Reading ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ at 17 in Summer 21

Pandemic inspires a new hs grad to get off Zoom and read, like, a real book. For fun.

Young reader recommends an escape to Wragby.

Bored one afternoon, I grabbed the first book I saw in my dad’s office. It happened to be Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence, the controversial early 20th century novel famous for its crude language and frequent references to sex. I chose the book because I liked the cover, an abstractly painted naked woman, who seemed to be flowing through the wilderness. The book centers around Constance Chatterley (Connie), an aristocratic woman trapped in a passionless marriage to her handicapped husband, Sir Clifford Chatterley. She grows increasingly lonely on her large estate, Wragby, and sparks a scandalous affair with another isolated character, their gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors.

The book took me over a month to finish, and I frequently had to consult Sparknotes to comprehend what I was reading. But a recent high school graduate reading anything longer than Instagram captions is unusual these days. A recent high school graduate reading a complicated text written a century ago while on summer vacation is even more unusual.

Even though I hadn’t selected the novel with any conscious intent, I was surprised by how strongly I identified with its protagonist. What did Connie have in common with a suburban Gen-Z teenage girl? A deep frustration with men, a love for wandering aimlessly through the woods (a hobby I picked up during lockdown), and most of all, consuming loneliness.

After a four-year hiatus, I got back into reading for pleasure during lockdown due to my curtailed education, the overwhelming amount of screen time I was forced to endure, and yes, of course, the loneliness. I read seven books on my own from March 2020 to June 2021 in addition to readings I had for online school, which I found much less engaging without in-person lessons. What began as a supplement to my mediocre education became a crutch for my mental health. While I was locked in my house and cut off from the outside world, I began to use books to escape. Books let me take a break from technology, which I had grown sick of after four-plus hours of Zoom per day. Books let me travel to different countries and time periods while I was confined by the walls of my bedroom. Books provided a world full of outside characters and events which I could interact with in a way I couldn’t do in reality, but was still my own.

When quarantine mandates were lifted, I could physically escape my bedroom and finally socialize again like a normal 17-year-old. But the reading didn’t stop. Neither did the long walks, or other hobbies I developed in lockdown.

During the worst of quarantine, I would barely get out of bed or even attempt to be productive, as plenty of others struggled to do. Many fared much worse than myself by losing their jobs, falling ill, or losing loved ones. Comparatively, my boredom was a blessing, but I’m sure many others learned that downtime is what one makes of it. Like many other students, in my high school and across America, I resented the virtual, dull school days. But the additional free time and excruciating boredom forced me to look inward and find ways to pass the time other than staring at my phone. If any of you find yourselves with extra downtime, I recommend traveling to early twentieth century England.

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Karen Kurson

Karen Kurson is a student at Northeastern University in Boston.

4 thoughts on “Reading ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ at 17 in Summer 21

  • August 12, 2021 at 8:00 pm
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    Starting as a preadolescent, I turned to books for the very same reasons that you did, Karen, and I still do today. Thank you for articulating this so well.

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  • August 12, 2021 at 8:20 pm
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    Yes! Next try The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford and then reward yourself by watching the AMZN series. Its fantastic!

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  • August 12, 2021 at 8:41 pm
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    I’m dying to know which other books were on your father’s desk.

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  • August 12, 2021 at 8:56 pm
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    There is a scene early in the novel where one of the characters gazes out at the estate and the country beyond and thinks about how the world is changing and the England of lore and legend and tradition might be swept up and subsumed or utterly destroyed. The threat of Bolshevism is never mentioned, but the reader knows what specters were lurking out there in the world at the time Lawrence wrote. What menaces Clifford and Connie’s world today?

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