The Secret Lives of Used Books (Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D. H. Lawrence)
I’ve stumbled here either on an intriguing story, or on a series of coincidences that only make it seem that way. Several months ago, at a used bookstore in Marina, California, I got a copy of D. H. Lawrence’s complete/unexpurgated Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a copy loaded with the things that make used books great: a bookplate, an inscription, marginalia.
The book originally belonged to a man named Roger D. Morgan, who sprinkled his copy with all-caps guide words, like those found in a dictionary, only thematic rather than alphabetical. At the top of page xxxiv, he wrote MAN VS. MACHINE. At the top of page 55, BRUISE. Atop page 56, PASSION. Others: SYMPATHY (112), CONSCIENCE (134), WOW! (150), MONEY (160), SHAKESPEAR [sic] (183), SNAKE/EVE (208), MACHINE/WHEELCHAIR (218), DOGS (223), BURNS WEDDING PICTURE (224), STORY OF HIS WIFE (226), WOMEN? (229), THE BODY (266), SHE TELLS HIM (336).
But more than that, the text occasionally brought out a near rowdiness in Morgan. On page 26, beside a sentence in the novel that reads, “In her room he did glance vaguely round at the fine German reproductions of Renoir and Cézanne,” Morgan wrote, “dumb!” On page 43, beside a short paragraph of dialogue that reads, “‘Me? Oh, intellectually I believe in having a good heart, a chirpy penis, a lively intelligence, and the courage to say “shit!” in front of a lady,’” Morgan wrote, “my God!” On page 194, he wrote “boo” beside this underlined text: “. . . this was love, this ridiculous bouncing of the buttocks, and the wilting of the poor insignificant, moist little penis . . . After all, the moderns were right when they felt contempt for the performance . . .” On page 237, Morgan put a question mark in the margin when the gamekeeper first referred to his johnson as “John Thomas.” On page 245, another question mark was added beside this delicate bit of dialogue: “‘What is cunt but machine-fucking!’” (I share Morgan’s bemusement with that one.) And on page 310, Morgan booed again when Lawrence had the lovers meet outside a pub called the Golden Cock, presumably because he thought Lawrence was laying it on a bit thick.
Then there’s the inscription, written by a female of Morgan’s acquaintance on August 20, 1974:
D. H. Lawrence said:
Through man’s love & woman’s love
Moons and tides move
Which fuse those islands, lying
face to face.
Mixing in naked passion,
Those who naked new life fashion
are themselves reborn in naked flesh.
He has opened so many new doors for me (almost as many as you). Thank you for bringing him to me —
A smattering of research suggests a romance between Roger and Jennifer that may be (or have been) reckless and defiant to Laurentian degree. A couple named Roger D. Morgan and Jennifer E. Green lived at least as recently as 2017 in Watsonville, California, twentysome miles up the shore of Monterey Bay from the town of Marina, where I bought the book. It appears they married in Clark County, Nevada, in 2000, and in 2015 they came before the United States Bankruptcy Court, Northern District of California. They may no longer be living together. But most curious is that that Roger is now in his early eighties, and that Jennifer is in her early sixties, which means he would have been around thirty-four years old in 1974 and she would have been around sixteen. Maybe their marriage was the consummation of long-deferred erotic passion, or maybe it was the rekindling of a once illicit romance.
Or maybe these aren’t all the same Rogers and Jennifers.
But if Jennifer was a callow youth, it would explain how she misattributed a Stephen Spender poem to Lawrence, slightly misquoting it in the process. (Notice how Roger struck D. H. Lawrence with red pen in her inscription.) Jennifer’s school-girlishness might also explain how she was drawn to such a poem, which exemplifies — in the words of Christopher Hitchens — Spender’s propensity for “moist wonderment.”
Spender’s daughter, as it happens, went on to marry cross-dressing Australian comic Barry Humphries, best known in America as Dame Edna Everage. Dame Edna has no doubt read her Lawrence — disapproving of it while secretly relishing it. The closing sentence of Chatterley, from a letter the lovelorn gamekeeper has written to Mrs. Chatterley, contains winking euphemism of the sort Dame Edna adores and uses to broad effect: “‘John Thomas says good night to lady Jane, a little droopingly, but with a hopeful heart.’” Even those who’ve never read the book can probably guess that lady Jane is not the novel’s main character.