Ra(w)R: Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence

Published first in 1928 in Italy, this book wasn’t published in the U.K. until 1960 (I would assume it was published around then in the U.S. as well). It took me a few weeks to read it, and it’s another example of how it just takes time to fall into the rhythms and patterns of the book, but it’s just so flippin’ beautiful.

Review:

This was part of my tour de history of romance novels- kicked off by Fifty Shades of Grey and continued by Fanny Hill.

Connie, the daughter of the upper-middle class intelligentsia, goes through her youth sure that art and politics are the end-all and be-all; she and her sister use their sex to manipulate men, but keep them at arm’s length. The connection is mental; physical connection is power, and Connie and her sister know how to use it.

Connie marries Clifford Chatterley, who sadly comes back from the war paralyzed from the waist down; this doesn’t do good things for them in the bedroom. Connie is bored; she and Clifford are not cut from the same bolt of cloth, and it shows. Their views on the changing social and economic climate of England don’t align, especially when it comes to what should be done with the failing coal mine at Wragby, their country home. The relationship between the two is disjointed and limited by their lack of emotional, intellectual, and sexual connections, and so Connie takes a lover.

Oliver Mellors is the Chatterley’s gamekeeper; he and Connie find their connection, but at a cost- he was sure that he would never be able to find physical satisfaction with a woman again after his ex-wife tormented him and she thought that physical connections  were worthless. Clearly the point of the book is that they are both wrong.

There are about a thousand more details to this book, but that’s kind of sort of the general gist of it. Connie needs more than intellectual stimulation to be happy; she has to be connected physically as well.

I really loved this book; the blush count wasn’t as high as it was when I read Fanny Hill (or Fifty Shades!), which was nice, but it’s very obvious why it was so controversial when it was published. Definitely some unprintable words; and we dare to suggest that relationships might be more than intellectual! Heavens!

Is this a romance novel? No. I don’t really think so. Romance novels have a hero, a heroine, a problem, a solution, and sexytimes. This book has more- it’s a commentary on the changing structure of England, it’s a commentary on what is love (baby don’t hurt me), it’s a commentary on how money changes people and how they interact and what a fustercluck that can be. It’s a commentary on sex and it’s role in the world, which is clearly ALWAYS a giant mess. It’s a commentary on communism even.

I highly recommend this book; it’s terribly romantic and the words are beautiful and if I ever got a card with a bit of Lady  Chatterley’s Lover written inside I’d be very impressed. Go read it!

Some of my favorite quotes:

Sex and a cocktail: they both lasted about as long, had the same effect, and amounted to about the same thing. 

But it was a truth that killed.

At the top of the hill they rested, and Connie was glad to let go. She had had fugitive dreams of friendship between these two men: one her husband, the other the father of her child. Now she saw the screaming absurdity of her dreams. The two males were as hostile as fire and water. They mutually exterminated one another. And she realized for the first time what a queer subtle thing hate is.

(sorry I don’t have any page numbers; my kindle copy only gives me locations)

Ra(w)R: Fanny Hill, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure

Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure by John Cleland

Published in two pieces: Nov 21, 1748 and February 1749 [side note: I’m kind of loving that it was published on my birthday (granted, 240 years before, but the feeling is the same). But have no fear parental units, no plans of following in the illustrious Fanny Hill’s footsteps.]

Published in the U.S.: 1963! Huzzah for obscenity laws!

Publisher: According to wikipedia, Fanny Hill was published by the Fenton Brothers, who were arrested a year after publication for “corrupting the King’s subjects.”  While you’re on the wikipedia page, I highly recommend the extract from the book. Just so you can get a taste.

Genre: Erotica

Allie stats:

Time to completion: a week

Difficulty: so much with the blushing. and words that died out two hundred years ago.

Stars: ahh. See the rating scale for Shades of Grey here.

Review:

You can’t really review a book that’s over 250 years old. What’s the point? It’s not going anywhere.

For those who have never encountered Fanny Hill, it’s the story of a young girl who at the tender age of 15 becomes a prostitute. It’s written as a series of letters from Fanny to an unnamed woman, seemingly of higher social status. She’s trying to explain herself and her decisions, and her own happy ending. Fanny ran away from home to London (“by repairing to London, in order to SEEK MY FORTUNE, a phrase which, by the bye, has ruined more adventurers of both sexes, from the country, than ever it made of advanced”) and was taken on, she thought, as a maid to a lady. The lady, it turns out, thought Fanny was a whore, tried to give her a client, whereupon Fanny fainted dead away and fell in to a fever. Upon discovery that Fanny was still *gasp* in a state of virginity, the lady schemes to sell her most precious jewel to the highest bidder, which she does. Blah blah blah, Fanny falls in love and runs away, her lover gets sent off by his father, and she’s heartbroken. She floats around for the rest of the book, mistress to this man, mistress to another, discovering the infinite variety and pleasure the act of love can bring. Eventually, she’s her own mistress and upon repairing to a house in the country, runs back into her love Charles, and they get married. Note that when the book ends, Fanny is 18 years old. EIGHTEEN YEARS OLD. ohmigod.

This book is, to my knowledge and understanding, one of the oldest, if not the original, erotic novel. And as such, has been banned over and over again. Obscenity laws must love this book. The number of different ways sex is described is magnificent. The number of ways John Cleland describes various body parts is breathtaking. I do stop to wonder- who was John Cleland and how did he reach these conclusions about what women like (or don’t like)? I don’t know, and I won’t try to speculate on his sex life, but I’m pretty sure it was active, to say the least.

It’s hard not to laugh while reading this. One, it is a legitimately funny book. Any book worth reading should be, in my mind, funny. At least once in a while. Two, as I said above, the number of metaphors and euphemisms written here are just beyond counting. I tried to find a list, but didn’t try very hard- the results aren’t shocking but I dare you to google “the number of ways sex is described in Fanny Hill” and try to come up with useful information. Most of them made me giggle, if not laugh loudly, generally in the middle of rush hour back to Queens.

For your reading pleasure, some of the more ridiculous bits. (and this is just a sampling. There are so, so many.)

I, struggling faintly, could not help feeling what I could not grasp, a column of the whitest ivory, beautifully streak’d with blue veins, and carrying, fully uncapt, a head of the liveliest vermillion: no horn could be harder or stiffer; yet no velvet more smooth or delicious to the touch.

Maybe this is what John Cleland thought women thought? Whatevs.

…as he introduc’d his plenipotentiary instrument into her…

Plen-i-po-ten-ti-ar-y. Adjective: invested with full power or authority, as a diplomatic agent; conferring or bestowing full power, as a commission; absolute or full, as power (via dictionary.com). Ok then.

In the mean time his machine, which was one of those sizes that slip in and out without being minded…

Harsh.

You probably get the picture by now. It should be a rather vivid one. At least, I thought it was pretty vivid. More vivid than today’s romance novels? Well, depends on who you ask. For what I read, hoo boy yeah. Compared to Fifty Shades? Well, maybe not so much. Better written to be sure; there may have been more sexytimes in Fifty Shades, but they were definitely more effective in Fanny Hill.

There were two things that stood out to me about Fanny Hill that showed how romance has NOT changed in three hundred years and it probably  never will. The description of female beauty was just as hackneyed and stereotypical and standardized as it is today. This is a personal issue I have that I will probably never get over. The second is marriage as happily-ever-after (HEA). I almost died when I realized that Fanny’s HEA was marrying her Charles. For the love of god, whyyyy does every romance novel end with marriage and a house and 2.5 kids and a dog? I thought this book would end with her taking charge of her destiny, running a half-way house for other 15 year old girls so they didn’t have to become whores or something but NO, she gets married. Augghhh. Frustrating to the max. How about an ending where the hero and the heroine just end up in the same city with steady jobs and a social schedule that allows them to go to free movies in the park during the work week? Is that asking too much? Because I really don’t think so.

Ra(w)R: Fifty Shades of Grey Trilogy

Fifty Shades of Grey: Book One, Fifty Shades Darker: Book Two, Fifty Shades Freed: Book Three by EL James (aka Erika Leonard)

Release date: May 25, 2011, September 13, 2011, and January 17, 2012

Publisher: Vintage

Allie stats:

Difficulty: Sometimes the writing was so awful that I had to take a couple of runs at it to get it. Also, the blushing slowed me down a little. But not by much.

Time to completion: all three books in a weekend

Rating:
This conversation:
Me: I don’t know how I’m going to rate these books.

Chelsey: On a scale from one to porn?

Review:

I had to read these because EVERYONE was talking about them and sometimes but not always I like to know what’s going on.

The books themselves (BEWARE this is sort of spoiler-y, but not really, but still..sort of): doofy, clutzy, not-at-all-chic college senior Anastasia has to fill in for her roommate, a journalist, and interviews Christian Grey, mega-bazillionaire hotty who apparently runs some really impressive company that does some really impressive stuff. She trips into his office (literally, I don’t mean the skipping along kind of trip. She falls on her face) and they have “a moment,” followed by an awkward interview, whereupon she again trips out of his office, and boogies home, glad its over with a little of the “what the heck that was weird ok whatever” feeling. She runs into him again a couple of times, and its clear there’s this weird mutual attraction thing, and then  stuff happens, and then he asks her to be his submissive. Boom. She has a little taste of what it would be like, and the weird thing is that although she’s not sure how she feels about BDSM, she’s very much into him. And while he’s normally really removed from his submissives (except for this crazy contract they have to sign about working out an hour every day and eating healthy and no snacks between meals except for fruit [AMC: deal’s off right there] and signing an NDA, which is my favorite part), he’s into her too, in a romantic way? Except for the part where he likes the uber-kinky during the sexytimes.

SO, Ana is busy trying to understand Christian (who is “fifty shades of fucked up,” and therefore, she’s trying to figure out her “fifty shades of Grey”- HA clever. No.), and in the meantime, shenanigans happen, like her job, her friends and family trying to understand what she’s doing and why she’s basically just disappeared, her trying to get her over-controlling boyfriend to back the freak down and calm down about her work (also, buying her extremely fancy and apparently super-safe cars because she might get in a crash). They might also break up at one point, where she is all depressed and doesn’t eat, but it only lasts for a week, huzzah!, instead of a whole book. Then her boss sexually harasses her and Christian goes all crazy with the protecting, and she gets more fancy stuff, and meets the family (“you’re so good for him! we’ve never seen him like this! keep doing it! we love you!”) and then they get married. Like, two or three months in. Then there’s more revenge and murder attempts and Ana may or may not try to sacrifice herself for the Steele family because she loves them SO MUCH and by doing so she will keep them safe. Then they live happily ever after with their kidses (oh, which I almost forgot, Christian didn’t want and it caused this big upset but now he’s ok with it. And they live in the house that he bought for her.).

The difference between Fifty Shades and Twilight would be the lack of sparkly vamps in the former and the lack of actual sex scenes in the latter. The writing is pretty crappy in both- in Fifty Shades we have the same catchphrases over and over again- just like Twilight (while hearing about her inner goddess the first time was clever, by the end of the book, the next time her goddess got ready to have sex I was going to to slap her). I can’t even tell you how many times I read the same thing over and over again, and it wasn’t because I was not hitting the next button, but just because I think EL James just ran out of programming and started to repeat herself.

Basically, it’s a pretty crappy book that has attracted the attention of the world and is running circles around everything else. It spreads like wildfire, and while I’m not exactly sure why, I have some theories.

One, it’s fun to read what everyone else is reading. Then you know what’s going on, you can actually converse about it (and boy is there stuff to talk about in this book), and you feel connected. We like connected.

Two, romance is a huge seller in general, and I doubt that it’s that uncommon for romance best-sellers to…well, be best sellers.

Three, Fifty Shades is a media-grabber because 1, it was originally fan fiction, 2, it was originally published as an e-book, THEN went to paperback, which isn’t usually how these things are done, and 3, it’s erotica, not romance. Yes, I said it. I will also say it is NOT “mommy-porn,” which is a phrase that really bothers me and I’d like to hurt the person who invented it. Ana is just out of college, completely naive about the world, falls for a 28 year old guy- on what planet was this written for women who have children alone? It was written for fans of Twilight. Who may or may not be mothers, college students, doctors, teachers, bus drivers, secretaries, IT geeks, whatever. I could really give a crap who reads this, except that I wouldn’t recommend it for the book club. Could be awkward.

So beside the crappy writing and the sometimes questionable sexual choices (note: the BDSM stuff is really only the first book. The second two are much, much more what Christian so fondly calls “vanilla,” and only ventures into unknown territory once in a great while. I am seriously frustrated with reviewers who say women who read this are seriously into S&M and it’s a reflection of the kinky things women want, without mentioning the second and third books. It’s about a woman falling for a dangerous man and her attempt to change him while not changing him and how that never works, unless he wants to change himself. OR she changes for him), what’s my problem with this book? Nothing really. It isn’t my cup of tea, but whatevs. Neither is Ayn Rand.

What I do have a serious problem with, is the backlash against this book, especially coming from librarians. There’s been a LOT of chatter over the last week or two about LIBRARIANS (DEFENDERS OF THE FIRST AMENDMENT AND PROTECTORS OF THE FAITH) pulling these books from shelves and refusing to buy it for their patrons! I’m fairly frothing at the mouth. Censorship is bad. Judging your patrons based on their checkout habits is bad. Refusing to buy popular fiction because you don’t like it/agree with it/someone complains about it is bad. What about the ALA Code of Ethics and Bill of Rights!

I. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.

(from the ALA)

It says it right there. Books should be provided for the interest of the user (Fifty Shades certainly has interest. 1933 holds on 434 physical copies, 2203 holds on 144 e-book versions at the NYPL alone). Books shouldn’t be excluded based on the views of the authors. E.L. James thought Edward would be a freak in the sack and that Bella would go for it, and she wrote it down and is making bank. Librarians who are pulling this book are embarrassing me. Stop doing that, and go do something else, like program a writing seminar for your patrons. If there are any more fan fiction bestsellers, I’d like them to be better written.

Backlog

Books I need to put up reviews for:

Fifty Shades of Grey (I have a draft)

Slaughterhouse-5 (omg AMAZING)

Fanny Hill, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (made me blush)

Books I’m currently reading:

Lady Chatterly’s Lover (this might be the best book I have ever read. Not that I agree with all of it, but it is so incredibly well-written)

The Bluest Eye (this is also amaze-balls and I don’t know why I haven’t read anything by Toni Morrison before this. Probably because I’m dumb.)

All this and more to come!

I’ve also read a bucket of trashy romance novels over the last two weeks, but I’m not going to review them. It’s summertime baby! If you absolutely must know, they all go something like this: boy meets girl. Boy and girl hate each other/love each other/work with each  other/solve a crime together. Boy and girl get their sexytimes on. Boy and girl come up against insurmountable problem. Boy and girl overcome problem, grow as individuals on the life-paths to enlightenment, figure out how to be decent human beings and play nice with the other children, and get married. They ALWAYS get married!

Ra(w)R: Everything I Know About Love I Learned from Romance Novels by Sarah Wendell

Everything I Need to Know About Love I Learned From Romance Novels by Sarah Wendell

Release date: October 4, 2011

Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca

Allie stats:

Difficulty: Reading this books is about as difficult as eating chocolate.

Time to completion: Two days.

Rating: 8 stars out of 10.

Review:

This little book gave me so much more joy than I expected. What the wonderful Sarah Wendell did was break down the many intricacies (hahaha) of romance novels and write out some basic lessons about love, romance, and life.

Here are some of the things us romance readers know:

-we know who we are and what we are worth

-we know the difference between romance heroes and real-life heroes (because who would really want a romance hero anyway?! So much drama, too much attempting to be perfect, and there’s no way anyone has that much stamina)

-we know that lasting relationships have problems, and we know that there is almost always a way to solve them; we also know it won’t be easy, but it’ll totally be worth it

-we know that you have to be up front and ask for what you want, because the mind reading thing almost never works out

We also have some rules: don’t take people for granted, don’t be self-centered, etc. I loved reading this because it was just one big YES moment- I’m not totally insane for finding something worthwhile in romance novels! The writing at times was a little heavy with attempts at funny, but it did have me laughing quite a bit (“We’re not all looking for pirate kings who are secretly dukes, or tycoons of unspecified industry who need someone to pose as their fiancee to close a tricky business deal. We know these men don’t exist in plentiful supply, much less at all.” [pg 58]).

Everyone should read this. Every MAN I know should read this- it’s like a “here’s what many of your women-friends are thinking”-guide to the female brain-what’s really in those books extravaganza. There isn’t anything particularly shocking in it. Love yourself. Don’t be a douche. Follow through on what you say you’re going to do (personal Allie note: SO IMPORTANT). Use your abilities to the best of your ability. Love others. Don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t hurt other people on purpose. Really, romance novels are about the best parts of people coming out and making their own little corners of the world a better place.

In which a theme is found and discussed.

I’m almost afraid to admit it on the internet, but this past weekend I read “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Not just the first one, but all three. I really, truly did. If you don’t know what that is, go look it up. Here’s the Amazon link. I tried to find a NYT article on it, but I didn’t find any that actually talked about the book, only about how women use e-readers to read porn.

Oh, interested now? Go read a synopsis and come back.

….

Ok. So why’d I do it?

Let’s start with this: I really, really like romance novels. I started reading them about two years back and really got into them last summer. I’d just go to the library, stuff 5 or 6 into a beach bag, and peace out for a few hours. I can get through one in about three hours, which makes them perfect for those afternoons that I really don’t want to do anything, but can’t commit more time than that to a book. (Or I really don’t want to.)

The first romance novel I ever read (I think) was Nell by Jeanette Baker. We were at a Games and she was signing books and for some reason Mom and I thought this sounded like fun. Actually, I’m pretty sure it was just Mom and I was there for the duration, but whatever. This book ended up at home and I read it. Then I put it down and forgot about romance for a good long while. (Probably a good thing; while I think there is NOTHING WRONG with reading romance novels, the fact that my more impressionable youth was influenced more by Robert Heinlein and science fiction and less by Nora Roberts and romance at least let’s me fool myself into thinking I’m a more reasonable, logical person. Somewhere my roommate is laughing herself to death.)

I eventually got my hands on my dad’s kindle, and just wanted to play around with it. And you know what’s really cheap (and mostly free) and very prolific in the Amazon kindle store? Romance novels. Boom, I’m a goner. There are these stories with women who know what they want, who don’t know what they want, who are smart, who have never gone to school, who have careers, who are just waiting to be married off, who don’t want to be married, who can’t have kids, who want to have kids but not really- there are women like me! Maybe a little prettier, maybe a little better off (grad student living can be fun, but not always glamorous), but they have emotions and thoughts that I can relate to.

Let’s be clear: sometimes romance novel heroines do really stupid shit. And romance novel heroes, handsome and rich as they are (but sometimes are not), can start as Grade-A asshats. There is rarely a book I don’t yell at, and if I don’t yell at it, it probably isn’t that good anyway. People do stupid stuff every day; that isn’t something romance writers made up. Most novels, last time I checked, have some problem that must be Dealt With, or else it’s pretty boring. But the point is, I find it easy to identify something in a romance novel that just clicks for me. And I can find the ones I love (then find more) and the ones I hate (and avoid those), and mix them into the rest of my library.

For a little clarification, romance is not the same as chick lit (which I hate). In my opinion romance has a hero, a heroine, a problem,  a solution, and a happily ever after. Chick lit has a main guy, a main gal, a best friend or three, a lost job, a misunderstanding, a separate-but-equally-important-problem, unpaid bills, and lots of other things that are just..ugh. I’m a little biased in that I don’t really like “modern” romances either (that is, set now as opposed to…like 200 years ago).

See what I did there? I didn’t mention sex. Yes, a romance novel OFTEN has some steamy sexytimes in there, but it isn’t a given every single time. Inspirational (aka Christian) romance? Nope, not really. Or at least everyone is married first. It isn’t my cup of tea, but for a lot people it does it for them. And you’d be amazed/flabbergasted at some of the creative ways authors describe a couple of people doing the dirty.

So what does this have to do with Fifty Shades? In case you’ve been under a rock, this book has exploded. It’s top of the charts for Amazon kindle and has been for some time, bouncing back and forth with the Hunger Games trilogy. I finally just broke down and read the silly things. (Short Ra(w)R: I wasn’t that impressed, but I read all three anyway because I needed to know how it ended. Dammit. I’m going to do an actual review on these, so no stress.) Then I found Sarah Wendell’s Everything I Know About Love I Learned From Romance Novels, which is brilliant and I highly recommend everyone read, because it’ll save a lot of stress later if we all work from the same set of rules. Wishful thinking. (I’m also going to post a review for that as well.) THEN I thought about the history of romance novels, which Sarah Wendell discusses a little bit in her book, mainly about the “bodice-rippers” that were popular for a good chunk of time and which were honestly really unhealthy. Sorry, but sex that starts as rape and ends with all parties involved declaring eternal love just isn’t believable. Or attractive.

But that isn’t where romance started. As a genre, it just isn’t that new. And that’s where my new project starts. I’m going to read Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure  by John Cleland, followed by Lady Chatterly’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence in an attempt to see how much or if at all, romance has changed over the centuries.

Fear not, my blog is not changing to a romance novel blog. For that, we have Smart Bitches, Trashy Books (see the link in the sidebar). I’m merely going to direct your attention to the fact that there will be some cross-posting discussion in the upcoming weeks. First I’m going to post a review of Sarah Wendell’s book, then Fifty Shades, then Fanny Hill, then Lady Chatterly. I estimate to be done with the romance thing by the middle of June, because what with finishing spring semester, my two week summer school class, B’s graduation, going home, R’s graduation, and starting an internship I think I’ll be wanting to spend my free time with more with my amigas and less with my kindle, but you never know. Lots of plane time in there.

 

Thoughts? Questions? Concerns? Leave ’em in the comments so we can all share!