The link below is to an article that looks at the winner of the 2020 BBC Short Story Award, Sarah Hall, for ‘The Grotesques.’
The paperback copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover pictured above is of great cultural significance. Leafing through the pages one discovers hidden gems: pencil markings, underlinings, marginal annotations. Accompanying the book are sheets of headed stationery from the Old Bailey, containing handwritten notes relating to the novel along with a clumsily hand-stitched fabric bag – apparently made not to protect the book but rather the person carrying it by obscuring its title.
It’s the “judge’s copy” of the book, used by Mr Justice Lawrence Byrne who presided over the 1960 Lady Chatterley trial in which DH Lawrence’s famous novel was at the centre of a test of Britain’s new censorship law.
The University of Bristol’s acquisition of the so-called “judge’s copy” in 2019 was an important moment and, having assisted in making the case for its new home to be in the university’s special collections, examining it for the first time was thrilling. Now, on the 60th anniversary of the trial it is timely to consider this intriguing volume. But first a reminder of the case with which it was connected.
In August 1960, by pre-arrangement, the police were handed copies of the unexpurgated Lady Chatterley by its publisher. Following this, Penguin Books Limited was charged with publishing an obscene article under the Obscene Publications Act 1959.
The 1959 act aimed both to strengthen the law concerning pornography and to protect literature. It created the publishing offence (the handing over constituted publication) and provided that material was “obscene” if its effect, taken as a whole, was such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who were likely to read, see or hear it.
But a public good defence meant a conviction would not result if it were proved that publication was justified “in the interests of science, literature, art or learning, or of other objects of general concern”. The Lady Chatterley trial was a test of the act; in particular, would the defence protect creative works?
In the courtroom, while the defence did not accept the book was obscene, their focus was on its literary merit. A line up of 35 witnesses (women and men) were called on behalf of publisher Penguin to speak in favour of the book, including authors, academics, clergy, a 21-year-old English graduate and a headmaster. The prosecution played a minor role, calling only one witness and sometimes putting no questions to those who appeared for the defence. In the end, after three hours of deliberation, the jury of three women and nine men returned a unanimous verdict. Penguin was acquitted.
Which brings us back to Lady Chatterley and, in particular, the book in the fabric bag. Copies of the unexpurgated novel were circulating before 1960, meaning some of those involved in the case had long been familiar with it – the first defence witness had read it in about 1940. The police had acquired a marked-up proof copy of the Penguin book before the publisher’s handover.
The lawyers had taken great pains to study the 1960 text in preparing for the trial. Defence files show that Penguin’s solicitors undertook an analysis not entirely dissimilar to that on show in the “judge’s copy” with its accompanying notes. As prosecutor Mervyn Griffith-Jones demonstrated in his opening to the jury, where he observed that the words “fuck” or “fucking” occurred at least 30 times within the novel’s pages, so too had the Crown.
The jury were given copies in court, just before the trial began. At the end of the first day, the judge adjourned the case, directing them to read the book but forbidding them from taking it home. After a gap of several days the proceedings resumed and the trial continued for a further five days.
Reports tell how copies of the novel were handed round the court during the trial, to the jury, witnesses and to the judge, with the players occasionally leafing through the pages in search of a particular passage. The judge, however, was given a copy of the book at the same time as the jury first received it, on day one of the trial, before proceedings got underway.
It seems that at some point Byrne shared the novel with his wife, as we are told that most of the markings in the book and all of the separate notes are in Lady Dorothy Byrne’s hand, with a few annotations apparently made by her husband. Accounts suggest she worked on the text before the trial (or perhaps during the jury’s reading days), with her husband adding notes during proceedings as she sat next to him. Lady Byrne is also credited with making the bag.
This all suggests that the couple worked together, with Lady Byrne taking the leading role. Moreover, they did so despite Griffith-Jones’s question to the jury on day one of the trial: “Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?”
How then did the “judge’s copy” journey to Bristol? The Byrne family auctioned it in 1993. It came up for sale again in 2018, selling to a private individual in the US. In an attempt to keep it in the UK, the book was placed under temporary export deferral and expressions of interest were sought. At Bristol we put together a case to acquire the book and fundraising efforts began, with contributions coming from organisations and individuals.
As a result, the “judge’s copy”, notes and bag now reside alongside the Penguin Archive and trial papers of Michael Rubinstein, Penguin’s solicitor. Given its history, however, I wonder if we might begin to reconsider how we refer to this Lady Chatterley. Because of her work, the judge’s wife seems to deserve credit; it is not only the “judge’s copy” it is also very much “Lady Byrne’s copy”.
Remembrance Day commemorates the end of the First World War on Nov. 11, 1918, and the poppy is the abiding symbol of Remembrance Day in Great Britain and the Commonwealth countries, including Canada.
The poppy has been associated with war remembrance in a variety of ways. But
as many who attended elementary school in Canada may remember, the poppy’s iconic popularity is often attributed to the poem by Canadian physician and poet, John McCrae, “In Flanders Fields.”
I would like to submit for consideration a different poem as a more suitable and ultimately more resonant poem to guide our reflections this Remembrance Day: Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est.”
‘In Flanders Fields’
“In Flanders Fields” begins with a haunting evocation of poppies growing between marked graves of the war dead in Belgium, a description delivered by those very dead. In Canada and beyond, the poem has become a mainstream literary representation of all the wars and casualties remembered on Remembrance Day.
I have always found McCrae’s poem unsuitable to commemorate the war or Remembrance Day. Its appeal may be attributed to its melancholy focus on the makeshift graves of the dead and its earnest attempt to create an empathetic connection with the reader:
“ … Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders Fields.”
What follows from this poignant memory of being alive, however, is a command to “Take up our quarrel with the foe,” and a warning that these dead will not sleep until we, the readers, avenge their death on the battlefield.
The directive to continue the war until the foe is vanquished is antithetical to the spirit of Remembrance Day as I conceive of it. It’s similarly antithetical to the finest British poetry of the First World War, including that penned by Wilfrid Owen.
Poetry & shell-shock
Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” has an unambiguous anti-war message, and it works skillfully to immerse the reader in a subsuming, visceral representation of the lived experience of the frontline soldier.
Unlike McCrae, Owen never identifies the “foe” as the German soldiers in their trenches, but rather directs his ire at those at the home front who perpetuate, or simply believe in, the propaganda glorifying the war. The same can be said for Owen’s compatriot writer and friend, Siegfried Sassoon.
Both Sassoon and Owen — who met in 1916 while they were both recovering from shell shock at the Craiglockhart Medical Hospital in Edinburgh — felt that young men like themselves had been betrayed as objects of hero worship by their country.
The title “Dulce et Decorum Est,” is from Horace’s epigrammatic line “Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” (it is sweet and proper to die for one’s country), which is still inscribed on many war memorials. At the end, the poem excoriates this motto as “the old Lie.”
In 28 lines, Owen strives to convey, as accurately and brutally as possible, the daily horror experienced by front-line soldiers. At once, his poem is conventional — adhering to iambic pentameter and a strict rhyme scheme — and highly innovative. His language is designed to provoke emotion in the reader, as we see from the opening four lines:
“Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.”
The similes comparing the soldiers to “beggars” and “hags” are striking, but so too is the use of the first-person plural to describe the soldiers.
The words “sludge” and “trudge” stand out in this stanza for being distinctly vulgar in their context, while exemplifying the onomatopoeic language that Owen uses to help us experience the soldiers’ fatigue. The elongated vowel sound — “uh” — perfectly mimics the weary drag of the soldiers’ feet as they “trudge” through the muck.
The lethargic pace of the first lines swiftly accelerates when the soldiers are subjected to a gas attack:
“Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! — An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time.”
The reader must accelerate their reading pace and perhaps even experience a quickening heart rate alongside the soldiers.
‘I saw him drowning’
The rest of the poem is focused on the lone man who didn’t secure his helmet in time, and who the narrator is forced to watch entering his death throes:
“But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.”
In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.“
These lines are thick with active verbs; the suffix “ing” dominates the description of the gas attack, and the lines that follow conclude the poem:
“If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face …
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory …”
No peace for the dying
In these final twelve lines of the poem the “we” shifts to “you,” when Owen attacks the notion of glorifying war without any direct experience. The “you” may be both a direct reference to Pope and the kind of audience she sought to capture: Owen originally dedicated the poem in his original manuscript “To Jessie Pope, etc.,” and then in another version “To a Certain Poetess.”
The biggest shock produced by “Dulce et Decorum Est,” though, is when we realize the victim is still alive at the poem’s end — or, still dying.
Owen does not allow this man to slip off into the ruminative afterlife experienced by McCrae’s war dead. He keeps his victim suspended in the act of dying as a way of preserving the poem’s fraught message. There is no peace for this man, until “you,” the reader, reject the “old Lie” and fight to end the war.
Owen was killed in action a week before the war’s end, on Nov. 4, 1918.
Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum Est” is a meticulously crafted poem of shock and haunting. It might do us good to feel such haunting, such shock, every Nov. 11.
In his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844,
Karl Marx used Shakespeare’s work to examine money and its impact. The text was Timon of Athens, a tragedy written by Shakespeare and Thomas Middleton.
“Shakespeare,” Marx said, “excellently depicts the real nature of money.” Marx thought Timon of Athens shows perfectly how money both funds the miraculous fulfilment of all our wishes — and also robs us of friendship, love and our very humanity.
As philosopher Margherita Pascucci as well as the editors of the Arden Shakespeare third edition of Timon of Athens argue, Marx gets a great deal right about money in the play. I think that the play’s case against money is even more sinister than Marx does, but also, that the play shows how money can be used for the public good.
Spreading the wealth
Super-rich Timon loves to spread his wealth around. His supposed friends give him gifts in expectation of returns on investment. “If I want gold,” says one senator, “steal but a beggar’s dog / And give it Timon, why, the dog coins gold.”
Timon thinks money is simply the thing he and his “friends” use to celebrate their friendship. “O,” Timon tells his greedy guests, “what a precious comfort ‘tis to have so many like brothers commanding one another’s fortunes.”
But Marx, like Shakespeare and unlike Timon, finds that money makes us powerful and lovable precisely by alienating us from ourselves. Marx builds his case against money on Timon’s diatribe against gold, which comes pouring out of him when all his “brothers” deny him money when he is most in need.
For Timon, gold is revealed as a “visible god” with the power to make the ugly beautiful, the evil good and able to conjure what passes for love between people.
Timon comes to understand how money replaces human relations with monetary ones.
Written in plague-time
In 1605-6, when the play was likely written, Middleton was coming off a string of brilliant satires about money-grubbing and seeking status. Shakespeare had, over the previous few years, written his great tragedies, including Othello, King Lear and Macbeth. In these early years of the reign of King James, the royal court was a hotbed of self-display by courtiers on the make and self-promoting gift-giving.
The plague had also swept through England in 1603, when about 25 per cent of the population of London died. Plague struck again in 1606, which is why the play seems never to have been performed in Shakespeare’s lifetime.
The London playhouses were ordered closed. The churches, however, stayed open; congregants could hear about how plague came from God as a punishment for their sins.
Money as disease
Against this background of courtly profligacy and plague, it should come as no surprise that money in Timon of Athens isn’t merely an instrument of both empowerment and alienation. Money is a disease whose serpent-like winding from person to person swells into a pandemic large enough to annihilate humankind.
When Timon storms out of Athens, he curses the city:
at their society, as their friendship, may
Be merely poison!”
Alone in the woods, he digs for roots, but finds instead a fortune in gold. He gives gold to the soldier Alcibiades to bankroll an attack on Athens. Alcibiades had been banished from the city by the arrogant, unjust senators. Timon encourages him to slaughter everyone, down to the babies with “dimpled smiles”:
Be as a planetary plague, when Jove
Will o’er some high-viced city hang his poison
In the sick air …”
We moderns are informed by scientists, but we would do well to think with these Renaissance playwrights about about how the desire for money, and the power and pre-eminence money can buy, has led us to exploit the natural world and create gross global disparities in wealth.
Might money itself might have helpful or healing properties in the face of both the inequities that have become apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic and the planetary climate crisis?
The play suggests two ways money can save us. Near the play’s end, Timon’s steward Flavius and his former servants gather to say farewell. Flavius makes the other men take a share of the money he has saved through his employment. “Nay, put out all your hands,” he says, “not one word more.”
Surely today, less hoarding of wealth and fairer systemic distribution of resources could help mitigate some of the worst impacts of the virus on communities that have been hardest hit. Similarly so when we look at the disproportionate impacts of climate change on the Global South.
Money upholding law
The play also shows us how money might help to uphold the law and undo corruption.
With Timon’s gold, Alcibiades is able to bring an army to the gates of Athens. Instead of putting the city to the sword, he uses the threat of the sword to enforce the good laws of Athens and to purge the corruption of the Athenian senators, who “with all licentious measure,” make their “wills / The scope of justice.” Alcibiades honours “the stream / Of regular justice … and public laws.”
We can put aside the spectre of righteous armies at the gates of our cities. Violence cannot create a just world. But money could serve to give the law teeth. Money could fund a lawful path toward a just world.
Imagine how we might scale up from Alcibiades’ honouring of “the stream of regular justice.” Money could fund a transnational movement able to transform into law in every nation a document like the Paris climate agreement, a pact which even the signatory governments now can simply nod at and ignore.
Groups championing a better Earth show us some ways it can be done. To make the Paris agreement into law across all nations would be to turn the world and the “visible god” of money toward what really matters and to give humankind a fighting chance of survival.
As Shakespeare understood, our fate depends on our ability to foster the humility and fellow feeling that will dethrone our god of money and transform it into a thing we use to advance our good and the good of others.