D. H. Lawrence’s three versions of a relationship

D.H. Lawrence wrote three versions of the same novel in the four years before his death.

His method was as follows: between each version, Lawrence would put the manuscript aside for several months and go on to something else. When he came back to his project, he didn’t work from the previous manuscript to modify it, but entirely rewrote a second version. And later, he rewrote a third version as well. Therefore, certain plot points and circumstances are common to all three versions, but entire passages are not strictly similar and no dialogue is identical. The characters themselves, the novel’s four main characters – Lady Chatterley and her husband Clifford, the gamekeeper (whose name changes depending on the version) and Mrs. Bolton, Clifford’s nurse – vary significantly from one version to another. As a result, we are dealing with three independent versions, each one coherent from the first page to the last.

According to Frieda, Lawrence’s wife, the first draft titled “The First Lady Chatterley” is the best of the three versions and the shortest; Lawrence wrote it between October 1926 and March 1927. The most startling difference between the first and the final is the relative lack of sex and the near lack of Lawrence’s fine nature descriptions. In the first version, the gulf between Connie and her lover yawns widest. Parkin, as the gamekeeper is called, seems a purely physical creature. In Connie’s eyes he represents the missing physical half of Clifford, but he lacks the educated consciousness which she values in a man. Parkin won’t live on Constance’s money and Constance won’t live in the working men’s hovels. Parkin gets political and starts mixing Communism with his desire for Lady Chatterley.

The second version, completed in the summer of 1927, is the longest and had been published by Gallimard under the title “Lady Chatterley et l’homme des bois” (published in English as “John Thomas and Lady Jane”). This version is tender and lyrical, less tortured, in dealing with its subject. The gamekeeper Parkin is higher on the social scale, not the son of a miner but of a professional cricketer, and he does not resent the upper classes as bitterly as does the first Parkin. Yet there are the differences of power, education and wealth that separate them, which Connie brushes them aside. In “Lady Chatterley et l’homme des bois,” the story is literally overrun by vegetation and the plant kingdom doesn’t come in simply as a metaphor for the life force that brings the two protagonists together, but accompanies them constantly during their transformation.

“Lady Chatterley’s Lover” is the third version, full of anger and sexually explicit discourse, the one Lawrence considered definitive and which he published at his own expense in March 1928, a few months before his death. Here, “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” is transformed into Mellors, who has all the credentials of a gentleman except genteel birth. An ex-officer in the British Indian Army, educated, travelled, Mellors is very much a man of the world. His culture and origins make his relationship with Lady Chatterley less abyssal, since, intellectually, they are practically from the same world.

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