Today marks the 60th anniversary of the day that D.H. Lawrence’s novelLady Chatterley’s Lover was finally available for sale in the United Kingdom, after a landmark legal battle when the book’s publishers faced an obscenity trial because of the book’s supposedly lewd content.
The Prosecution famously asked the jury “Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?”
The Defence, meanwhile, played on the jury’s sympathy for the book. “Look at her, gentleman of the jury. God never gave her a chance – won’t you?”
While there are enough ‘f*cks’ to satisfy the curious, it should be noted some of the prose is rather purple, and Lawrence would be a serious contender for the Bad Sex Award: “Then as he began to move, in the sudden helpless orgasm, there awoke in her new strange thrills rippling inside her. Rippling, rippling, rippling, like a flapping overlapping of soft flames, soft as feathers, running to points of brilliance, exquisite and melting her all molten inside. It was like bells rippling up and up to a culmination.”
200,000 copies of the novel went on sale on November 10th, 1960. Sales were swift: Penguin went on to sell a million copies in less than three months.
In 1961 Penguin published a second edition and dedicated it to the trial’s jury. “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.”
Poet Philip Larkin memorably noted the trial’s reputation for introducing “the Permissive Society” into British life:
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.