Andrew Belonsky

Literary Quickie: Lady Chatterley, Shoe Sex And Saving The Written Word

Filed By Andrew Belonsky | October 04, 2010 8:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment
Tags: DH Lawrence, Jerzy Kosinski, John Updike, Lady Chatterley's Lover, Norman Mailer

It's no secret the written word's in danger. With newspapers, magazines and other printed matter falling victim to the ongoing digital revolution, it wouldn't be completely irrational to imagine a future in which the alphabet's been reduced to pixels and code, nothing but a replica of its former, far more permanent self. And porn has played a significant role in the Internet and iPad's domination over the printed press.Lady_Chatterleys_Lover_img_221.jpg

It's extremely unlikely that the Internet would have grown to such great heights had it not been for adult materials. In fact, the recent film flop Middle Men revolved around how porn helped propel the Internet to household fame. No one would have cared about the world wide web had it been used solely for information sharing and scientific data.

Porn now constitutes a nearly $5 billion a year business, and 2006 statistics say that $3,075.64 is spent on virtual sex every second. Not that I'm complaining. I'm sure I figure into those statistics somehow. I have not, however, given up on good, old fashioned ink.

I've recently taken up D.H. Lawrence's sex-centric novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover. Slowly but surely I'm working my way through this formerly forbidden title, and, as part of a humble effort to indulge in the forgotten beauty of the written word, I offer a description of Lady Chatterley's alluring gamekeeper, an excerpt that, with a little imagination, is just as good as any porn's opening scene...

For context: Lady Constance Chatterley has been walking her grounds in the cold rain, and stumbles upon the gamekeeper, with whom she has clear sexual tension, making a chicken coop at his wood shed. He builds her a fire and she takes in the, um, scenery:

Connie grew warm by the fire, which she had made too big: then she grew hot. She went and sat on the stool in the doorway, watching the man at work. He seemed not to notice her, but he knew. Yet he worked on, as if absorbedly, and his brown dog sat on her tail near him, and surveyed the untrustworthy world.

Slender, quiet and quick, the man finished the coop he was making, turned it over, tried the sliding door, then set it aside. Then he rose, went for an old coop, and took it to the chopping log where he was working. Crouching, he tried the bars; some broke in his hands; he began to draw the nails. Then he turned the coop over and deliberated, and he gave absolutely no sign of awareness of the woman's presence.

So Connie watched him fixedly. And the same solitary aloneness she had seen in him naked, she now saw in him clothed: solitary, and intent, like an animal that works alone, but also brooding, like a soul that recoils away, away from all human contact. Silently, patiently, he was recoiling away from her even now. It was the stillness, and the timeless sort of patience, in a man impatient and passionate, that touched Connie's womb. She saw it in his bent head, the quick quiet hands, the crouching of his slender, sensitive loins; something patient and withdrawn. She felt his experience had been deeper and wider than her own; much deeper and wider, and perhaps more deadly. And this relieved her of herself; she felt almost irresponsible.

Keep in mind I'm only part way through the book, so please, no spoilers, but this passage, part of a larger scandalous package, stands out for its sexy simplicity, something we rarely see in this era of commonplace, "hit you over the head" carnality.

Reading Lawrence's seminal work, and reflecting on other seemingly straight wordsmith's descriptions of sex, I wonder what goes through the mind of a straight man writing about another man's prowess, penis or performance.

What, for example, was Polish writer Jerzy Kosinski thinking when, in his 1971 novella Being There, he included a scene in which the main character, simplistic Chance, is pulled into a room at a party by a strange man and subsequently used for the man's sexual pleasure?

The man reached for Chance's leg, and without a word raised and pressed the sole of Chance's shoe against his hardened organ.
[Chance] lent his foot to the man's flesh, watched the man's body tremble and saw how his naked legs stretched out, straining tautly, and heard how he screamed out of some inner agony. And the man again pressed Chance's shoe into his flesh. From under the show a white substance coursed forth in short spurts.

Surely online porn provides plenty of shoe scenes, but few are as memorable as the image Kosinski concocts; for me, at least. [It's worth noting that scene was not included in the book's big screen adaption, which starred Shirley MacLaine and Peter Sellers.]

So, again: what goes into the "male-on-male" literary scene? Is it about a straight man's image of male perfection, or of men's sexual failures. That all depends on the author, of course, but never are the scenes without their subtext. They're not simply about sex and sensation, something Katie Roiphe points out in a recent essay, "The Naked and the Conflicted - Sex and the American Male Novelist," in which she defends famously sexual, and often called sexist, writers like John Updike and Norman Mailer:

It would be too simple to call the explicit interludes of this new literature pornographic, as pornography has one purpose: to arouse. These passages are after several things at once -- sadness, titillation, beauty, fear, comedy, disappointment, aspiration. The writers were interested in showing not just the triumphs of sexual conquest, but also its loneliness, its failures of connection.

In the end, the meaning behind and within literary sex scenes remains subjective, and can hardly be summed up in this superficial review.

Every reader takes away something new and different from a scene, and a subsequent glance may produce yet another interpretation. No matter how we read a work, however, the fact of the matter is that words will always have more sentiment, innuendo and mortality than an image flashing across the screen.

If the written word goes, so too does that human nuance. So, what can be done? Easy: get yourself to a local book shop and buy something sexy. The ghost of Johannes Gutenberg will thank you.

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I love it when we have literary quickies, Andrew. Believe it or not, I've never read Lady Chatterly's Lover.