On this day in 1959 the United States Postmaster General banned D.H. Lawrence’s book,’ Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ under the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act. It would go on to banned in almost every nation with printed words. Portions of the book first appeared in 1928, printed by a private press in Florence, Italy. The publisher Tipografia Guintina printed it in a limited edition of 1000 copies which were numbered and signed by Lawrence. It was available only available to subscribers. An unexpurgated version of the book later appeared in 1929, published by Mandrake Press. Publishers in England and the United States, Martin Secker and Alfred A Knopf refused to publish an uncensored version of the story. The version we know today was not widely published until 1960.
Lawrence’s original title for the book was ‘Tenderness’, then it was changed to ‘John Thomas and Lady Jane”. The story focuses on a physical relationship between an upper class woman(Constance) and a working class man(Oliver Mellors). It is suggested that some of the story was semi autobiographical but this can’t be substantiated. The explicit details of the physical relationship contained words, which at the time were considered ‘unprintable’ by publishers at the time.
By 1959 obscenity rules had been laid down in England and the United States which lead to “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” being banned. Publishers were taken to court and prosecuted. Penguin Books and Grove Press were forced to prove the legitimacy of this story under the law as a work of literature. Grove was also in trouble for publishing two other books, ‘Tropic of Cancer’ and ‘Fanny Hill’. The cases were eventually settled and the book was reinstated for sale to the public.
We will likely never know how many copies of Lawrence’s masterpiece have been printed due to the number of pirated editions that exist, but it is considered one of the bestselling books of all time. The book’s legacy paved the way for the likes of Anais Nin and the Beat generation. If you’ve not read ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’, it is a great title to add to your summer reading list along with Nin’s “Spy in the House of Love’, William S. Burroughs’ ‘Naked Lunch’ and Paul Bowle’s “The Sheltering Sky’.