This Day In Literary History
On November 2nd, 1960, the original, uncensored version of Lady Chatterley's Lover, the celebrated, classic novel by the legendary British writer D.H. Lawrence, was acquitted of obscenity charges in a London courtroom - or rather, the publisher of the book was acquitted.
Lady Chatterley's Lover was first published uncensored in Italy in 1928, as the British government had banned the novel, ruling that it was obscene and therefore illegal to distribute under the Obscene Publications Act, a law preventing the shipment of obscene materials through the mail.
What was considered obscene under this law? Anything that might "deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences." British publishers got around it the only way they could - by publishing an abridged, censored edition, approved by the author, with all the objectionable content removed.
D.H. Lawrence's novel told the story of Lady Constance Chatterley, whose husband Sir Clifford's war injuries have left him crippled, impotent, and embittered. Lady Chatterley soon finds herself driven to the brink of madness by sexual frustration.
Finally, in desperation, she embarks on a passionate affair with her gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors. The affair leads her to realize that in order to truly live, she (and all human beings) needs to be alive not only intellectually and emotionally, but sexually as well.
Due to the novel's daring philosophy, explicit and erotic depictions of sexual encounters, and use of language considered obscene, including the words fuck and cunt, Lady Chatterley's Lover was ruled legally obscene in 1928. For over thirty years, British publishers had been frustrated by their inability to publish the complete, uncensored edition of the greatest novel by one of England's greatest writers.
Then, in 1959, Sir Allen Lane, founder of the legendary British publishing house Penguin Books, announced that he was publishing the complete, uncensored version of Lady Chatterley's Lover in England for the first time, as part of a republication of the complete works of D.H. Lawrence. The British government then announced that they were taking Penguin Books to court for publishing obscene material.
The trial began on the morning of October 27th, 1959. Many famous writers, including Aldous Huxley, Bertrand Russell, and Doris Lessing volunteered to testify in defense of Lady Chatterley's Lover. However, defense attorneys decided to choose more mainstream witnesses that the jury could relate to, such as professors, schoolteachers, journalists, and clerics.
Some of these witnesses had been asked to testify for the prosecution, but elected to testify for the defense, which called a total of 35 witnesses. The most famous writer on the defense witness list was E.M. Forster, who had called D.H. Lawrence "the greatest imaginative novelist of our generation."
The prosecution mounted a case filled with relentless, aggressive questioning and repeated readings of sexually explicit passages taken out of context. The conservative media assisted them by assailing the book and its defenders nonstop.
A bishop testified that he believed that in Lady Chatterley's Lover, Lawrence had portrayed sex as sacred. When the prosecutor asked him if he thought Christians should read the novel, he said yes. The bishop was smeared in the evening newspaper, with the mocking headline "A BOOK ALL CHRISTIANS SHOULD READ."
The case dragged on for almost a year. Before the jurors began their deliberations, the judge suggested that they should find Lady Chatterley's Lover obscene, but it only took them three hours to find the novel and its publishers not guilty of obscenity.
The verdict ushered in a new era of freedom for publishers in the U.K. and led to the overturning of bans on Lady Chatterley's Lover in Australia and the U.S.
Sadly, D.H. Lawrence would not live to see his novel, which he had defended so passionately, vindicated in court. He died in 1930 from complications of tuberculosis.
Quote Of The Day
"Since obscenity is the truth of our passion today, it is the only stuff of art - or almost the only stuff." - D.H. Lawrence
Today's video features a reading from D.H. Lawrence's classic novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover, performed by Dame Judi Dench. Enjoy!