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Amber Paulen

Oliver Mellors and Isolation

27 September 2010


Among the characters of literature, Lady Chatterley’s lover, Oliver Mellors, ranks stupendous. If there were no Russians or Lou Maytree, he would be top, but alas! I have no references to declare a winner. Like Lou Maytree and some of the RussiansLevin pops to mind—Mellors is a man apart; he stands alone, a totem of humanity.

Mellors was born, the son of coal miner, like DH Lawrence. Also like Lawrence, Mellors was somewhat physically frail, his strength damaged by sickness. A man of the lower classes, Mellors educated himself, he read books, he joined the army where he served under a colonel who befriended him. When the colonel died Mellors had a chance to raise in ranks, become a gentleman, the gentry, but he didn’t want to. Their lives were pointless to him. He returned to the mining village in which he was born, to more pettiness. He became a servant, a gamekeeper for the Chatterley’s.

Mellors lived alone in the Chatterley’s wood, apart from society, which he scorned. He protected his isolation from intrusions and women, as if the “civil” world were a poison which could soak into him and kill him.

But he knew that the seclusion of the wood was illusory. The industrial noises broke the solitude, the sharp lights, though unseen, mocked it. A man could no longer be private and withdrawn. The world allows no hermits.

This seclusion, or solitude, or isolation, is similar to that of the artist. Its necessity in Mellors reflects its necessity in Lawrence. It is the necessity of silence I honor in Mellors, in Lawrence, in Lou Maytree, for they are keenly aware of the wealth hidden in solitude’s quiet secrets. As keenly aware of its impossibilities, for solitude is double-edged.

“The world allows no hermits.” As the world always penetrates the sweet abode built by lovers. To be lovers, to be hermits, is a defiance that the “world” does not tolerate. Yet one does not have to be all hermit or all lover, for a little hermit or a little lover may also taste the iron displeasure towards one who chooses to go one’s own way.

There, in the world of the mechanical greedy, greedy mechanism and mechanised greed, sparkling with lights and gushing hot metal and roaring with traffic, there lay the vast evil thing, ready to destroy whatever did not conform.

Sadly, this condition has never changed. We still risk a type of destruction for non-conformity. We always have and we always will, it seems; such is the life of the artist. Lawrence knew this by the difficulties endured to get his works published and the public’s definitions of obscenity : he gave this knowledge to Mellors.

Near the end of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Mellors suffers a similar outcry to what Lawrence experienced for publishing his book. His estranged wife returns to him and because Mellors no longer wants her and, finding evidence of another woman in his cottage, she goes about town loudly detailing their previous sex life. Though it was only a series of “minor perversions” of which others are also no doubt guilty, Mellors is subsequently destroyed and must leave the Chatterley’s and Tevershall, his childhood home.

The reader knows that the public is not simply outraged at Mellors’ sexual choices; but that they are also outraged at his aloofness towards them and for what Constance Chatterley calls “the courage of [his] own tenderness.” In the beginning of the book, Mellors and later Constance, fears what the world can do to their love, their mutual tenderness. So then, isolation is also protection.

He felt, if he could not be alone, and if he could not be left alone, he would die. His recoil away from the outer world was complete. His last refuge was the wood. To hide himself there!

If one is sensitive, or tender, there is so much harm that can befall on one. Or what’s worse, one may become as cold and hard and shielded as those who chafe away at the warm feeling soul. And so again, the case is made: against the cold-hearted, for the warm-hearted. For there really is no choice if one wants to keep one’s good hot flow of life intact. Mellors proves this again and again, in his tenderhearted fucking and his bitterness towards the greedy mechanisms of the world. Because really, what good are our lives if not this simplicity, this sympathy, this softness, tenderness of life?

It is the way our sympathy flows and recoils that really determines our lives. And here lies the vast importance of the novel, properly handled. It can inform and lead into new places the flow of our sympathetic consciousness, and it can lead our sympathy away in recoil from things gone dead.



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