The History of Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover

Posted: July 24, 2007 in DH Lawrence, Literary Works, Polemic of Literature

Between the years 1926 and 1928, D. H. Lawrence wrote his final Lady Chatterly’s Lover three times. Finishing the third revision, he decided the book was ready for publication, but when he attempted to persuade his agents and publishers to print the work, all were obstinately opposed. Already, he was a seasoned veteran of battles over censorship against people whom he referred to as “morons,” battles which put an added strain on his already failing health (Moore 9). He expected difficulty in finding a publisher brave enough to print the content as it stood. As he foresaw, they all refused to publish it unless he agreed to make some changes to the text which would show the public that it was a work of literary merit apart from all the sex and four-letter words. In A Propos of Lady Chatterly’s Lover, Lawrence said that he was tempted to make such changes for money but that they were impossible. He said, “I might as well try to clip my own nose into shape with scissors. The book bleeds” (2).

He refused to bow to the demands of the “censor-morons” as he had for the publication of his first novel, The White Peacock. Being in poor health, it was no longer a question of money nor of the writer’s creed “publish or perish.” He was guided by the desire to speak openly, honestly, and fervently about matters which the majority would rather keep silent. No longer having the patience to veil what he perceived as truth, he met with a Florentine bookseller named Guiseppe Orioli who agreed to print the book in his Tipografia Giuntina using Lawrence’s own capital. Orioli, the compiler, knew little English and even less trepidation, for when Lawrence warned him of the book’s volatile content, the Italian replied smugly, “O Ma! We do it every day!” (Moore 20).

The 1,000 copies of this first edition printed in July 1928 were sold through Lawrence’s close personal friends due to the expectation of trouble from the police. At only two pounds each, the book sold quickly so that by December, this first version was completely sold out (Draper 20). In November, he published another cheaper edition of 200 copies which sold as quickly as the first.

The novel, despite the fact that its audience was limited to only those who had ties to the black market, was a profitable one for Lawrence. In fact, he would have become extremely wealthy had he been given a royalty on all the pirated editions which sprang up almost immediately after its first publication. One bookseller felt guilty about selling an unauthorized novel, so he sent Lawrence a small percentage of the profits. Lawrence remarked that if this were just a drop in the bucket, as the bookseller had indicated, it must have been a wonderful bucket (Lawrence 12). As it was published privately, no copyright was issued, so the novel was free game to any and all who wished to pirate their own editions, and the pirates could sell them for as much as possible.

The immediacy and pervasiveness with which the pirated editions arose is astounding. Apparently, someone in America had ordered an edition from one of Lawrence’s friends, and within a month of its arrival there, the first pirated edition was offered for sale in New York, usually at the price of fifteen dollars. Even the most `reliable’ bookstores sold pirated editions to the public as if they were the originals (Lawrence 5).

By 1929, Lawrence himself possessed a pirated edition, a “filthy-looking book…containing my [his] forged signature by the little boy of the piratical family” (Lawrence 4). In response to this edition’s appearance in London, Lawrence put forth a second edition in November 1928, again from the tiny Florentine print shop. This time he only printed two hundred copies and offered them at one guinea each as it was smaller and less expensive to print.

Lawrence also possessed a pirated edition that resembled a long Bible, a funeral version, and in America before the end of the decade, at least four pirated editions are recorded. In Europe, a pirated edition of 1500 copies was very near to the original. Only the corrections of a few of the spelling mistakes, which had been made to begin with by the English illiterate Orioli, the absence of the author’s signature, and a slightly different binding identified it as a false version. Being so close to the original, the book was sold to an unsuspecting public at anywhere from 300 to 500 francs (Lawrence 7).

Several pirates offered Lawrence a guarantee of royalty from the sale of their editions if he would simply agree to authorize them. While this would not have made their editions any more legal, it would have served to make stiff-necked booksellers more ready to carry the books. However,, Lawrence was as opposed to this idea as he was to the idea of expurgating Lady Chatterly’s Lover to appease the censor-happy publishers. He said, “It is understood that Judas always stands ready with a kiss. But that I should have to kiss him back-!” (Lawrence 8).

Instead of succumbing to the requests of the pirates, he managed to publish a cheap edition in May 1929 of 3,000 copies in Paris. This edition sold out by August at sixty francs and was the first to include his prefatory essay entitled “My Skirmish with Jolly Roger,” a defense, explication, and history of the novel that was published posthumously as A Propos of Lady Chatterly’s Lover. In light of the multitudinous damning criticisms, such a volume was needed. Nevertheless, the publication came too late and few people took time to read it to figure out what Lawrence’s intentions were when he set the pen to paper. Virtually every criticism of the book indicated to some extent that Lawrence was obsessed with sex. Some even went so far as to say that the entire book was laden with evil. An anonymous author in John Bull wrote a scathing review about the novel which “reeked with obscenity and lewdness…The muddy minded perverts peddled in the backstreets of Paris are prudish by comparison” (Draper 278). Like many other critics, he felt indifferent to people who wanted to be tainted by Lawrence so long as they kept their distance.

With such negative criticism, the flames of hatred against both the author and the book were ignited in the hearts of the general public, particularly the church-going crowd. Because of what others had said about it, most became so afraid of the book that they would not even allow it in their sight, much less read it for fear that immediate corruption would ensue. With this outcry from the religious community, police in England and America had their hands full preventing the sale of the novel. Undercover police approached a book shop in Oxford in September 1928 and asked if they carried a copy of the novel. The clerk denied indignantly that they stocked it but later approached the undercover officer as he was leaving and said that he could get a copy as a favor to a friend if no receipt was needed.

In America on November 25, 1930, an agent of the Watch and Ward Society purchased a copy of Lady Chatterly’s Lover at the Dunster House Book shop in Cambridge, Massachucets. James Delancy, the manager, and Joseph Sullivan, his clerk, were both convicted of selling obscene literature, a crime for which Mr. Delancy was find $800.00 and assigned four months in the house of corrections while Mr. Sullivan was sentenced to two weeks in prison and a $200.00 fine (Morris 2603). The case was appealed to Superior Court on December 19 and 20, 1929. The defense attorney leveled his attack against the unscrupulous methodology employed by the Watch and Ward Society when black-mailing the defendants. He stated that they were “depraved and perverted” to manipulate the booksellers the way they did, and cared little about disagreeing that Lady Chatterly’s Lover was obscene. Since he was defending the booksellers, not Lawrence, he was not concerned with the book’s reputation. The prosecutor attacked the Watch and Ward Society so that when the trial was over, the Society was censured by the judge. Unfortunately for the two defendants, they were still considered guilty, and their sentences stood unchanged.

Among the hubbub of the anti-Lawrence community, a small group of people voiced support of the book. He received many letters from booksellers, critics, and readers praising the novel and asking questions about what happened to Lady Chatterly or complaining that their orders had not been received (Moore 20). In answer, Lawrence wrote in the margins of the letters and sent them to the Florentine publisher to be typed into formal replies. While most of the criticism condemned his obsession with sex and fowl language, few would deny that he was a man of genius. Even the bully in John Bull had this to say on his behalf: “Mr. Lawrence is a man of genius. As a psychologist he is in the front rank of living writers; as a stylist he stands supreme” (Draper 278).

Lawrence became extremely ill in late 1929 and moved to the Swiss Alps and then to the South of France in search of a healthy atmosphere, but news of the novel continued to follow him. It is likely that the strain of the publication details of Lady Chatterly’s Lover hastened his death in 1930. One day in early 1930, he said, “The hatred which my books have aroused comes back at me and gets me here,” pointing to his heart (Moore 25). He was a serious man who took news of his novel’s acceptance seriously. Later that year, due to complications, he passed away in the South of France. With the death of Lawrence, publishers felt at liberty to expurgate it at will. Without a copyright, a publisher who could come up with a clean version had the promise of the novel’s preceding reputation to back up its success. In 1932, two expurgated versions were published, 2,000 copies in America and 3,440 copies in England. Frieda Lawrence, D. H. Lawrence’s widow, endorsed one expurgated version on the jacket sleeve stating that it “suggests to the greatest possible extent the original’s strength and vigor” (Hazlitt 289). However, one can only assume that Lawrence would have published the novel in an expurgated version when he was alive had he so desired. He made so many attempts to defy authority and have his third version of the novel published the way he wanted that no one can assume he would have been pleased. To him, the detailed descriptions of the sex act were central to convey his philosophy on the issue, and the four-letter words were nothing more than all men knew. He used them in an attempt to capture or mirror what he perceived as reality.

The publishers of this version euphemistically referred to it as an `abridged’ edition. Whole pages were left out with nothing but confusing asterisks left to mark their omissions. There was no consistency in the use of these astriks; some deleted pages were not even mentioned. Every description of the act of sex and all four-letter words which could have been remotely objectional were left out. Moreover, the reader was not made aware of when his or her “chastity was being protected from the depraving influence of the original volume” (Hazlitt 289). It would have been better had the editors simply been consistent in their omissions.

Criticism of this expurgated version often focused on the inconsistency of the omissions but was generally in favor of the clean version, although the name carried with it a certain dubious reputation which prohibited its purchase by the religious community. They were still afraid of it. In America, literary criticism was caught up in the worries of the Great Depression, and concerns over Lady Chatterly’s Lover took a back seat to the more immediately important issue of keeping food on the table. Nevertheless, its popularity evidently did not die. The National Union Catalog records fifteen different printings of expurgated versions between the years 1932 and 1943 in America, England, and Paris. A considerable number of these novels were sold, and the black market still carried a full line of assorted unexpurgated copies.

Further evidence of the novel’s continued popularity lies in the 1944 printing of Lawrence’s first version of the novel. Printed under the fitting title, The First Lady Chatterly, Dial Press expected to capitalize on the novel’s reputation. It was this reputation, however, that led to a court battle in November 1944.

Earlier that year in May, Charles Sumner, raided the offices of Dial Press in New York City seizing four hundred copies of the novel. When it came to trial, two of the three justices hearing the case decided that there was reasonable doubt as to the obscenity of the novel.

Besides lacking the four-letter words that lit so much controversy over the third version, this edition also differed in characterization. The character of the gamekeeper, Mellors, was originally named Parkin who was more of a social figure. In the third version, with Mellors, the social motif was not as direct, and the love theme was thereby emphasized more exclusively (Moore 20). Parkin speaks only in the vernacular while Mellors speaks the common language in affectionate scenes and the king’s English when he wishes. “In Constance Chatterly, the changes are perhaps less drastic, but they are no less important to her motivation” (Schorer xxxi). Clifford Chatterly gradually comes to be bitter in the first version, whereas he is already bitter at the start of the third. All of these changes lend themselves to the theme which evolved in Lawrence’s mind as he wrote the book. Therefore, the strongest criticism against accepting this first version as authoritative lies in the fact that the message Lawrence wished to convey through the story was not perfected until the final version.

Most critics agreed that there was nothing wrong with the idea of publishing this version of the manuscript. Lawrence had not included much of what made the third version so hated, and a respectable literary opinion centered on the idea that this version was at least as good if not better than the third draft which Lawrence preferred. Indeed, had Lawrence been satisfied with his first draft of the novel, it would have been published with very little commotion. Still, it is impossible to say how the novel would have been viewed critically were it not for the controversy it generated. Evidence points to the possibility that the novel would not have enjoyed great popularity. Many critics agreed that the plot was too simple and that the characters were utterly dead inside, that it was a bleak, depressing novel. It simply was not Lawrence’s best work.

Even though the book may not have been his best, the idea of not being able to legally purchase the third version was difficult to accept, even for those who did not necessarily care for the novel itself. The gradual push for the publication of the third version without abridgement continued. In 1953, a collection of Lawrence’s essays regarding his sexual ideology entitled Sex Literature and Censorship was edited by Harry Moore. In this book Moore called for the publication of an unexpurgated third version: “Now, twenty years after the legalization of Ulysses, we might expect a publisher to undertake the genuine Lady Chatterly’s Lover” (26). He would have to wait six years more until Grove Press accepted that portentous task.

“Like water pressure that has slowly built up behind a cracked dam, the suppressed book suddenly burst upon us” (Evans 144). Once the novel was available in pure, unexpurgated form, the greatest battle in its controversial history exploded culminating in a trial at the U. S. District Court under Judge Frederick vanPelt Bryan. Opponents and proponents voiced their opinions openly. Among the more eminent figures opposed to the book were Post Master General Arthur E. Summerfield and President Eisenhower. When Summerfield showed the President a copy of the book in which he had marked some of the four-letter words and sex scenes, the shocked President replied “Dreadful…We can’t have it.” (Evans 145). The religious community backed the President in an outcry against the novel. The publisher at Grove Press was thankful for those who stood up in defense of the novel as it was banned from the mail system. He had printed 30,000 copies which were projected to sell rapidly, and were it not for the testimonies of distinguished people such as Aldous Huxley and the thoughtful foresight of Judge Bryan, Grove Press might have been forced into bankruptcy (Kazin 34).

Summerfield had been charged by Congress with the duty of excluding obscenity from the mails, and when copies were mailed by Grove Press in the spring of 1959, he was challenged with fulfilling this obligation of office. When he denied it from the mails, the publisher immediately sued in the Federal District Court asking that the ruling of the Postmaster be laid aside. He called on some of the paramount literary critics to defend the novel as a work of art, and all of them contended that it was one of the most important novels of the century. The work was characterized as one containing dignity. “They even went so far as to stress its high `religious quality’ and `consecrated vein'” (Evans 146).

Once both sides had argued their case, Judge Bryan, having read the novel himself, decided that Lady Chatterly’s Lover was “an honest and sincere novel of literary merit” (qtd. in Evans 146). He thought that the scenes which the Postmaster General had pointed out as obscene were necessary to the plot structure in conveying the author’s intent. The language that the President regarded as `dreadful’ “seemed to him not inconsistent with character, situation or theme” (Evans 146).

In this light, Judge Bryan issued an order that the book be allowed all the privileges of the mail, a ruling which outraged many citizens. J. Benedict, in the title of his essay regarding the matter, called the case “A Legal Leftwing Softening of Public Morality” (3). Many were afraid that this decision would only lead to the freedom of the press to publish anything and everything, which it may have done to a certain extent. They feared that what may result from the decision would be “the noisiest censorship yap since James Joyce’s Ulyesses was declared literature by Federal Judge John M. Woolsey in 1933” (Morris 88). Some were puzzled. They thought that if the Postmaster General were charged with keeping obscenity from the mail, he should be able to decide exactly what obscenity was.

Nevertheless, the ruling stood firm and became a precedent in other censor cases as the Ulysses case had done. Just after the ruling, Alfred Kazin observed that Lady Chatterly was out of date for 1959. Some of the contempory novels (the names of which he failed to mention) dealt with matters that made Lady Chatterly’s Lover pale by comparison. “One was about necrophilia, another on sodomy between priests, a third on incest”(33). Kazin condemned the way people choose to ignore and repress what they are afraid of. He said, “There is something about the American mind that is quick to identify what it is afraid of or just ignorant of as immoral” (34). Sonya Rudikoff supported the novel and “the purgative effects of intentional frankness” (408).

It is likely that the first movie version from Paris added a new dimension to the trial. Arriving in America at approximately the same time as the unexpurgated version, the risque sex scenes evoked horror in the minds of people who were barely accustomed to the antics of Howdy Doody. This was one of the first and most deeply felt blows to U.S. film censorship that had yet come about. The state of New York had banned the film from public viewing, and controversy over the book caught the film in its whirlwind so that the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision regarding the film was as shocking as the ruling on the book. Our constitutional rights were being violated by New York, and as adults, we should be allowed to view the film if we so desire.

These two decisions serve as landmarks in the struggle for freedom of expression. They played a minor part in the sexual revolution of the sixties, and widespread open-mindedness. One must be careful not to go too far in measuring the degree of profundity these cases had on future generations. However, we can note that they served as precedents, and once they were established, there was no going back to equal days of suppressing ideas. The effects are still being felt today in that the mind set of the general public was totally altered. Perhaps the present push for nudity and violence on public television programs, such as N.Y.P.D Blue, has its roots in Lady Chatterly’s Lover.

Whatever the effects of Lady Chaterly’s Lover, America was at the forefront in making bold steps towards true liberty of thought. England followed in our footsteps almost immediately, and soon allowed the unexpurgated third version admittance to bookstores, this time to be put on shelves legally.

Indeed, the whole world felt the shock of Lady Chatterly. In Japan, the book stirred up as much trouble as it did in America, only there, the big trial came sooner. The unexpurgated edition of the novel was translated into Japanese by Sei Ito of Waseda University, and it appeared in Tokyo in the spring of 1950. At once, lawyers, civic leaders, authors, journalists, professors, publishers, and general readers created one of the biggest outrcries in Japan since World War II. In 1952 and 1953, trials resulted in the conviction of Hisajiro Koyama, the publisher. To obtain this conviction, the prosecution called on a long list of witnesses including the chairman of the Committee on the Regulation and Control of Cinema Ethics, the president of the Society for the Reform of Manners, and the chief of the Diet Library. Japan believed that Lawrence’s purpose in Lady Chatterly’s Lover was to encourage adultery and sexual promiscuity (Moore 29). They did not take into account the extreme differences in culture which pose great obstacle in understanding the motivations of people, even literary characters. Therefore, they were limited to begin with in their ability to comprehend why Mellors used colloquial, sometimes vulgar speech, and especially why Constance would meet with him for a secret rendezvous.

In China, governmental resistance against Lady Chatterly led to more than a conviction; it culminated in bloodshed. During the late sixties and early seventies, a period known to the Chinese as the Great Cultural Reformation, people were thrown in prison where they spent the remainder of their lives for possessing a copy of the forbidden book. It was and is considered a threat to the security of the state. In the 1990s, only the prominent are allowed to read the book, and they are only given this privilege once they have obtained a certificate signed by several superiors and stating that they will only use it for academic purposes. Otherwise, possession of the book will lead to a prison sentence. (Wang)

Elsewhere in the world, a `cleaner’ version was published in Czekloslovokian, Danish, Polish, and Spanish by 1932. Hungarian followed in 1933, and Portuguese obtained a translation in 1938. Nowadays, virtually every language has a translation of one form of the novel or another.

One question still remains: What happened to the second version that Lawrence wrote and why was it not published instead of the first and third? Nothing “happened” to the version. Critics simply felt that the first and the last versions were of much higher literary quality. Apparently, the only printing of the second manuscript version is in Italian. Piero Nardi published this second version in an Italian translation by Carlo Izzo. Otherwise the version is unavailable (Draper 25).

Without a doubt, “few works by established authors have had as much difficulty getting published in full, unexpurgated form as the `shocking’ version of Lady Chatterly’s Lover” (Evans 145). Despite this difficulty, Lady Chatterly has taught us an important lesson in First Amendment rights. The bad side to the situation is that in blasting open the road to tolerance, Lawrence accidentally made it possible for a number of less skillful artists to slide into popularity right behind him. Yet this is part of America’s philosophy. We want to have the right to see and read everything, even the cheesy works.

Thinking back on what might have happened if Lawrence had been satisfied with his first version, none of the censorship battles would have occurred. Similar battles might have developed over a different work of art or another, but Lawrence should be given a good deal of credit for opening up our minds to a more healthy view of sexuality. He took three times to get it right, and we should be glad that he did considering all that the novel has accomplished. From it we have partially learned the value of honesty.

Works Cited

American Library Association. National Union Catalog, pre-1956
. Vol. 382. London: Mansell, 1968-80.

Draper, R. P., ed. D. H. Lawrence: The Critical Heritage. London: Redwood Press Limited, 1972.

Evans, Bergen. “Lady Chatterley’s LoverCoronet. 12.2 (1959):

Hazlitt, Henry. “Henry Hazlitt in Nation.” Ed. R. P. Draper. D. H. Lawrence: The Critical Heritage. London: Redwood Press Limited, 1972.

Kazin, Alfred. “Lady Chatterley in America.” Atlantic. 204 (1959): 33-36.

Lawrence, D. H. A Propos to Lady Chatterly’s Lover. London: Mandrake Press, 1930.

Moore, Harry T. Sex Literature and Censorship. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1953.

Morris, John. “Fine and Imprisonment for Selling Lawrence’s Book Lady Chatterly’s Lover.” Publisher’s Weekly. 116 (1929): 263.

Rudikoff, Sonya. “D. H. Lawrence and Our Life Today: Re-reading Lady Chatterly’s Lover.” Commentary. 28 (1959): 408-13.

Schorer, Mark. Introduction. Lady Chatterly’s Lover. By D. H. Lawrence. New York: Grove Press Inc., 1959.

Wang, Zhe. Personal interview. 20 November 1993.


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