Published privately in 1928 and 1929, then publicly in 1960, Lady Chatterley’s Lover is a famous work of British literature written by D. H. Lawrence. Here is an analysis of the 6 key characters of the book – Constance Chatterley, Oliver Mellors, Clifford Chatterley, Mrs. Bolton, Michaelis and Sir Malcolm Reid – touching on their roles in the novel, and what they each represent.
Protagonist Connie Chatterley is married to aristocrat Clifford Chatterley, who is paralysed and impotent from a war injury. She lives on the grand Wragby estate, where she spends most of her time feeling disconnected from her cold and cerebral husband and wandering through the woods. In the new 1920s world, where women cut their hair short and having a ‘boyish’ figure was in vogue, Connie’s ‘ruddy’ and ‘country-looking’ appearance is out of place.
Further, her desire to remain among nature, and hide away with her lover Oliver Mellors in a utopian, modernity-rejecting world, represents the generation of people being ‘left behind’ as social attitudes were changing. However, though she may be naïve about Britain’s evolving identity, her shift away from the heartless, aristocratic intelligentsia Clifford towards the earthy, working-class and tactile Mellors is emblematic of her choosing connection and sensuality over wealth and comfort, which, in many ways, presents her as a more independent and ‘modern’ woman.
The gamekeeper on the Wragby estate, Oliver Mellors is aloof, dry, intelligent and proud. He worked at Wragby as a blacksmith before escaping an unhappy marriage by joining the army, where he was quickly promoted. Upon returning to Wragby as gamekeeper, Mellors is disappointed by a string of love affairs and decides to live in solitude in his hut. However, he is ultimately unable to escape the trappings of the working class, since his employer Clifford, though less intelligent and worldly than Mellors, dismisses him from his job because of his rumoured affair with Connie.
In the novel, Mellors represents the ‘Noble Savage’ – an idealized concept of an ‘uncivilized’ yet innately good man who has not been exposed to the corrupting influences of civilisation. Together with Connie, Mellors dreams of living amongst nature and away from the harsh realities of the industrial and socially changing world forever. Furthermore, their highly-charged sexual passion for one another represents a break from the increasingly disconnected thinkers, not doers, of the age.
Arrogant, intellectually snobby and emotionally cold Clifford Chatterley is an aristocrat who became paralysed from the waist down during World War One. Though he and Connie initially enjoy a cerebral, rather than physical connection, the couple’s relationship worsens as Clifford changes from a moderately successful writer and thinker into a money-motivated industrialist. Believing he is born to ‘rule’ the lower classes, Clifford feels disdain to the less privileged, and is more horrified that his wife was having an affair with a working-class man than her having an affair in itself.
A product of a privileged upbringing with little connection to the outside world, Clifford adopts a child-like relationship with his nurse, Mrs. Bolton, who worships him as a nobleman, even though she dislikes his casual arrogance. In Clifford is everything that Lawrence suggests is wrong with English noblemen: they are weak, vain, entitled, disconnected and pursue money with little regard for humanity. Clifford’s impotence is symbolic of his failure to be a decisive, upstanding man.
Clifford’s nurse and caretaker Ivy Bolton is competent and complex. Years before the novel opens, her husband died in an accident in a mine owned by the Chatterley family, who didn’t compensate Mrs. Bolton properly after his death. Though Mrs. Bolton resents Clifford as the mine owner, she can’t help but worship his blue-bloodedness, and becomes a strange mother-like figure to him, and enjoys being depended upon.
Though she has close and somewhat intimate ties with the upper class in the novel, she still engages with the working-class village residents, sharing gossip about the family and, crucially, Connie and Mellors’ affair, which ultimately leads to Mellors losing his job. In the novel, Mrs. Bolton represents working-class people who still admire the aristocracy, despite the fact that they are used or even actively hurt by them.
Michaelis is a successful Irish playwright with whom Connie has an affair early on in the novel. He is hugely successful in America, and was reportedly once popular in Britain until theatre-goers realised that he was making fun of them. He is frequently looked down upon by Clifford and his aristocratic friends, and makes no attempt to hide his ‘vulgar’ manners.
In contrast, he is more of an independent thinker than Clifford and his friends, which initially draws Connie to him. However, when Connie rebuffs his marriage proposal, he reveals himself to be a misogynist with strong opinions about women and their bodies. Thus, Lawrence draws attention to the fact that intellectual snobbery isn’t solely reserved for the upper classes; Connie recognises that Michaelis too is vain, full of empty words and passionless.
Sir Malcolm Reid
Connie and Hilda’s father Sir Malcolm Reid raised his children in a bohemian, art-filled environment, and along with his late wife, pushed them towards socialist ideals. Though Clifford represents a ‘good’ marriage for his daughter Connie, Malcolm despises him, perceiving him as weak, impotent, arrogant and uncaring.
In contrast, Malcolm warms to Mellors’ upstanding, earthy, straightforward nature, and later decides to leave his money to Connie as a reward for going against socially expected behaviour for women at the time. Thus, though he is a powerful figure who chiefly lived through a time of Victorian ideals, he is surprisingly liberal, and he recognises the importance of indulging in both bodily and cerebral desires.
Read Lady Chatterley’s Lover
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Chapter 1
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Chapter 2
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Chapter 3
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Chapter 4
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Chapter 5
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Chapter 6
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Chapter 7
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Chapter 8
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Chapter 9
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Chapter 10
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Chapter 11
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Chapter 12
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Chapter 13
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Chapter 14
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Chapter 15
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Chapter 16
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Chapter 17
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Chapter 18
Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Chapter 19
For a broad summary of the novel and an analysis of its key themes, click here.