The Trial of Lady Chatterley

Score one for literary porn! On November 2, 1960 a jury in London found Penguin Books not guilty of obscenity for publishing the full, unedited version of D.H. Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

Prior to 1960, the novel was published in a heavily censored version, if it was permitted at all. But by the late 1950’s and early 60’s, notions of concealing potentially offensive materials from the delicate eyes of ladies had started to seem quaint and antiquated. Still, Britain passed the Obscene Publications Act in 1959, prohibiting the publication of obscene materials and allowing a Justice of the Peace to order such materials seized. Unlike earlier obscenity laws, however, this one allowed a publisher to avoid prosecution if it could prove the work was “in the interests of science, literature, art or learning, or of other objects of general concern.”

Penguin’s trial was the first notable prosecution under the Act. Penguin called academics and literary critics, including E. M. Forster and Helen Gardner to testify that the book had literary merit. The jury of three women and nine men agreed, and Penguin was able to go ahead with publication, making Lawrence’s novel available in the United Kingdom for the first time since its original publication in 1928. In the second Penguin edition, published in 1961, the publisher paid tribute to the jury for not being completely backwards. The trial was so famous it even got its own book: The Trial of Lady Chatterley.

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