Books, Law


How is one to give evidence of literary merit in a court of law?” asks Sybille Bedford in her short account of the Lady Chatterley’s Lover trial (re-published this month by Daunt Books).

The story of the trial is well known. Penguin Books, the publishers of D. H. Lawrence’s novel, were charged with publishing an obscene book under the 1959 Obscene Publications Act and tried at the Old Bailey in November 1960. Despite the condescending patrician grandstanding of the prosecutor Mr Mervyn Griffith-Jones “is this a book you would even wish your wife or your servants to read”, “members of the jury for those of you who have forgotten your Greek, ‘phallus’ means the image of a man’s penis” and the moralising judge Mr Justice Byrne (and his scowling wife sitting daily with him on the bench) the jury acquitted.

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Not to be introduced into the British Empire or the U.S.A.

This is a photograph of my great aunt’s copy of D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow. She bought it in Paris in 1937 and it now sits on my bookshelf. The book has printed on the cover the words “Not to be Introduced into the British Empire or the U.S.A.” The Rainbow had been successfully prosecuted in an obscenity trial at Bow Street Magistrates Court on 13th November 1915, and 1,011 copies were consequently seized and burnt by the authorities. Now, a hundred years later, it is regarded as a classic, a key text in the canon of English literature, an early flourishing of Lawrence’s uneven genius. Continue reading