Obscene Publications Act

10 November 2014

D H Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover was first published in its entirety in the UK on 10 November 1960, and the first run of the 200,000 copies had sold out by the end of the day. First printed in Florence in 1928, the complete version had been banned in the United Kingdom because of its sexual content (although a redacted edition was passed by the British censors in 1932). It deals with the adulterous relationship between Lady Constance Chatterley and her gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors, and describes their ‘liaison’ in what was considered to be highly explicit detail.

In October 1960, the novel (and its publisher, Penguin Books) went on trial at the Old Bailey, under the Obscene Publications Act of 1959. Many influential and prominent figures, including academics and ecclesiastics, spoke in its defence. Mervyn Griffiths-Jones, prosecuting, famously told the jury to ask themselves: ‘Would you approve of your young sons and daughters (because girls can read as well as boys) reading this book? Is it a book you would have lying around in your own house? Is it a book you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?’ This patronising question did not help the prosecution’s case and Penguin won a landmark victory in the fight against censorship.

Attempts were made to ban some other famous books. Various attempts were successful and some publications remain banned in particular countries. An interesting article was published on this topic by The Telegraph yesterday and made available online.

Maybe it is a blessing in disguise to have your book banned and receive all the media attention which would gather from a court case. I haven’t sold 200,000 copies of my book – a thought for the future, perhaps?!

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