WARNING: This review contains a discussion of the c-word, and I plan to use it. Please don't read this if you do not want to see the word spelled out. Thanks.
This is less a review than an homage to my crazy mother (now I have you really intrigued, don't I?)
It was 1983, and I was in my first Catholic school. I'd spent my first six years of school in a public school, but my "behavioral issues" coupled with my lack of growth made me a target for bullies, so my parents were advised to move me to another school where no one knew me.
So off I went to the home room of a fallen nun, who'd given up her habit for a family. She wasn't much of a teacher. She was an old school Catholic educator who practiced punitive teaching, which included kicks to the shins, yanking of ears, pulling of hair, and screaming from close range.
I kept my head down and tried to blend in with my new surroundings, but my Mother made that difficult from the get go. I was a voracious reader, and she passed on the disease to me. From grade two on she had been recommending great books to me. I was reading everything before most everyone else, but my Mom's recommendation of Lady Chatterly's Lover in my first month of Catholic school was probably her most outrageous and unforgettable recommendation.
She bought me a copy at the book store in the mall, and that's where I met one of my favourite words of all time -- cunt.
Back in 1983, cunt was not a word in your average child's vocabulary. Sure we'd heard it, and maybe even seen it, but it was not something that was regularly used by kids, and its usage was pretty vague to every 13 year old I knew.
But there it was in Lady Chatterly's Lover. It was all over the place. So as I read the story and absorbed the way Lawrence used cunt, his usage became my usage. Lawrence used cunt beautifully; it was not a term of denigration; it was not used to belittle; it was not an insult nor something to be ashamed of; cunt was lyrical, romantic, caring, intimate. And I came to believe that cunt was meant to be used in all these ways. That the poetic use of cunt was the accepted use of cunt, the correct use of cunt, and suddenly cunt was part of my vocabulary.
I was thirteen.
Now I didn't just start running around using cunt at every opportunity. I did what I always did with new words that I came to know and love. I added them to my vocabulary and used them when I thought it was appropriate.
And when I whispered it to Tammy, the girl I had a crush on, a few weeks later, thinking that it was the sort of romantic, poetic language that made women fall in love with their men (I can't remember what I said with it, but I know it was something very much like what Mellors would have said to Constance), she turned around with a deep blush, a raised eyebrow and a "That's disgusting" that rang through the class (I can still see the red of autumn leaves that colored her perfectly alabaster skin under a shock of curly black hair, aaaah...Tammy. Apparently she had a better sense of cunt's societal taboos than I did). Mrs. C--- was on her feet and standing parallel to the two of us in a second, demanding to know what was going on.
To her credit, Tammy tried to save me -- sort of. She said "Nothing." Then Mrs. C--- turned on me; I was completely mortified (I'd obviously blown it with the first girl I loved in junior high school), and while I was in this shrinking state, Mrs. C--- demanded to know what was happening and what I had said.
I tried to avoid repeating what I had said. I admitted I shouldn't have been talking. I admitted that I should have been working. I tried to divert her attention. But she was a scary lady, and I couldn't help myself. I repeated what I had said -- as quietly as I could -- but as soon as Mrs. C--- heard cunt I was finished. That was the moment I knew "cunt" was the catalyst for the whole debacle.
Now ... I'd known before that the word was taboo, but I didn't think it would generate the response it did. I really thought that Tammy would be flattered. And I certainly didn't expect that I would be dragged to the office by an angry ex-nun. Silly me.
I got the strap. It was the first time (although there would be another). Three lashes to the palm of the hand.
I didn't use "cunt" in public or private for a long time after that, but my punishment couldn't diminish my love for the word. Lawrence made such and impression on my young mind that neither humiliation nor physical pain could overcome my appreciation of cunt's poetic qualities.
To me the word is and always will be a beautiful and, yes, gentle thing.
Every time that event was recounted at the dinner table over the years, whether it was amongst family, or with my girlfriends or my future wife, my Mom always got this sly little grin on her face and indulged in a mischievous giggle before refusing to take the blame for me getting the strap. After all, "Who was the one who was stupid enough to use the word, Brad? Not me."
I love her response as much as I love the word.
And in case you were wondering, my Mom never stopped recommending books to me. She was an absolute kook. I miss her.
I can't wait to pass on Lady Chatterly's Lover to my kids...but I think it's going to have to be in grade three if it's going to have the same effect it had on me ... hmmm ... I wonder how that will go over.