Lady Chatterley’s Trial

When Penguin sought to publish Lady Chatterley’s Lover for the first time in the United Kingdom in 1960, thirty years after the death of D.H. Lawrence, an obscenity case was filed against the publishing house. The proceedings from the trial is documented in C.H. Rolph’s The Trial of Lady Chatterley.

So what’s the big deal with Lady Chatterley’s Lover? According to the Opening Address for the Prosecution, the novel tends

to induce lustful thoughts in the minds of those who read it. It goes further, you may think. It sets upon a pedestal promiscuous and adulterous intercourse. It commends, and indeed it sets out to commend, sensuality almost as a virtue. It encourages, and indeed even advocates coarseness and vulgarity of thought and of language.

According to the prosecution, “the book is a book describing how that woman, deprived of sex from her husband, satisfies her sexual desires – a sex-starved girl – how she satisfies that starvation with a particularly sensual man who happens to be her husband’s gamekeeper.” To prove the inherent obscenity of the Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the prosecutors do some enumeration:

The word “fuck” or “fucking” occurs no less than thirty times. I have added them all up. “Cunt” fourteen times; “balls” thirteen times; “shit” and “arse” six times apiece; “cock” four times; “piss” three times, and so on.

Ultimately, it’s funny how the trial of the book is transformed into the trial of the book’s main character, Lady Chatterley, as seen from the following extracts:

‘Apart from meeting him in the park, I think, when she is out with her husband, can you point to any other occasion when these two people meet, other than when they have copulation?’ – ‘No. After their first meetings they do in fact copulate on each occasion. They are lovers and it seems to be perfectly natural they should.’

-‘”Perfectly natural”?’ (incredulously.) – ‘Yes.’

‘”Perfectly natural” that Lady Chatterley should run off to the hut in the forest on every occasion to copulate with her husband’s gamekeeper? Not “perfectly natural”, sir!’ – ‘Yes; it is in her nature.’

‘It is in her nature because she is an oversexed and adulterous woman; that is why it is in her nature, is it not?’ – ‘No, I entirely disagree.’ – ‘Why?’ – ‘I think it is in her nature because she is an averagely sexed woman, I would say. We have no particular evidence about her one way or the other, but she is a lonely woman who is not getting the affection and love that she needs and her nature sends her to the man who can give it to her.’

The prosecution concludes that Lady Chatterley’s Lover has the effect to “deprave and corrupt, must be to lower the general standards of thought, conduct, and decency, and must be the very opposite to encouraging that restraint in sexual matters which is so all-important at the present time.”

Of course, considering the incredulity of all these accusations, Lady Chatterley was found not guilty for obscenity.


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