News

Obscenity trial: Judge’s copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover expected to fetch £15,000

By on
20

Fancy a piece of legal history?

Image credit: Sotheby’s

A copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, used by the judge who presided over the novel’s trial as an “obscene” work, is to be sold at auction next month.

The racy novel, written by DH Lawrence, was the subject of one of the most celebrated jury trials on whether or not it should be published in English by Penguin or whether it broke obscenity laws. The book had been banned here since it was first published in France in 1928.

The book tells the story of a young, female aristocrat having an affair with her husband’s gamekeeper. It contains passionate, explicit sex scenes and even a few swear words; mild by modern standards but scandalous at the time, particularly since DH Lawrence’s heroine ripped up accepted views on class divides and sexual desire (you can watch the BBC 2015 adaptation starring Richard Madden of Bodyguard fame).

No wonder, perhaps, that the wife of Mr Justice Byrne, the judge in the 1960 trial crafted a special bag for him to carry his copy of the book to and from the Old Bailey, according to the auctioneers Sotheby’s. It’s expected to fetch up to £15,000 when it comes under the hammer.

The latest comments from across Legal Cheek

The wife also read the book and wrote down on Old Bailey notepaper where the “relevant” passages were. It is clear she didn’t like it, her annotations include comments such as “coarse”, earmarking scandalous pages with the word: “love-making”.

But all to no avail: the jury found in favour of Penguin and, within days, the book’s publication in the UK went ahead.

The book’s legal significance is that it tested a new law, the Obscene Publications Act, which contained an amendment to allow writing which, though potentially “obscene” and “corrupting”, may also have literary or other qualities.

In R v Penguin Books (proper citation if you fancy a read: R v Penguin Books Limited [1961] Crim LR 176), the defence team brought in 35 literary and academic experts, the biggest names at the time such as EM Forster (of Passage to India fame) and Rebecca West, to give their view on the book’s merits.

The book had huge social significance too: this was a battle between “old” Britain, the stuffy establishment, and the new liberal, artistic generation, this was the beginning of the swinging ’60s.

The defence witness and English professor, Richard Hoggart, wrote in his autobiography (reprinted in the lot catalogue):

“[The trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover] has been entered on the … list of literary judgements as the moment at which the confused mesh of British attitudes to class, to literature, to the intellectual life, and to censorship, publicly clashed as rarely before … On the far side of that watershed … we had the Permissive Society.”

The trial would be the making of the book itself. When Lady Chatterley’s Lover went on sale on 10 November of that year, there were queues around the block at bookshops around the country: all 200,000 copies printed were sold on the first day, two million in the three months afterwards.

For all the latest commercial awareness info, and advance notification of Legal Cheek's careers events:

Sign up to the Legal Cheek Hub

20 Comments

Anonymous

You’ll know it’s genuine if some of the pages are stuck together!

(10)(0)

JD

“Obscenity Trial” is the internal name for our Vac Scheme.

(16)(0)

GC

“Would you approve of your young sons, young daughters – because girls can read as well as boys – reading this book? Is it a book that you would have lying around in your own house? Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read

(3)(0)

Anonymous

All the more reason to buy it. Let the biding commence.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Would you like to sin

With Elinor Glyn

On a tiger skin ?

Or would you prefer

To err

With her

On some other fur ?

(4)(1)

Anonymous

What you smoking mate?

(0)(5)

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(1)(0)

The Gardner

“Would you like to sin

With Elinor Glyn

On a tiger skin ?

Or would you prefer

To err

With her

On some other fur ?”

“Who cares? I just want in!”

(0)(2)

Anonymous

Well you can have her. She needs to be weeded out.

(0)(0)

Just Anonymous

Isn’t it funny how standards of obscenity have changed over the years.

In the early 20th century, it was the depiction of explicit sex.

In 2018, it is stating that recruitment quotas are a fundamental attack on equality of opportunity – since by definition they require recruiters to prefer less able candidates on the basis of irrelevant characteristics such as race and gender – and so must never be permitted.

(20)(1)

Anonymous

Ridiculous – there’s no law restricting the publication of this opinion and indeed ideas like this are widely published. There’s a difference between censorship and people disagreeing with you.

(0)(11)

Anonymous

Are you living under a rock? Sincerely, the Twitter mob.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

And there was no law prohibiting lesbian sex.

What does that tell ya ?

Laws aren’t the end be it all.

Societal attitudes ought to change.

(5)(1)

An Historian

No, it tells you that Queen Victoria refuses to believe that they existed.

(1)(2)

Anonymous

Lesbians were ignored.

When some uppity MP try to criminalise lesbian sex in 1921 the Lord Chancellor FE Smith said – “of every thousand women, 999 haven’t even heard a whisper of these practices”.

Queen Vicki was quite the trollop.

Hated pregnancy but loved wee bit of rumpy pumpy with Prince Albert .

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Was Byrne J Irish?

(0)(0)

Anonymous

They oughta remake Lady Chatterley’s Lover with a proper actress.

Hayley atwell or Lucy Pinder or some other Zoo girl.

The previous ones were too thin.

(4)(0)

Mellors

They oughta remake Lady Chatterley’s Lover with a proper actress.

Hayley atwell or Lucy Pinder or some other Zoo girl.

The previous ones were too thin.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

They made a film of this?

Can I get a copy for my 8mm projector????

(0)(0)

Make the rockin' world go round.

“Tha’s got such a nice tail on thee,”

“Tha’s got the nicest arse of anybody. It’s the nicest, nicest woman’s arse as is!

An’ ivery bit of it is woman, woman sure as nuts. Tha’rt not one o’ them button-arsed lasses as should be lads, are ter!

Tha’s got a real soft sloping bottom on thee, as a man loves in ‘is guts. It’s a bottom as could hold the world up, it is!”

(3)(0)

Comments are closed.

Related Stories