The Chatterley Trial 60 years on: a court case that secured free expression in 1960s Britain

Judge’s copy: the copy of the novel belonging to the judge in the case was acquired by Bristol University in 2019.
By courtesy of the University of Bristol Library Special Collections DM2936, photograph by Jamie Carstairs., CC BY-SA

Lois Bibbings, University of Bristol

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.

Judge’s copy

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.

Lady Byrne

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”.The Conversation

Lois Bibbings, Professor of Law, Gender and History , University of Bristol

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

America’s First Banned Book

The link below is to an article that takes a look at the first banned book in American history – ‘New English Canaan’ by Thomas Morton.

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Antony Beevor on State Censorship

The link below is to an article reflecting on state censorship by Antony Beevor, who had his book ‘Stalingrad’ banned by the Ukraine government.

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How do libraries get away with banning books?

Clay Calvert, University of Florida

A dozen years ago, in his New York Times review of the best-selling British novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Jay McInerney (of Bright Lights, Big City fame) called it “stark, funny and original.” Told from the perspective of a 15-year-old autistic savant, the book is now a Tony Award-winning play.

But what’s hot on Broadway is sometimes too hot for Florida Panhandle high schools.

This past summer, the novel was pulled from the assigned summer reading list at Lincoln High School in Tallahassee, Florida. As reported by the Tallahassee Democrat, “the move was made to accommodate offended parents,” who apparently took offense to the dozens of instances of profanity in the text.

Whether it’s challenging Harry Potter books for promoting Satanism and the occult or wiping Fifty Shades of Grey from the shelves for depicting “mommy porn,”, it’s become all too common for books to be challenged – and sometimes banished – from local libraries and schools.

The American Library Association’s annual Banned Books Week, currently in its 23rd year, officially celebrates and promotes “the freedom to read” by raising awareness of books that are most frequently challenged across the nation.

Perhaps more significantly, however, Banned Books Week also provides both a rudimentary barometer of contemporary cultural concerns – the flashpoint topics, ideas and words that push our censorial buttons – and a test of our core commitment to the First Amendment.

Beware the parental penguins

The challenged books let us take the pulse of American squeamishness and, more bluntly, intolerance. They reveal the concerns of the day that rub some people the wrong way, so much so that they take the time and effort to file complaints rather just averting their eyes or cautioning their own children.

Not surprisingly, sex and sexuality, along with religion, are hot-button topics. Number three, for instance, on OIF’s list of most challenged books for 2014 is And Tango Makes Three. The children’s book, which was inspired by actual events in New York’s Central Park Zoo, tells the story of two male penguins who hatch and raise a female penguin named Tango. Publishers Weekly called it a “heartwarming tale.”

And Tango Makes Three was banned in a number of libraries across the country.
jessica wilson/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Those challenging it, however, find it anything but heartwarming. Instead, it is “anti-family” and “promotes the homosexual agenda.” Then again, at least the book was not the most challenged this past year, as it was in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010 (the 2014 honor goes to Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian).

Culturally, the wrath heaped upon And Tango Makes Three suggests that one recent Supreme Court ruling aside, we are still conflicted when it comes to same-sex marriage (apparently for both humans and penguins).

Into the courtroom

Cultural questions, of course, sometimes spill into courtrooms. While the First Amendment explicitly protects freedom of speech, it also implicitly safeguards our right to receive speech.

As Justice William O Douglas wrote for the US Supreme Court fifty years ago in Griswold v Connecticut, “the right of freedom of speech and press includes not only the right to utter or to print, but the right to distribute, the right to receive, the right to read and freedom of inquiry.”

Griswold’s logic leads to convoluted case law surrounding public schools’ ability to regulate and ban books in their libraries.

In a 1982 case called Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District v Pico, a New York school district sought to remove a number of books from library shelves, including Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice and a Langston Hughes-edited collection called Best Short Stories of Negro Writers.

According to the school board, the titles removed were “anti-American, anti-Christian, anti-[Semitic], and just plain filthy.”

A fractured Supreme Court wrote that “the discretion of the States and local school boards in matters of education must be exercised in a manner that comports with the transcendent imperatives of the First Amendment.”

In other words, school boards have discretion to pick and choose books, but that discretion is confined by minors’ rights to receive a wide swath of ideas and information, not just conformist doctrine.

US Supreme Court Justice William Brennan wrote that schools couldn’t ban books ‘in a narrowly partison or political manner.’
Library of Congress

The court added that “just as access to ideas makes it possible for citizens generally to exercise their rights of free speech and press in a meaningful manner, such access prepares students for active and effective participation in the pluralistic, often contentious society.”

Lofty rhetoric aside, Justice William Brennan cobbled together a few rules that remain in place today: schools may not exercise their discretion “in a narrowly partisan or political manner,” and they “may not remove books from school library shelves simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books.”

The court concluded there was enough evidence to suggest the school district’s reasons for removal violated the principles noted above, and it denied the board’s motion to have the case tossed out.

Indeed, the ALA makes it clear that despite a constant drumbeat to pull books from the shelves, “most challenges are unsuccessful and most materials are retained in the school curriculum or library collection.”

Of course, a few challenges do result in bans.

Ultimately, the problem of book banning and challenging won’t go away. Public libraries and schools with limited budgets must make tough calls on what to buy, remove or put behind the check-out desk. Their choices tell us much about where we stand culturally, while their willingness (for the most part) to combat challenges reflects their unwavering commitment to free expression.

The Conversation

Clay Calvert, Brechner Eminent Scholar in Mass Communication, University of Florida

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Sex and other reasons why we ban books for young people

Michelle Smith, Deakin University

A prize-winning New Zealand novel for teenagers has been effectively banned because of complaints from Christian lobby group Family First. After the decision by the country’s Film and Literature Board of Review, Bruce Dawe’s Into the River is now subject to an interim ban that prohibits its supply, display, and distribution.

Into the River is the first book to be banned since the current law was enacted in 1993. The novel confronts important subjects like bullying and racism through its narrative about a Maori boy. As the winner of the 2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards, it is in some respects a surprising target for censors.

Into the River has been classified in several different ways. It was initially judged suitable for audiences over 16, then received an R14 classification at the beginning of 2014 (making it an offence to supply the book to a child younger than 14), which was overturned last month.

On making the R14 determination, the Board of Review acknowledged the book’s “useful social purpose”. The Board concluded it was “likely to educate and inform young adults about the potentially negative consequences that can follow from involvement in casual sex, underage drinking, drug taking, crime, violence and bullying”.

Nevertheless, the Board felt that younger readers without a sufficient “level of maturity” were at real risk of being shocked by “powerful and disturbing scenes”.

In 2013, Family First sought an R18 classification and shrink-wrap covering because of the book’s sexual content, representation of paedophilia and drug taking, and use of swear words. Leader Bob McCroskie must have been busy with the search function on an ebook, as he noted that “it’s a book that’s got the c-word nine times, the f-word 17 times and s-h-i-t 16 times”.

When most people think of book censorship, they imagine political regimes and potentially book burning in Nazi Germany. What is little considered is that most books that have been challenged or banned are books for young people.

Book burning in Nazi Germany

The American Library Association’s list of the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books of 2000-2009 includes dozens of books for young people. Eight of the books or series named in the top 10 are children’s or young adult titles.

JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series occupies the number-one position because of its depiction of magic. Christian schools across the United States, United Kingdom, and even some in Australia, have refused to allow the phenomenally popular novels about the boy wizard to circulate in their libraries.

What Harry Potter shares with four other titles in the top 10 is that it is a series. Series books for young people are typically understood as having little educational value or literary merit.

L Frank Baum’s Oz books, for example, were removed from numerous public library shelves in the United States throughout the 1930s and 1940s. As Laurie Langbauer explains, librarians believed that series fiction like Oz was:

mass-produced, commercial, interminable, formulaic, and repetitive […] had no redeeming value and would harm any children exposed to it.

Books for young readers are often challenged or banned because they conflict with adult perceptions of childhood innocence. Depictions of sex pose the most obvious threat to adults’ understanding of the sacred space of childhood.

Judy Blume’s teen novels were highly sought after in my primary school because of their discussion of puberty and developing sexuality. Four of her novels appear on the challenged books list from 2000-2009, even though the most recent of these was published more than three decades ago.

Blume began publishing in the 1970s and has pointed out that this period was more open to discussions of teen sexuality. Her controversial novel Forever, she explains, was:

used in several school programs then, helping to spur discussions of sexual responsibility.

Blume laments that her novels would never be used in this way today. In 2013, she used her fame to assist after The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (number 10 on the ALA banned list) was removed from one Chicago school district after a complaint by a parent about sexual content.

Into the River has received literary awards and praise that distinguish it from popular series fiction. The New Zealand Review Board even highlights its potential to educate young readers. It has been reclassified and now banned because sex troubles adult ideas about what young people should be exposed to in fictional stories.

While age recommendations for disturbing content in books for young people are potentially useful, legal restrictions and bans are mystifying and fruitless for several reasons.

For one, young people can readily access adult fiction in public libraries and via ebooks. An obsessive focus on the books specifically marketed to young people ignores the mature themes, such as sex, drugs, violence, and horror, that they are free to explore elsewhere.

Second, young people access mature content in a range of formats, including largely unregulated internet sites and videos, and in video games, which aren’t usually expected to have an educative function.

Finally, through gritty realism and challenging content, books such as Into the River attempt to appeal to a demographic of teen boys who are reluctant readers. If the harshness of life for Indigenous, working-class, or sexually abused teens is too disturbing for adults to accept, then we would be better placed to improve these lived realities than condemn their representation in stories for young people.

The Conversation

Michelle Smith, Research fellow in English Literature, Deakin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Book Cave

The link below is to an article that takes a look at The Book Cave, a cave were manuscripts and books were hidden in the past.

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