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Lady Chatterley’s Trial: Regina v. Penguin Books, edited by C.H. Rolph

10 October 2007

A little snip of a book today, from the Pocket Penguin series put out to commemorate the publishing company’s 70th birthday.

Lady Chatterley’s Trial: Regina v. Penguin Books, edited by C.H. Rolph (Pocket Penguin #1)

In 1960, Penguin Books Ltd. commemorated the 30th anniversary of D.H. Lawrence’s death by publishing an unexpurgated edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover — and promptly found itself in the dock, accused of violating the British laws that forbade the publication of obscene literature. The Chatterley trial has been called a turning-point in the history of book publishing, and so it seems only fitting that the first book in the Pocket Penguins anniversary series should highlight this incident in Penguin’s history.

Lady Chatterley’s Trial contains selections from the trial transcripts of Regina v. Penguin Books, though perhaps it is not surprising that the book mostly focuses on the arguments for the defence. The opening and closing speeches for the prosecution and defence are included at the beginning and end of the book, and sandwiched in between are the testimonies of a number of notable figures who spoke in favour of publication. The writer and journalist Dame Rebecca West, future Poet Laureate Cecil Day Lewis, the Bishop of Woolwich, and future Conservative MP Norman St John-Stevas were amongst those who took the stand in defence of Lady Chatterley. The defence counsel’s closing speech neatly skewers a telling remark made by the prosecution at the beginning of the trial — ‘Is [Lady Chatterley's Lover] a book which you would wish even your wife or your servants to read?’ — with a few choice words:

I do not want to upset the Prosecution by suggesting that there are a certain number of people nowadays who as a matter of fact don’t have servants. But of course that whole attitude is one which Penguin Books was formed to fight against…the attitude that it is all right to publish a special edition at five or ten guineas so that people who are less well off cannot read what other people read. Isn’t everybody, whether earning £10 a week or £20 a week, equally interested in the society in which we live, in the problems of human relationships including sexual relationships? In view of the reference made to wives, aren’t women equally interested in human relations, including sexual relationships?

In all, Lady Chatterley’s Trial is just over 50 pages long, but it seems to tell a much longer story in a fairly short number of pages. And whether or not sexual intercourse truly began after the ‘end of the Chatterley ban’, as Philip Larkin so succinctly put it, the case of Regina v. Penguin Books certainly seems to herald the changes in social values and mores that were a hallmark of the 1960s.

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4 comments

  1. The film was very good, though personally I do not like watching human s having sex, as I think it looks ugly. This even though the combatants were both very beautiful, in this case. I couldn’t believe until I checked with Google that there had really been a trial about a book. I can’t remember it, but I guess it didn’t make it to the papers in New Zealand. However I did know the book was banned. Unfortunately I think many people probably read it because of that, and may not have read any of his other books. I think I read Sons and Lovers as part of my university English course. However at 79 I am rushing to read or re-read all the books I read or should have read earlier in my life, and now Lawrence’s books are on my list.


  2. In my opinion, the history of the Chatterley trial is actually more interesting than the book in question. Sons and Lovers is a far better book (in the sense that it is more well-written) in my opinion. But to read Lady Chatterley’s Lover is to look at a piece of modern social and legal history, and I think it’s an excellent idea to have it and other Lawrence books on a to-read list.

    — SG


  3. [...] John Cleland’s Fanny Hill, and James Joyce’s Ulysses, to the classic case study of Regina v. Penguin Books (the 1960 Lady Chatterley’s Lover trial) to the fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie after the [...]


  4. [...] 1959. It is an infamous trial, from the prosecution’s notorious and patronising rhetorical demand of the jury whether it was something they would want their wives or servants to read, to the cast of literary [...]



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