09:43, May 24 69 0 theguardian.com

2019-05-24 09:43:03
Lady Chatterley trial: thousands raised to keep judge’s copy in UK

A crowdfunding appeal is bringing readers, authors and publishers together to help keep the copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover used by the judge in the landmark obscenity trial in the UK.

The annotated copy was sold to an overseas buyer at Sotheby’s last autumn for £56,250. But last week arts minister Michael Ellis put an export bar on the book, hoping a UK buyer would be able to match the asking price. According to Hayden Phillips, who chaired a committee of experts advising the government, it is “the last surviving contemporary ‘witness’” to the 1960 trial of Penguin Books for publishing DH Lawrence’s novel, a trial Ellis called “a watershed moment in cultural history, when Victorian ideals were overtaken by a more modern attitude”.

English PEN subsequently launched a crowdfunding appeal to raise money to keep the book in the country. Donations have been pouring in, with Penguin Books giving £10,000, the TS Eliot estate £5,000 – Eliot himself wrote in a 1960 letter that “I do not regard Lady Chatterley’s Lover as obscene, and I should regard its suppression as deplorable” – and individual writers and readers adding smaller amounts.

Penguin’s Rebecca Sinclair said the publisher was delighted to make its donation. “The publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and the subsequent legal defence, was an important moment in Penguin’s history of defending freedom of expression and also definitive for the broader cultural landscape in the UK,” she said.

Author and academic Alastair Niven, one of the individual contributors to the fundraiser, has written two books about Lawrence. “He has served me well and the least I can do now is help in his hour of need.”

Another donor to English PEN’s fundraiser said she was making the contribution “for my mother, who was a bookseller at the time, and who recently told me the story of how they had to keep [copies] securely under wraps in a back room while waiting for the verdict so they could release them immediately (or not)”. A third said she was donating for her sister, “who surreptitiously brought this paperback into the house in the mid-60s and unknowingly introduced me to the delights of DH Lawrence”.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which tells of an aristocratic woman’s passionate relationship with her groundskeeper, was published in Europe in 1928. It would not be published in the UK until 1960, 30 years after Lawrence’s death, when Penguin decided to use it to test the 1959 Obscene Publications Act.

The trial judge was Sir Lawrence Byrne, whose wife Dorothy highlighted and annotated his copy of the novel, pointing out which sections were “coarse”, or contained “love-making”. She also hand-stitched a blue-grey damask bag in which he could discretely carry the inflammatory book to court.

The jury took just three hours to return their “not guilty” verdict; within a day, the book had sold 200,000 copies, rising to 2m in the next two years.

“DH Lawrence was an active member of English PEN and unique in the annals of English literary history,” said president of English PEN Philippe Sands. “Lady Chatterley’s Lover was at the heart of the struggle for freedom of expression, in the courts and beyond. This rare copy of the book, used and marked up by the judge, must remain in the UK, accessible to the British public to help understand what is lost without freedom of expression. This unique text belongs here, a symbol of the continuing struggle to protect the rights of writers and readers at home and abroad.”

Topics