear them more often than once a year.