By Mark Ulyseas
For The Bali Times
This is the first in a series of meetings with remarkable writers who are attending the festival. In this issue we discuss with D.H. Lawrence his controversial book Lady Chatterleyâ€™s Lover.
Tell me a word
That youâ€™ve often heard,
Yet it makes you squint
When you see it in print!
Tell me a thing
That youâ€™ve often seen,
Yet if put in a book
It makes you turn green!
Tell me a thing
That you often do,
When described in a story
Shocks you through and through!
Tell me whatâ€™s wrong
With words or with you
That you donâ€™t mind the thing
Yet the name is taboo!
– D.H. Lawrence, Conundrums
Some months ago when the moon played truant with the night and the shadows had taken a day off, a visitor from the twilight zone dropped in unannounced to invite me to the festival. The visitor, the director of the festival, was none other than Sylvia Plath. Her captivating melancholic demeanor was overwhelming, so I had to accept.
There are no tickets or dinners or literary lunches or congregating culture vultures or, for that matter, book launches or book-signing ceremonies. The uniqueness of this 24/7 festival is that every visitor can conduct a one on one with any (late) writer or poet by simply walking into a book shop and picking up one of his or her works; and then, reading it in the confines of oneâ€™s mind.
So join me, dear readers of The Bali Times, on this truly enchanting journey through the labyrinth of the lexicon world of (late) authors who have often brought enlightenment to oppressed or suppressed peoples.
Just the other day I bumped into David Herbert Lawrence and wife Frieda (nee von Richthofen and cousin of the German ace fighter pilot Baron Manfred von Richthofen, aka the Red Baron) walking through the mist-covered ricefields.
I invited the couple to high tea at Casa Luna, and they graciously accepted. So come the day we met at the restaurant to partake of decadence punctuated by the brilliance of Davidâ€™s words.
This soft-spoken author of such controversial works as Lady Chatterleyâ€™s Lover (1929) that was greeted with lawsuits for obscenity in England in 1960 and the collection of poems titled Pansies (1929), which was banned on publication in England, had been lambasted by the self-appointed guardians of misplaced morality. They had uttered such statements as â€œ…if a search were made through all the literature of all the ages, as foul a book might be found, not fouler…â€ and â€œ…this book excels in filth… it was created out of the turgid vigor of a poisoned mind…â€
After the pleasantries and pastries and steaming kopi Bali, I asked David to tell me why he wrote Lady Chatterleyâ€™s Lover in a style deliberately to provoke the public.
â€œMark, I lived in a society that had â€˜corsetedâ€™ itself in narrow-mindedness, to a point that even mention of sexual acts was an abomination. Putting it in print was vulgar. Yet promiscuity thrived in the privacy of homes, boarding houses and wheat fields. My novel is justified in so far as stating the truth, exposing the hypocrisy at that time. I detested the stifling contemporary morality.
â€œThe protagonists in the novel, Connie and Mellors, are symbols of individuality, for they in a way crafted their own moral code outside the confines of a prevalent culture. The love affair between an aristocrat and a gamekeeper is a challenge to society and instigation to reassess its social and sexual prejudices. The graphic rendition in words of the explicit sex scenes was a deliberate attempt to press home my point of view.
â€œHas anything changed since I died of tuberculosis in Vence, France, in 1930?â€
â€œNot really,â€ I replied. â€œThere are pockets of morality that are entrenched in medieval mentality. Methinks the world in your time and now seems curiously unchanged in many ways. Your novel may still be banned in many countries for obscenity. I guess enlightenment is still on its way.â€
For those readers who havenâ€™t encountered this prolific writerâ€™s book, here is a very brief synopsis.
Constance (Connie) Chatterley is married to Sir Clifford, a writer, intellectual and landowner who is confined to a wheelchair as he was injured in Flanders in the Great War. The couple reside at Wragby Hall in the Midlands. Connie has a short but unsatisfying affair with a well-known playwright, Michaelis, which is then followed by a steamy and passionate relationship with the gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors. She gets pregnant and goes to Venice to obscure the babyâ€™s parentage. Finally, Connie decides to tell her husband the truth, for she wants to be married to Mellors, who is already married to someone else. The novel ends with Connie and Mellors, briefly separated, awaiting divorce from their respective spouses.
I asked David to read an excerpt from his novel that showed his sensitive portrayal of a woman. I handed him my copy. He took the book and said he would read aloud a part prior to Connie finding love in the arms of Mellors.
When Connie went up to her bedroom, she did what she had not done for a long time: took off her clothes, and looked at herself naked in the huge mirror. She did not know what she was looking for, or at, very definitely, yet she moved the lamp till it shone full on her.
And she thought, as she had thought so often, what a frail, easily hurt, rather pathetic thing a human body is, naked; somehow a little unfinished, incomplete!
She had been supposed to have rather a good figure, but now she was out of fashion: a little too female, not enough like an adolescent boy. She was not very tall, a bit Scottish and short; but she had a certain fluent, down-slipping grace that might have been beauty. Her skin was faintly tawny, her limbs had certain stillness, her body should have had a full, down-slipping richness; but it lacked something.
…her breasts were rather small, and dropping pear-shaped. But they were unripe, a little bitter, without meaning hanging there…
She looked into the other mirrorâ€™s reflection at her back, her waist, her loins. She was getting thinner, but to her it was not becoming. The crumple of her waist at the back, as she bent back to look, was a little weary… the longish slope of her haunches and her buttocks had lost its gleam… only the German boy had loved it, and he was ten years dead, very nearly. How time went by! Ten years dead, and she was only twenty-seven. The healthy boy with his fresh, clumsy sensuality that she had then been so scornful of! Where would she find it now? It was gone out of men. They had their pathetic, two-seconds spasms like Michaelis; but no healthy human sensuality, that warms the blood and freshens the whole being.
…but the front of her body made her miserable. It was already beginning to slacken, with a slack sort of thinness, almost withered, going old before it had ever really lived. She thought of the child she might somehow bear. Was she fit, anyhow?
She slipped into her nightdress, and went to bed, where she sobbed bitterly. And in her bitterness burned a cold indignation against Clifford, and his writings and his talk: against all the men of his sort who defrauded a woman even of her own body.
Unjust! Unjust! The sense of deep physical injustice burned at her very soul.
David put down the book and for a moment looked out at the pink bougainvillea cascading over the ledge. The silence that hung heavy in the air was broken by Friedaâ€™s soft voice announcing that they had to catch the Red Baronâ€™s plane, which was due to take off from the nearby football field.
But before leaving the restaurant, David put his hand on my shoulder and said, â€œI have traveled with Frieda to Italy, the French Riviera, Germany, Ceylon, Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti, Mexico and the United States. Alas, I wish I had come to Bali and tasted its unabashed sensuality and luscious lifestyle. Maybe I will return in a coming lifetime, for it appears I would be accepted here without prejudice.â€
Twilight had set in as the plane roared off into the rising moon. Night fall blanketed my soul as I walked home to my woman friend clutching in my sweaty hands the paperback edition of Lady Chatterleyâ€™s Lover.
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om
Next week: A walk and talk on the importance of being earnest with Oscar Wilde, down Jl. Dhyana Pura.
Email Mark at firstname.lastname@example.org.