In The Guardian, a edited extract from Doris Lessing’s introduction to Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
“We are among the ruins,” says Lawrence, opening the tale which is supposed to be all about sex, and announcing what I think is the major theme of the novel, usually overlooked. It is permeated with the first world war, the horror of it. And against the horrors, the rotting bodies, the senseless slaughter of the trenches, the postwar poverty and bleakness – against the cataclysm, “the fallen skies”, Lawrence proposes to put in the scales love, tender sex, the tender bodies of people in love; England would be saved by warm-hearted fucking.
Now, looking back from our perspective of over 60 years after that second terrible war, we see Mellors, who was a soldier in India in the first world war, and Constance Chatterley with her war-crippled husband, clinging on to each other, and just ahead the next war that would involve the whole world.
It is not that, once having seen how war overshadows this tale, threatens these lovers, the love story loses its poignancy, but for me it is no longer the central theme, despite what Lawrence intended. Now I think this is one of the most powerful anti-war novels ever written. How was it I had not seen that, when I first read it?