Bloomsbury, $ 32.99
In the very mannered, class-divided, and tightly corseted England of the turn of the 20th century, DH Lawrence’s ambition to bring his culture back to the most instinctive truths of our nature has given a polemical air to just about everything. he wrote. In a sense, this reformist drive marred his work, but it also gave his best works an elemental power that was at the heart of his greatness.
Inevitably, the quest for a more honest approach to sex was a crucial part of Lawrence’s project, and with that in mind, Canadian writer Alison MacLeod’s new novel, Tenderness, revisits the compositional sources of Lawrence’s latest novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and the fury the book sparked, and continued to stir, long after Lawrence died in France at the age of 44 in 1930.
“Tenderness” was one of Lawrence’s working titles for Lady Chatterley’s Lover and in MacLeod’s hands, we enter his world through a blend of literary scholarship, feature film, and audience theater. At the heart of it all, however, is MacLeod’s emphasis on the nature of novel writing itself, which at best is seldom an art of soft or simply decorative matches. This was indeed the case with Lawrence, for whom âreal life contained a relaxation, a flow and an influx. He would risk jerks, wanderings, crus on the page â.
Lawrence has long been known for how he repeatedly sacrificed his life for art, turning friends into enemies and sparking public and personal scandals along the way. As we know, the controversy around Lady Chatterley’s Explicit interpretations of sex continued until about 30 years after her death, and MacLeod’s novel focuses on the events of 1959 and 1960, when Grove Press in the United States and then Penguin in England faced trials for having published unredacted versions of the novel. In retrospect, we can interpret the London trial jury’s decision to come out in favor of the novel as a signal of the cultural liberation that would follow in the 1960s and beyond.
The American sections of Tenderness around Jackie Kennedy, who, as a fledgling fiction writer and wife of a Catholic man well known for his extramarital exploits, is so fascinated by the novel that she approaches her husband’s appointment as President from the United States we see her attending the Chatterley lawsuit against Barney Rosset, the publisher of Grove Press accused of abusing the US postal service by distributing the novel.
MacLeod’s implication here is that Jackie is sort of Lady Chatterley herself, a woman who understands the need to place emotional truth private on the maintenance of privilege and status. Thus, MacLeod recruits the aura of celebrity surrounding the Kennedys in his novel while portraying an FBI intervention at the hands of J. Edgar Hoover who has the weakness of caricature.