Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Penguin Books Found Not Guilty of Obscenity in Lady Chatterley's Lover case 1960
In 1960, Penguin Books was found not guilty of obscenity in the Lady Chatterley's Lover case
Lady Chatterley's Lover is a novel by D. H. Lawrence, first published in 1928. The first edition was printed in Florence, Italy; it could not be published openly in the United Kingdom until 1960. (A private edition was issued by Inky Stephensen's Mandrake Press in 1929). The book soon became notorious for its story of the physical relationship between a working-class man and an aristocratic woman, its explicit descriptions of sex, and its use of (at the time) unprintable words.
The story is said to have originated from events in Lawrence's own unhappy domestic life, and he took inspiration for the settings of the book from Eastwood in Nottinghamshire where he grew up. According to some critics, the fling of Lady Ottoline Morrell with "Tiger," a young stonemason who came to carve plinths for her garden statues, also influenced the story. Lawrence at one time considered calling the novel Tenderness and made significant alterations to the text and story in the process of its composition. It has been published in three different versions.
The story concerns a young married woman, Constance (Lady Chatterley), whose upper-class husband, Clifford Chatterley, has been paralyzed and rendered impotent. Her sexual frustration leads her into an affair with the gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors. This novel is about Constance's realization that she cannot live with the mind alone; she must also be alive physically.
An authorized abridgment of Lady Chatterley's Lover that was heavily censored was published in America by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. in 1928. This edition was subsequently reissued in paperback in America both by Signet Books and by Penguin Books in 1946.
In 1930, Senator Bronson Cutting proposed an amendment to the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which was then being debated, ending the practice of having U.S. Customs censor allegedly obscene books imported to U.S. shores. Senator Reed Smoot vigorously opposed such an amendment, threatening to publicly read indecent passages of imported books in front of the Senate. Although he never followed through, he included Lady Chatterley's Lover as an example of an obscene book that must not reach domestic audiences, declaring "I've not taken ten minutes on Lady Chatterley's Lover, outside of looking at its opening pages. It is most damnable! It is written by a man with a diseased mind and a soul so black that he would obscure even the darkness of hell!"
Lady Chatterley's Lover was one of a trio of books (the others being Tropic of Cancer and Fanny Hill), the ban on which was fought and overturned in court with assistance by lawyer Charles Rembar in 1959. It was then published by Grove Press.
A French film (1955) based on the novel and released by Kingsley Pictures was in the United States the subject of attempted censorship in New York on the grounds that it promoted adultery. The Supreme Court held that the law prohibiting its showing was a violation of the First Amendment's protection of Free Speech.
The book was famously distributed in the U.S. by Frances Steloff at the Gotham Book Mart, in defiance of the book ban.
In the United States, the free publication of Lady Chatterley's Lover was a significant event in the "sexual revolution." At the time, the book was a topic of widespread discussion and a byword of sorts. In 1965, Tom Lehrer recorded a satirical song entitled "Smut," in which the speaker in the song lyrics cheerfully acknowledges his enjoyment of such material; "Who needs a hobby like tennis or philately?/I've got a hobby: rereading Lady Chatterley."
British poet Philip Larkin's poem "Annus Mirabilis" begins with a reference to the trial:
Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) -
Between the end of the "Chatterley" ban
And The Beatles' first LP.
By 1976, the story had become sufficiently safe in Britain to be parodied by Morecambe and Wise; a "play what Ernie wrote," The Handyman and M'Lady, was obviously based on it, with Michele Dotrice as the Lady Chatterley figure, Ernie as her husband, and Eric as the handyman she has a fling with. Introducing it, Ernie explained that his play was "about a man who has an accident with a combine harvester, which unfortunately makes him impudent."