Initially published in Italy in 1928, the last novel by British author David Herbert Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, was unavailable to his compatriots until 1960. To that point, circulating the book (or any other novel of the same type!) in the United Kingdom could bring a prison sentence, since it contained explicit sexual scenes as well as vocabulary that was considered vulgar. Judges and other decision-makers feared that this type of reading might lead to depravity in the population. D. H. Lawrence’s narrative threatened not only to corrupt the ladies by inciting them to lust and adultery, but it might also lead the working class to believe that it could associate with aristocrats.
In 1959 a new law was introduced, stipulating that thenceforth it would be required to examine a work in its entirety (rather than just the excerpts deemed to be obscene) in order to determine its fate. If it could be proved in court that the targeted work had literary value despite its risqué character – and that it was therefore not an example of pure pornography – then the work could be published. It was Lawrence’s scandalous creation that was the first to be tested by this new legislation before the courts. Its publisher, Penguin Books, won a decision in 1960.
That trial, as well as those that took place around the same time in Canada and in the United States, created a major breach in the state censorship that had prevailed until then. The case can therefore be made that Lady Chatterley’s Lover not only left its mark on Anglo-Saxon literary history– no little thing in itself – but that the novel changed the course of History. In effect, these legal victories fostered the supremacy of freedom of expression in the West, as well as the development of the sexual revolution. Its author, who unfortunately passed away in 1930, would not live long enough to appreciate the full consequences his work gave rise to.