Monday, February 22, 2010

The female sexual impulse

Current book: Sons and Lovers
Pages read: 290 - 388

Look! I actually read! Being sick takes the ability to read literature right out of you, I swear. Also, as I've mentioned, I read on the elliptical, and there is no elliptical time when you're doing your best to stay conscious and upright.

Paul is just getting worse and worse, I swear. He's all, "I like you, Miriam, oh, wait, no, I don't, no, uh, I do now, let's get married, but actually I changed my mind." It's driving me a little crazy. In actuality, what's happening is that he's feeling pressured to get married because he's reaching the proper age for it (24 or so), and his only real close relationship with a woman (besides his creepy mother, of course) has been with Miriam. So he feels like he has to marry her, but emotionally, he has no desire to tie himself to her. (What about Clara, you ask? Well, it turns out that Clara's actually married, though she's separated herself from her no-good husband and lives with her mother. She is, for all intents and purposes, unavailable.) There are a couple of reasons behind it: he thinks she makes him always serious, and he feels self-loathing when he's physically attracted to her, which is caused by the fact that she sees sex and sexuality as off-putting and tedious. I can't really blame him for finding that particular aspect of her psyche problematic, but he needs to suck it up and tell her the truth. Instead, he quashes his emotional objections and tells her that they should get married, and she asks him if they can wait. So, they spend a few months sort of pseudo-engaged.

They do have sex during this time period, over the course of a week or so when they take a vacation together, and their love-making is part of the reason that Paul ends up calling the whole thing off. He wants her, but it's clear to him when they have sex that she doesn't want him back; she's just putting up with it because she feels it's her duty, and she's clearly not enjoying it. (I still say he's kind of a jerk for leading her on, but I can't say I blame him for wanting out of the relationship.) A while later, then, he concludes that he just can't marry her, and breaks it off. She is, of course, hurt and betrayed, but because she has virtually no will of her own, still wants to be friends. He somehow feels wronged and cheated by her, so he says they really shouldn't spend time together, for propriety's sake, but I think he really just wants to be shut of her.

Shortly thereafter, Paul takes up with Clara again, regardless of the fact that she's married, and starts spending a lot of time with her. They walk about the countryside and engage in various levels of debauchery, but mostly just make out a little and have nice dates. They're clearly falling in love, but are both aware of the impropriety of the situation. Paul's mother actually likes Clara, which I'm going to attribute to her being mostly unavailable, but worries about the reputation that the relationship might give her son. One evening, Paul takes Clara to the theatre, and they get back so late that he has to spend the night at her house. He meets her mother, who's a bit on the shrewish side, and then goes off to bed in a the guest room. Later, though, he gets up and goes to Clara's room, where they gaze on their mutual nakedness and fondle and caress each other, but don't actually have sex. (It's a very sexy scene, though, and I'm sure was one of the "expurgated" bits.) A few days later, Paul's at the local pub when Clara's estranged husband, Baxter Dawes, comes in and accuses him of doing...well, pretty much exactly what he's doing. Paul throws a beer in his face, and....that's right where I stopped. Cliffhanger!

I'm hoping there'll be a bar fight, but if there is, I wouldn't put it past D. H. Lawrence to have Paul accidentally kill his rival and the whole thing end in tragedy. Just saying.

The psychological stuff that D. H. Lawrence is doing with sex and guilt is very critical of the social mores of the time. I'm impressed with the fact that he's both calling attention to and commenting on the fact that women have been browbeaten into thinking that sex is disgusting and terrible, and it makes the men feel, then, both guilty and cruel for wanting it, but also angry with their lovers for not wanting it. Sometimes, reading old books will make you appreciate the changes in society. I'm not saying it's perfect, but we've come a long way. For example, I am, in fact, a woman, and I like having sex. And I'm pretty sure my husband appreciates that. Ahem. (See it get meta, here, though? I felt obligated to put in that little "ahem," to indicate a sense of propriety. Otherwise, saying "I like having sex," in a public forum might have been too forward. Which is just ridiculous.)

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