Bookshops all over England have sold out of Penguin’s first run of the controversial novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover – a total of 200,000 copies – on the first day of publication. DH Lawrence’s sexually explicit novel was published in Italy in 1928 and in Paris the following year. It has been banned in the UK – until now.
Last month, after a dramatic and much-publicised trial, Penguin won the right to publish the book in its entirety. For those who can manage to find a copy, it is available in paperback for 3s 6d.
Rush to buy
London’s largest bookstore, W&G Foyle Ltd, said its 300 copies had gone in just 15 minutes and it had taken orders for 3,000 more copies. When the shop opened this morning there were 400 people – mostly men – waiting to buy the unexpurgated version of the book.
Hatchards in Piccadilly sold out in 40 minutes and also had hundreds of orders pending. Selfridges sold 250 copies in minutes. A spokesman told the Times newspaper, "It’s bedlam here. We could have sold 10,000 copies if we had had them."
Lady C, as it has become known, has also become a bestseller in the Midlands and the North where demand has been described as "terrific".
Novel on trial
The book tells of Lady Chatterley’s passionate affair with Mellors, the family gamekeeper, and details their erotic meetings.
Last year the government introduced the Obscene Publications Act that said that any book considered obscene by some but that could be shown to have "redeeming social merit" might still published.
This prompted Penguin to print off and store 200,000 copies with the aim of completing a set of works by DH Lawrence to commemorate the 30th anniversary of his death this year. Penguin sent 12 copies to the Director of Public Prosecutions challenging him to prosecute, which he duly did.
The six-day trial at the Old Bailey began on 27 October and gripped the nation. The defence produced 35 witnesses, including bishops and leading literary figures, such as Dame Rebecca West, EM Forster and Richard Hoggart.
The prosecution was unable to make a substantial case against the novel and at one point prosecution counsel Mervyn Griffith-Jones shocked the jury by asking: "Is it a book you would wish your wife or servants to read?"
Within a year Lady Chatterley’s Lover had sold two million copies, outselling even the Bible. The famous trial of Lady Chatterley was not only a victory for Penguin but for all British publishers, as from then on it became much more difficult to prosecute on grounds of obscenity.
The likes of Mary Whitehouse and her National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association founded in 1964 turned their attention to violent and sexual scenes broadcast on television and in film. The Broadcasting Standards Council was set up in 1988 to monitor taste and decency.
In 1993 the BBC dramatised Lady Chatterley’s Lover in a film directed by Ken Russell although the more explicit scenes were toned down.
Text from BBCs On This Day
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