HI ILA y KNIGHT
"I-1HE great classics -11. distinguish good from evil and judge man by this distinction. But now that we have abolished God's truth within ourselves, and have overthrown what Bossuet called ' the solemn tribunal of conscience which condemned all crimes ', each literary man who comes along is equipped with his own universal remedy and thus assumes a special importance . . ." This is a quotation from " God and Mammon " (Sheed and Ward, 1946), Francois Mauriac's invaluable handbook on the subject of the novel and the responsibility of the Catholic novelist.
" Each literary man who comes along is equipped with his own universal remedy . . " That, surely, is the heart of the problem. But when a non-Christian literary man comes along and propounds a non-Christian remedy for the world's ills, is a Christian debarred from reading his hook. and is a
Christian country to ban it? These thoughts have been in my mind since the "Lady Chatterley " ease.
ITHOUGHT I would try to sort them out, as the effect of that novel on young people has been very much to the fore in the recent controversy.
Maude_ says: "A novel is nothing if it is not a stridy of human nature, and it loses all its reason for being if it does not increase our knowledge of the human heart'
But if the moral framework of a novel is the conventionally Christian one (for all important novels have some moral framework, as my initial quotation suggests) then sin whether murder, adultery or whatever will end in tragedy. This goes for such different novels or plays as " Macbeth ". "Anna Kerenina ", "The Heart of the Matter ", and, in an off-beat sort of way. even " Room at the Top"
WHEN sin ends in comedy as in "Lady Chatterley" then a different convention has stepped in. Of court: sin often ends in comedy in real life, as we know. But a good novelist. as I said above, to not just a photographer of life; hr. views life from a specific standpoint, and the specific standpoint of the Christian novelist usually impels him to make sin end in tragedy.
Lawrence was not a Christian and his standpoint was otherwise. Should we for this reason refrain from reading him? Surely not, and I think the Prosecution in the Chatterley trial was on a weak wicket when it based its case as it periodically did on the fact that the novel exalted adultery whereas this was, after all, a Christian country.
SURELY from the citadel of our faith we can read non-Christian works with caation; surely we ought to be strong enough to be impregnable by non-Christian moral frameworks. And why by the way should it always be assumed that non-Christian moral frameworks are in some way more seductive and alluring than a Christian one? Personally I find Christian ones infinitely more
moving and dramatic, to put them at their lowest.
One of the troubles with "Lady Chatterley' is very well expressed though not with this novel specifically in view in an article in the American Jesuit weekly, "America". which a reader has sent me. The article is called "Aesthetic Distance and Sex". I quote:
"THE novelist as artist must present sex, like everything else, with sufficient realism to make it convincing. but with such restraint as to guarantee that his reader maintains the aesthetic distance demanded for the aesthetic contemplation of anything . . . Admittedly the problem is uniquely acute in the case of sex. In almost any other kind of human experience there is little danger that the object contemplated will carry the reader over into a real-life situation that fuses reality with fiction and substitutes
a real-life participation for aesthetic contemplation. If it did, we would all admit that the artist had failed as an artist and had become something akin to a rabble
"It is quite evident that if a dramatist. in a sociological play in which he is portraying a rabble rouser, makes the rouser so arousing that half the audience joins the rabble on the stage, he has destroyed the artistic distance that must always separate the audience from the spectacle being enacted. In this instance real-life participation would have supplanted aesthetic contemplation. The same thing is true in the presentation of sex
BY the standards pinpointed in those extracts, "Lady Chatterley's Lover" would certainly fall short of being a work of art.
This is not necessarily a reason for not reading it, but I am sure that you should not. Why? There are many reasons. Basic one is that in any normally constituted person it may arouse wrong desires.