The Government has blocked the export of the judge’s annotated copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, one of the most scandalous novels in literary history.
DH Lawrence’s graphic depictions of sex led to the book becoming the subject of an obscenity trial in 1960, a watershed moment for attitudes in the UK towards censorship and sexual liberation.
It was sold at auction for £56,250 last year but now ministers have moved to block its export, protecting a central piece of British cultural history which experts have called a ‘witness’ to a moment of dramatic societal change.
A copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover used by the judge in the scandalous 1960 trial has been blocked from leaving the UK after it was sold at auction last year for £56,250
Sir Laurence Byrne and his wife Dorothy made annotations on the copy, marking out sexually explicit passages
Sir Laurence Byrne presided over the trial and together with his wife Dorothy, many of the explicit passages have been marked out in the copy.
DH Lawrence’s 1928 work was released in France and Italy two years before his death, but was not openly published in the UK for fear of prosecution over its explicit content.
When it was published, Penguin Books was put on trial for obscenity, which caused a sensation in the UK.
The subsequent victory of Penguin Books in the public prosecution led to Lady Chatterley’s Lover selling three million copies, and is thought to have been a liberalising moment on the cusp of the Swinging Sixties.
Arts minister Michael Ellis said: ‘The trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover captured the public attention in 1960.
DH Lawrence’s titillating novel was published in France and Italy in 1928 but was not brought to the UK until 1960, 30 years after this death
‘It was a watershed moment in cultural history, when Victorian ideals were overtaken by a more modern attitude.
‘I hope that a buyer can be found to keep this important part of our nation’s history in the UK.’
The book contains two pages of notes, annotations, a list of page numbers, and short summaries of various parts of the novel.
Much of the writing has been done by the wife of the judge, Dorothy Byrne, with other notes made by Sir Laurence himself.
She was allowed to sit with her husband on the bench as witnesses were called in a case, brought under the Obscene Publications Act, which aimed to find balance between literary merit and pornography.
The Bishop of Woolwich spoke against the book, which was accused of being obscene, with an English literature professor speaking in the novel’s defence. A jury returned a verdict of not guilty after a short deliberation.
Arts Minister Michael Ellis said about the book: ‘It was a watershed moment in cultural history, when Victorian ideals were overtaken by a more modern attitude’
Bodyguard star Richard Madden played the role of brooding gamekeeper Oliver Mellors in a 2015 BBC adaptation of the novel
Experts on The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), recommended that the artwork be kept in the UK.
Chairman of the RCEWA, Sir Hayden Phillips, said the prosecution of Penguin Books for publishing Lady Chatterley’s Lover was one of the most important criminal trials of the 20th century.
Judge Byrne’s copy of the novel, annotated by him and his wife, may be the last surviving contemporary ‘witness’ who took part in the proceedings, he said.
Mr Phillips asked people to picture the scene: ‘The High Court Judge presiding in his red robes, his wife beside him on the Bench (as was allowed in those days) as a succession of singular and distinguished witnesses for the Defence were cross examined day by day.
‘I was 17 at the time and studying DH Lawrence as a set text for A-levels – it was not Lady Chatterley’s Lover, but at least I could follow the riveting course of the trial in the daily papers.
‘It would be more than sad, it would be a misfortune, if this last surviving “witness” left our shores.’
The decision on the export licence application for the book will be deferred until August 9, and may be extended if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase the item is made at the recommended price of £56,250.
A TV adaptation of the novel, written by Line of Duty and Bodyguard creator Jed Mercurio, was aired in 2015 starring Richard Madden.
The book that scandalised a nation: Why was DH Lawrence’s novel so controversial?
Lady Chatterley’s Lover scandalised contemporary audiences with its vivid descriptions of sex and obscene language.
The story concerns a young aristocratic woman, Constance Reid (Lady Chatterley), whose husband, Sir Clifford Chatterley, was paralysed from the waist down in World War I.
This emotional and physical barrier leads her to embark upon a passionate affair with their handsome gamekeeper Oliver Mellors.
The way DH Lawrence detailed the sexual encounters between the pair was practically unheard of, even for a Britain on the cusp of the sexual revolution of the 1960s.
The novel contains obscene four-letter words galore with ‘f***’ or ‘f***ing’ appearing 30 times and even ‘c**t’ appearing 14 times.
Lead prosecutor Mervyn Griffith-Jones’s famous opening remarks said: ‘Would you approve of your young sons, young daughters – because girls can read as well as boys – reading this book?
‘Is it a book that you would have lying around in your own house? Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?’
After a six-day trial, the jury took three hours to return a unanimous verdict that the book did not deprave and corrupt our sensibilities and inadvertently ushered in a new era of sexual liberation.