1959 July 21

“Lady Chatterley’s Lover” Declared Not Obscene

 

A U.S. District Court in New York on this day ruled that D.H. Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover was not obscene. Because of its explicit treatment of sexual intercourse, the novel had been unavailable legally in the U.S. since it was first published in Italy in 1928 (although there were a number of bootlegged editions and some bowdlerized editions that were legally published).

The edition in this case, Grove Press v. Christenberry, was published by Grove Press, owned by anti-censorship pioneer Barney Rosset. For more on Rosset, go to February 21, 2012.

The Court: “The book is replete with fine writing and with descriptive passages of rare beauty. There is no doubt of its literary merit. It contains a number of passages describing sexual intercourse in great detail with complete candor and realism. Four-letter Anglo-Saxon words are used with some frequency. These passages and this language understandably will shock the sensitive minded. Be that as it may, these passages are relevant to the plot and to the development of the characters and of their lives as Lawrence unfolds them. The language which shocks, except in a rare instance or two, is not inconsistent with character, situation or theme.

Even if it be assumed that these passages and this language taken in isolation tend to arouse shameful, morbid and lustful sexual desires in the average reader, they are an integral, and to the author a necessary part of the development of theme, plot and character. The dominant theme, purpose and effect of the book as a whole is not an appeal to prurience or the prurient minded. The book is not ‘dirt for dirt’s sake.’ Nor do these passages and this language submerge the dominant theme so as to make the book obscene even if they could be considered and found to be obscene in isolation.”

Read the classic novel: D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover (many editions available, but be sure it is not one of the bowdlerized editions)

Read Barney Rosset’s autobiography: Rosset: My Life in Publishing and How I Fought Censorship (2016)

Learn more at a timeline of the censorship of erotica: http://www.eroticabibliophile.com/censorship_history.php

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