In chapter 10 Lawrence gives a description of Connie’s orgasm: when did a male writer, or indeed any serious writer, do that?
There is Molly’s eternal “yes” at the end of James Joyce’s and certainly Joyce is better at getting inside a woman’s consciousness; but he didn’t attempt what Lawrence attempts.
On the first day of the infamous Lady Chatterley trial, the judge offered to the defence lawyers the opportunity to call an all-male jury, allowed specifically in obscenity trials.
Gerald Gardiner and Jeremy Hutchinson declined, and indeed they added a third female juror to the 12.
In the course of the trial, prosecuting counsel Mervyn Griffith-Jones famously asked the jury whether they would wish their wives or servants to read the novel – presumably forgetting that three of them were women. But these two facts about the trial remind us of the heavy cultural and social bias against women at the time, sometimes inscribed in law.
There is a parallel issue with the novel itself: does it accurately represent female sexuality?
Not that this was an issue that concerned prosecutors, defence or jury in 1960.
But from our perspective as twenty-first century readers – men and women – it is a key question when we read the novel.
But Millett is also generous, noting that “one still finds in this novel little of the sexual violence and ruthless exploitation so obtrusive in [Norman] Mailer and [Henry] Miller ....
The courage needed to address head-on what Lawrence always considered to be the central thing in life – the relationship between a man and a woman as expressed through the act of sex – is easy to forget in our permissive age.
He’d already lost was a far more explicit novel: “I always labour at the same thing, to make the sex relation valid and precious, instead of shameful. To me it is beautiful and tender and frail as the naked self is, and I shrink very much even from having it typed.” As well he might.
Then there’s the sort that puts you out before you really ‘come’, and go on writhing their loins till they bring themselves off against your thighs. I thought there was no real sex left: never a woman who’d “come” naturally with a man: except black women, and somehow, well, we’re white men: and they’re a bit like mud.” In a brief paragraph Lawrence denigrates the variety of female sexuality and gets in homophobic and racist insults to boot.
Connie Chatterley is instructed in no uncertain terms as to what sort of orgasm is acceptable to her new lover.