Just how terrible it was could not be admitted, for to do so would have destroyed the argument that its greatness justified its explicit crudity. The prosecution failed to persuade any important British intellectuals, academics, or “experts” to testify that the book was either worthless or obscene. the year before, when such lanterns of enlightenment as Edmund Wilson had declared admirable, all the clever people were on the same side. There is no wine, no food, no sleep or refreshment, no laughter, no rest nor quiet—no love. What a tragedy it is that the prosecution did not persuade Miss Porter (no political conservative, by the way—she campaigned for Sacco and Vanzetti) to testify. Miss Porter’s conclusion that it is a self-titillating fantasy, in which the two main characters physically resemble Lawrence and his wife, Frieda (who deserted her husband and three young children to run away with him), is hard to deny.The intellectual fashion of the time said that was a great work. The days when academics were conservative in politics and morals were very much over. I remember then that this is the fevered dream of a dying man sitting under his umbrella pines in Italy indulging his sexual fantasies. Perhaps the earl of Craven and his fellow backwoods peers might have clubbed together to buy her a stateroom aboard the RMS is a dreadful, ridiculous book, and the claims of one witness that it is somehow puritanical are as nonsensical as the claims of another (a bishop of the Church of England, naturally) who said that Lawrence was “trying to portray the sex relationship as something essentially sacred” and “as in a real sense an act of holy communion.” How would all these experts and grandees have sounded, with their praise of four-letter words and their bloviations about purity and regeneration, if just one real writer had told them what they must have known to be the truth—that it is the product of a once-fine author’s sad decline, being used as a battering ram against restraint? A writer’s private preoccupations emerge involuntarily in his writing.Surely, given the book’s history, they must at least have suspected that a prosecution could be heading their way. Judge Frederick van Pelt Bryan, in a decision upheld as precedent by the Supreme Court, had ruled that, in the case of , “redeeming social or literary value” was a defense against obscenity charges.Even more important, a clever alliance of social and moral liberals from both British political parties had just changed the ancient English law on obscenity by cunning and determination.In nasty strip-lit eateries perched over growling lanes of traffic, lewd youths (no doubt wearing drainpipe trousers) freely perused filthy books, openly and cheaply bought, in which the crudest words in the language were lawfully printed . To read it now is like looking at pictures of extinct creatures on an Edwardian magic lantern, doubly distanced from us by both the contents and the manner in which they are displayed.Yet while it is risible, and even pitiful, I do not see why it should not be taken seriously, too.These reformers had done an astonishing thing to the obscenity law.Even if was found to be obscene, its publication would now be permitted “if it is proved that the publication of the article in question is justified as being for the public good on the ground that it is in the interests of science, literature, art or learning, or of other objects of general concern.” It would have been a poor lawyer who couldn’t show in that year of grace that a work by David Herbert Lawrence qualified on that absurd measure. Early 1960s London, blackened by soot and full of gaps left by bombs and rockets, still looked at first sight like an Edwardian capital.
By the time I was first introduced to Lawrence’s writing in the late 1960s, compelled at school to study As for the trial, everyone knows only two things about it.One is the question posed by the prosecutor, Mervyn Griffith-Jones, to the jury: “Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read? Between the end of the ‘Chatterley’ ban / And the Beatles’ first LP.” To understand the event you must read C. Rolph’s superb account, originally privately printed in 1961 and later more generally available, should stay banned, and almost everyone involved knew it.” The other is Philip Larkin’s statement in his poem “Annus Mirabilis” that sexual intercourse, at least for him, began “In nineteen sixty-three, / . I regularly astonish people by telling them, for instance, that there were no prosecution witnesses at all at the trial, unless you count the policeman, Detective Inspector Charles Monahan, who obtained twelve copies from the publisher and testified to that effect.Cooking was done with lard or beef dripping, thank you.
Travel abroad was limited by a sternly enforced limit on taking money overseas.
For it had not been so very long since the earl’s beliefs were supreme in the land, and uncensored versions of had been regularly seized by customs officers.