The Nottingham Essay: The Chatterley Trial

In 1960 the establishment got a right cob on when Penguin Books published a smutty book by Nottingham’s top gobshite, D.H Lawrence. For those of you who paid no attention at school, here’s a quick synopsis of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

Connie Reid is a cultured bohemian of the upper-middle class. That means she’s wealthy and likes a bit of a cock. At 23, she marries a snooty toff called Clifford Chatterley. Shortly after their honeymoon, Clifford heads off to World War One and returns paralyzed from the waist down. To compensate for his lack of virility, Clifford takes up writing, gets famous and loads of people flock over to his mansion to tell him how ace he is. He also runs a coal mining business which makes him even more dosh. But he’s smug and boring so Connie seeks out a bit of rough in Oliver Mellors, the well-ripped moody gamekeeper.

If you throw a sacking, pregnancy, a crazy ex and some rants about industrialisation into the equation, that’s pretty much it. The book ends with Connie and Mellors hoping for divorces to come through so they can do something really radical; get married again. Oh yeah, there’s what appears to be an anal rape scene too when Connie experiences the “piercing thrills of sensuality, different, sharper, more terrible than the thrills of tenderness”. But it’s so subtle you won’t notice it.

There are three versions of this infamous novel that Lawrence wrote while dying of tuberculosis. The first crops up in 1926 and has none of the dotteh scenes, focussing instead on life within a mining community. This was known as The First Lady Chatterley and was published in 1944. The second version was called John Thomas and Lady Jane, and sounds more like a Carry On film with its silly euphemisms. This also had the alternative title of Tenderness due to it being more soppy. It was first published in an Italian translation in 1954.

The final version came out in 1928 and publishers bobbed their pants because it was so spicy. Lawrence funded it via subscriptions, and a Florentine bookseller named Guiseppe Orioli banged out 1,000 copies. But because the book had been privately published – and was therefore not formally copyrighted – pirated copies flooded the market. By the time Lawrence died in 1930, gutless publishers were printing ‘cleaner’ abridged versions of the novel. The National Union Catalogue records up to fifteen expurgated versions between 1932 and 1943 in America, UK and Paris.

Lawrence was constantly censored throughout his life, which did his reputation as a bad boy no harm. In 1915, copies of The Rainbow were seized and burned, and his 1928 poetry collection Pansies had to have twelve or so pages removed before it went to print. Even when he exhibited paintings a year later, these were seized and thrown in a cell. All of which had the effect of making Lady C a cult novel that everyone wanted to read just to see what all the fuss was about.

When Penguin published the full, unexpurgated edition in 1960, they were taken to trial. The thing that infuriated the establishment the most, other than all of the ‘fucks’ and ‘cunts’, was that the book was on sale for 3/6, or the price of a pack of ten fags, thereby making it easily accessible to the impressionable masses. The trial was held at the Old Bailey and ran from 20 October to 2 November 1960, and would be the first major test of the recently created Obscene Publications Act of 1959.

There’s various evidence throughout the novel to suggest that sexual freedom and being a potty mouth were Lawrence’s means of offsetting the cold intellectualism that defined the period. But putting this academic waffle aside for one moment: What you really want to know is whether Lady C is worth a wank?

The short answer is no.

The first time they get it on, Connie is more passive than a plank of wood. Instead of clawing Mellors’ back out with her nails, she just, well, falls asleep all the time. Then it gets all mystical as Mellors discovers “the peace on earth of her soft, quiescent body.” This is hardly pornographic and, if anything, reads like something Barbara Cartland would have written if she’d grown up in Glastonbury.

Mellors doesn’t mind Connie dozing off on the job. But he does have a bit of a tantrum when he realises she’s holding back. Lawrence had quite a thing for synchronised coming. But the fact that she didn’t come at the right time has nothing to do with him. Oh no. It’s because of… the dehumanising effects of industrialisation. That old chestnut.

When Mellors really goes for it, Connie finds his thrusting buttocks a tad stupid. These little love pistons are a right turn off. But this is nothing in comparison to the ridiculous sight of his “wilting… poor insignificant, moist little penis”. Fortunately, Mellors is a dab hand at pillow talk and sounds just like Will Smith in Hitch when he retorts, “A woman’s a lovely thing when ‘er ‘s deep ter fuck, and cunt’s good.”

That told yer.

Connie is smitten and wants to know what motivates Mellors, other than bottoms, killing cats and shooting the occasional grouse. It turns out the reason he wants to get jiggy has nothing to do with being a randy bogger. It’s because….insert drum roll…. “I believe especially in being warm-hearted in love, in fucking with a warm heart. I believe if men could fuck with warm hearts, and the women take it warm-heartedly, everything would come right. It’s all this cold-hearted fucking that is death and idiocy.”

On the plus side, we can conclude from all this ‘warm’ heartedness that Mellors isn’t into necrophilia. But part of having a warm heart means doing as yer tode. Lawrence had some pretty odd ideas about submission, not the type where you get dressed up as a gimp and get women to piss on you to relieve the stress of modern living (Ahem), but the Nietzschean variety. Because Connie’s given in to his will and become “a physical slave” her reward is sexual awakening which is symbolised through them both – finally – coming at the same time.

Connie then gets all soppy, as you do when you’ve been buggered, and realises she’s in love. Bless.

At long last, Mellors has found an obedient woman who has the decency to synchronise her coming. This is in stark contrast to his former wife, Bertha Coutts, who would think nothing of finishing herself off once he’d rolled over. And she didn’t care how long it took either. If you want a job doing properly, do it yersen!

Obviously this level of independence infuriated Mellors, whose descriptions of Bertha having a fiddle sounds more like David Attenborough describing a feeding frenzy in the Serengeti, “the old rampers have beaks between their legs, and they tear at you with it till you’re sick. Self! Self! Self! All self!… tear, tear, tear, as if she had no sensation in her except in the top of her beak.” Calm down Lawrence, it’s only a clitoris…

Lady Chatterley is an extraordinary book because it’s an honest attempt to understand human relationships. Sometimes the sex is good, sometimes it’s bob. Yes, Lawrence has got some odd ideas but before you get all smug, check through your own internet history.

Anyway, let’s get back to the Trial.

The defence council was led by Gerald Gardiner, a founder member of CND, and included Jeremy Hutchinson, a man of great privilege who financed his early years as a barrister by selling off an inherited Monet (as you do) and marrying the actress Peggy Ashcroft. He was drawn to defending amiable rogues throughout his career and his client list would go on to include the Great Train Robber, Charlie Wilson, and drug smuggler, Howard Marks.

The team pulled off two masterstrokes. Firstly, they declined an all-male jury which was traditionally reserved for obscenity trials, presumably to protect the fairs of the gentler sex. Instead they used their right of challenge to include three female jurors. As Geoffrey Robinson QC explains, “They realised the danger that an all-male jury might be overprotective towards women in their absence and they calculated that the prosecution’s paternalism would alienate female jurors.”

Secondly, they selected 35 key witnesses to vouch for the book’s integrity, including E. M. Forster, Raymond Williams, Richard Hoggart and The Bishop of Woolwich, Dr John Robinson, who said Lawrence showed sex as “an act of holy communion”. He even insisted it was a book that “Christians ought to read” – which I hope has nothing to do with the anal rape scene.

The prosecution, on the other hand, couldn’t find anyone to testify against the book, and instead obsessed about the swear words, analysing each page in microscopic detail and developing a complex hierarchy of filth. In the “gratuitous filth” category were descriptions such as “best bit of cunt left on earth”. In his opening speech to the jury, the chief prosecutor, Mervyn Griffith-Jones, read out the list: “The word ‘fuck’ or ‘fucking’ appears no less than thirty times… ‘Cunt’ fourteen times; ‘balls’ thirteen times; ‘shit’ and ‘arse’ six times apiece; ‘cock’ four times; ‘piss’ three times, and so on.”

This sensationalist line of argument was irrelevant as the change in law meant that such words, no matter how provocative, had to be viewed within the overall context of the work of art. Lawrence once described his detractors as the “grey elderly ones” and nowhere was this more evident than in the chief prosecutor, Mervyn Griffith-Jones, who asked of the book, “Would you approve of your young sons, young daughters – because girls can read as well as boys – reading this book? Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?”

Such snobbishness all but sealed Penguin’s victory and they were acquitted on 2 November 1960, one week after the Pope’s decision to remove The Origin of Species from the Catholic Church’s Index. In that year alone, there had been 24 forfeiture orders against book importers for bringing in banned works, but the world was about to change.

The victory represented a growing cultural liberalism that would define the sixties and find voice in a more progressive politics which saw the legalisation of homosexuality, abortion and a reform of divorce law. Within a year of the trial, the book had sold over two million copies, outselling the Bible. In 1965, the critic and author Kenneth Tynan said “fuck” on live TV. The floodgates had opened, but a Tory MP, reasonable as ever, suggested Mr Tynan should be hanged.

In the same year, across the pond, Charles Rembar, who had previously defended Lady C (1959), Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer (1961) and John Cleland’s Fanny Hill (1963) forced a hearing in front of the Supreme Court that would finally see such books entitled to protection under the First Amendment. But in Australia, progress was a bit slower. Not only was Lady C banned, but the book detailing the trial was banned too. By 1971, works of no literary merit were safe thanks to the Oz trial and by 1977, courtesy of Inside Linda Lovelace, works of no merit whatsoever were acquitted.

Of the trial, Lawrence’s stepdaughter Barbara Barr said, “I feel as if a window has been opened and fresh air has blown right through England.”

Thanks to D.H. Lawrence, we can request that someone shut it, because it’s fucking freezing.

Were yer born in a barn or summat?

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *