The tumultuous trial of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’

From The Telegraph:

Chatterley_1750261c The latest edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover has been published with little fanfare, no salacious press reports and no questions raised in Parliament. Copies are unlikely to be burned in public, there will be no prosecution, and no one is likely to be depraved or corrupted or even slightly outraged. Exactly 50 years ago, it was a different story. Kenneth Tynan, touting unsuccessfully to report on the forthcoming trial, promised the New Yorker 'the most marvellous circus for ages’. And so it would prove, as Lady Chatterley’s Lover, first published in Italy in 1928 and subsequently banned in Britain, became the first novel to be tested under the 1959 Obscene Publications Act. D H Lawrence, relentlessly hounded by the British establishment throughout his career, was back in court 30 years after his death, accidentally inspiring a seismic cultural shift – much of which encapsulated the exact antithesis of his ethos, presented in this extended sermon on the horrors of war, industrialisation and, most of all, the beauty and purity of loving sexual relations. In 1959, with the 30th anniversary of Lawrence’s death approaching, Penguin was planning a further collection of his works.

Penguin had always boasted (though not entirely accurately) that it published 'complete and unabridged’ texts and the successful passage of the Obscene Publications Act seemed to clear the way for the unabridged Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Indeed, Penguin editors could not have countenanced the various expurgated versions, where 'penis’ was rendered as 'liver’ and 'purple’ passages deleted, to the undoubted confusion and disappointment of readers. The Act was designed to make it easier for the police to root out exploitative pornography, while protecting works of literary merit. However, by August 1960, prosecution of Penguin had become inevitable. 'I don’t think this novel is one of Lawrence’s best, or a great work of art,’ wrote Doris Lessing when approached by the defence as a possible witness. 'I’m sorry, if there is to be a test case, that it will be fought over this particular book.’

More here.

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