Lady Chatterley's Lover is a novel by D. H. Lawrence written in 1928. Printed privately in Florence in 1928, it was not printed in the United Kingdom until 1960.
When I first read this book, it was in the early 1970s and as part of a course I was taking dealt with women’s roles over time. Alberta, at that time, censored all media coming in: books, films, magazines, newspapers and news. Anything controversial never reached the public consumer; if it did, when discovered was quickly removed and disposed of. The copy I read was abridged, with almost no sexual content in it except for brief passages where the reader could surmise the actions intended. Only Lady Chatterly’s adultery with a commoner could be taken to task.
However, the copy I read recently for this post was unabridged. Under today’s standard of obscenity, there is nothing amiss with this book. For those concerned with moral issues, unfortunately, it promotes adultery.
Why all the fuss over this book? The fuss had been about the intimate scenes, the use of strong language and the adultery between a woman from the aristocracy and a commoner.
The novel had been banned in the United Kingdom for obscenity, including initimate activity, obscene words and adultery of a woman of status with a commoner. There they referred their decision on important tests of obscenity such as the Hicklin test stemming from an English legal case R. v. Hicklin (1868), LR 3 QB 360, in English Common Law, stated that legislature could outlaw anything that, “depraves and corrupts those whose minds are open to such immoral influences and into whose hands a publication of this sort might fall,” for example, children. If one small portion of a work was deemed obscene, then the entire work would be forbidden. The Hicklin Rule was utilized up until the 1930s, when it was eventually abandoned for the “work as a whole” test.
When Lady Chatterly’s Lover was published in Britain in 1960, the trial of the publishers, Penguin Books, under the Obscene Publications Act of 1959 was a major public event and a test of the new obscenity law. The 1959 act (introduced by Roy Jenkins) had made it possible for publishers to escape conviction if they could show that a work was of literary merit. One of the objections was to the frequent use of the word “f**k” and and its derivatives.
Various academic critics, including E. M. Forster, Helen Gardner, Richard Hoggart and Raymond Williams, Norman St John-Stevas were called as witnesses, and the verdict, delivered on 2 November 1960, was not guilty. This resulted in a far greater degree of freedom for publishing explicit material in the United Kingdom. The prosecution was ridiculed for being out of touch with changing social norms when the chief prosecutor, Mervyn Griffith-Jones, asked if it were the kind of book “you would wish your wife or servants to read”.
The Penguin second edition, published in 1961, contained a publisher's dedication, which read: “For having published this book, Penguin Books were prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act, 1959, at the Old Bailey in London from 20 October to 2 November 1960. This edition is therefore dedicated to the twelve jurors, three women and nine men, who returned a verdict of 'Not Guilty', and thus made D. H. Lawrence's last novel available for the first time to the public in the United Kingdom.”
The story concerns a young married woman, Constance (Lady Chatterley), whose upper-class husband, Clifford Chatterley, has been paralysed 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, but must also be alive physically.
As the relationship between Lady Chatterley and Mellors develops, they learn more about the interrelation of the mind and the body; she learns that sex is more than a shameful and disappointing act and he learns about the spiritual challenges that come from physical love.
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