Lady Chatterley’s Lover
In this story Constance Chatterley is married to Sir Clifford Chatterley, a wealthy older man whose paralysis from war wounds has left him sexually impotent. As Lady Chatterley enters into a passionate affair with the gamekeeper, the novel focuses on their passionate couplings, often describing them in graphic detail, and using language considered taboo in literature when the book was published.
Opponents of this novel have identified four aspects of the book that they regard as “obscene”: its portrayal of a woman as a sexually aggressive being; its depiction of an interclass relationship in which an aristocratic woman couples with a man “beneath her station”; its coarse language, which includes words such as “fuck” and “cunt”; and its depiction of “unnatural” (anal) intercourse.
In defending his book, Lawrence called attention to industrial England’s negative and paralyzing influence on people. He argued that his novel contrasted the cold anti- intellectual bent of his fictional Sir Clifford and his friends with the warm passion of Lady Chatterley and her lover, describing their acts not in moral, scientific, or judicial terms, but in sincere and “accurate” ways.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover was first published in Florence, Italy, in 1928 by Guiseppe Orioli. It was banned almost immediately in Great Britain, whose home secretary, Sir William Joynson-Hicks, declared it obscene. This banning overlooked a British law permitting books with tendencies to “deprave and corrupt” to be reconsidered if they could be shown to serve some “public good,” such as a contribution to literature or learning. The British banning was imitated in the United States, where the book did not publicly surface until 1957, when the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roth v. United States ruling, defending “obscene” publications with “redeeming social importance,” was made.
Grove Press published the first unexpurgated edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in 1959. It was quickly seized by federal postal authorities under the Comstock Act and was declared obscene by U.S. postmaster general Arthur Summerfield. Grove immediately filed a countersuit to restrain the post office ban. A district court judge ruled that the postmaster general had “no special competence or technical knowledge on this subject which qualifies him to render an informed judgment.” The court ordered the ban to be lifted because no book should be “judged by excerpts or individual passages but must be judged as a whole.” In 1960 an appeals court upheld the lower court’s decision. Buoyed by Grove’s legal success in the United States, Penguin Books challenged the ban in Britain that same year in Regina v. Penguin Books Ltd., citing the Obscene Publications Act of 1959, which permitted literary experts to testify in behalf of books’ “literary merit.”
A British film adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover that was released in 1957 passed through U.S. Customs, but was banned in the state of New York under a provision of a state education law. The state’s board of regents refused to license any film that presented adultery “as being right and desirable for certain people under certain circumstances.” Barring presentations of “sexual immorality, perversion or lewdness” as “desirable, acceptable or proper,” the state board ignored the fact that the film contained neither taboo language nor “obscene” scenes. The resulting legal case, Kingsley International Pictures Corporation v. Regents of the University of the State of New York reached the U. S. Supreme Court in 1959. There, in a 5-2 decision, the Court found the film’s banning to be unconstitutional under the First Amendment. Writing for the majority, Justice Potter Stewart maintained that the film could not be banned simply because it condoned an idea that “adultery under certain circumstances might be proper.” Stewart also argued that “judges possess no special expertise [in]...
(The entire section is 2,448 words.)