Lawrence has adopted the policy, in this novel, of throwing over altogether our Anglo-Saxon literary conventions, and, in his descriptions of sexual experience, of calling things by their right names. The effect of this, on the whole, is happy. I will not say that the unlimited freedom in this regard which Lawrence now for the first time enjoys does not occasionally go to his head: the poetic sincerity of the gamekeeper does not quite always save his amorous rhapsodies over certain plain old English terms from being funny at the wrong time; and one finds it a little difficult to share the author’s exaltation over a scene in which the lovers decorate one another with forget-me-nots in places where flowers are seldom worn. But on the other hand, he has greatly benefited by being able, in dealing with these matters, to do without symbols and circumlocutions; it tends to relieve him of the apocalyptic grandiloquence to which he has too often been addicted in his love scenes—it keeps these scenes recognizably human. I believe, in fact, that in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Lawrence has written the best descriptions of sexual experience which have yet been done in English. It is certainly not true, as is sometimes asserted, that erotic sensations cannot or ought not to be written about. D. H. Lawrence has demonstrated here how interesting and how varied they are, and how important to the comprehension of any emotional situation where they are involved.
The truth is simply, of course, that in English we have had, since the eighteenth century, no technique—no vocabulary even—for dealing with such subjects. The French have been writing directly about sex, in works of the highest literary dignity, ever since they discarded the proprieties of Louis XIV. They have developed a classical vocabulary for the purpose. And they have even been printing for a long time, in their novels, the coarse colloquial language of the smoking-room and the streets. James Joyce and D. H. Lawrence are the first English-writing writers of our own time to print this language in English; and the effect, in the case of Ulysses at least, has been shocking to English readers to an extent which must seem very strange to a French literary generation who read Zola, Octave Mirbeau and Huysmans in their youth. But, beyond the question of this coarseness in dialogue, we have, as I have intimated, a special problem in dealing with sexual matters in English. For we have not the literary vocabulary of the French. We have only the coarse colloquial words, on the one hand, and, on the other, the kind of scientific words appropriate to biological and medical books and neither kind goes particularly well in a love scene which is to maintain any illusion of glamor or romance.
Lawrence has here tried to solve this problem, and he has really been extraordinarily successful. He has, in general, handled his vocabulary well. And his courageous experiment, in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, should make it easier for the English writers of the future to deal more searchingly and plainly, as they are certainly destined to do, with the phenomena of sexual experience. He has evidently made the experiment at some sacrifice. I do not suppose that he has printed many copies of the original edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover or that he has made much money by selling them; and he has no literary rights over the edition which has been pirated and sold in America. This must be counted to Lawrence for righteousness. There can be no advance made in this direction without somebody’s taking serious losses. And since Ulysses, no English-writing novelist of first-rate merit has volunteered to do so.