Lady Chatterly’s Lover: The Book That Keeps on Giving

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When I taught 9th grade English, a student approached me one day very shyly. He was already an avid reader, but asked me if I thought it would be OK for him to read a copy of Lady Chatterly’s Lover he found. (You might recall, the publisher was put on trial in England for producing morally reprehensible material.) My student was visibly uncomfortable asking me about the book. I of course said to absolutely read it if it is of interest. Compared to what one can find on the Web, D.H. Lawrence’s novel was PG at worst.

That interaction came back to mind when I read recently that a copy of the book that was annotated and used by the judge presiding over the trial sold for nearly $20,000 at auction. The judge asked his wife to annotate the book for smutty material.  AND, she sewed a blue satchel to mask the book as her husband carried it in and out of court. You can’t make this up. Here’s how the BBC reported the book’s sale.

Sir Laurence Byrne brought the copy of DH Lawrence’s novel into court every day concealed in a blue-grey damask bag hand-stitched by his wife Dorothy.

The trial caused a sensation when Penguin Books were found not guilty.

Lawrence’s novel told of a passionate affair between an aristocrat, the titular Lady Chatterley, and Oliver Mellors, her husband’s gamekeeper.

Before the trial, Lady Dorothy Byrne read the book and marked up the sexually explicit passages for her husband.

She compiled a list of significant passages on the headed stationery of the Central Criminal Court, noting the page number, and adding her own comments, such as “love making”, “coarse”, and so on.

During the trial, prosecutor Mervyn Griffith-Jones famously asked whether the novel was “a book that you would… wish your wife or your servants to read.”

The jury took just three hours to find the publishers Penguin not guilty – a victory that, according to auction house Sotheby’s, “helped bring to birth a more liberal and permissive Britain”.

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