Lady Chatterley’s Lover: The Obscenity Trial

I’ve just been reading about D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which was banned in Britain for more than thirty years. In 1960, Penguin attempted to publish a mass-paperback, uncensored edition of the novel, but the British government charged them with publishing obscene material. The Crown prosecutor, Mervyn Griffith-Jones, opened the trial with words that quickly became famous:

“Would you approve of your young sons, young daughters – because girls can read as well as boys – reading this book? Is it a book that you would have lying around your own house? Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?”

'Lady Chatterley's Lover' by D. H. LawrenceGirls can read as well as boys! I should add that he was addressing a jury that included three women (all of whom were required to read the book). He was also horrified that the novel seemed to treat sensuality “almost as a virtue”. In reply, Penguin argued that the book had genuine literary merit and was neither obscene nor depraved. Penguin asked more than three hundred literary figures to appear as expert witnesses, and among those who agreed to defend the book’s literary merits were Rebecca West, E. M. Forster, Cecil Day Lewis and T. S. Eliot, with Sylvia Plath watching excitedly from the press gallery. A few, though, declined to help, including Evelyn Waugh, Robert Graves, Doris Lessing and Iris Murdoch, as well as one particular bestselling female author. Guess who said the following:

“I’d love to help Penguins but I don’t see how I can. My husband says ‘No’ at once. The thought of me standing up in court advocating a book like that … I’m awfully sorry but I don’t see that I can go against my husband’s most definitive wishes in this.1

It was ENID BLYTON! Oh, Enid.

Penguin, of course, won the case. Their initial print run of 200,000 sold out immediately and more than two million copies were snapped up in the first year. I feel I ought to have a go at reading this book, given its historical significance, but Kangaroo was so dreadful that I don’t think I can face any more D. H. Lawrence.

You may also be interested in reading:

Book Banned, Author Bemused

Lois Lowry on Book Banning

_____

  1. All quotes are from Modernity Britain, Book Two: A Shake of the Dice, 1959-62 by David Kynaston.

4 thoughts on “Lady Chatterley’s Lover: The Obscenity Trial”

  1. I recently read Never Had It So Good and Sandbrooke mentions the trial rather briefly and highlights the remarks Griffith Jones made. It does seem that the prosecution never had much of a chance and that it was a sort of test case for obscenity/literature. Lawrence must have, in 1960, at the very height of his reputation with FR Leavis more or less telling everybody that he was the only modern novelist worth reading! I won’t tackle Lady Chatterley either because Lawrence’s bullying preaching gets very tiring rather quickly. He did write some wonderful short stories and essays and there are marvellous passages in almost everything he wrote, stuff that no other writer could do. Such a pity he felt the need so much to be a sage.

    1. Poor D. H. Lawrence, if only he could have lived long enough to see his book turn into a bestseller. The people at Penguin must have clapped their hands with glee when they were charged with obscenity – the resultant publicity was the sort of advertising that money can’t buy.

  2. Actually the third book in the Frederica Quartet (I do promise I read other books…) has an extremely in-depth account of a book called Babel Tower (also the title of that book) that draws heavily upon the Lady Chatterley trial. It’s really quite fascinating and details the trial, the authors and intellectuals who come to defend it, and frequently references the Lady Chatterley trial.

Leave a Reply to ian darling Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.