The 1960 obscenity trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover was one of the most important cases in British literary and social history, and led to a significant shift in the cultural landscape. The trial highlighted the distance between modern society and an out-of-touch establishment, shown in the opening remarks of Mervyn Griffith-Jones, the lead prosecutor:
“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?”
The book was published in Europe in 1928, but remained unpublished in the UK for thirty years following DH Lawrence’s death in 1930. Its narrative - of an aristocratic woman embarking on a passionate relationship with a groundskeeper outside of her sexless marriage - challenged establishment sensibilities, and publishers were unwilling to publish it through fear of prosecution.
However, it took the jury just three hours to reach a decision that the novel was not obscene, and, within a day, the book sold 200,000 copies, rising to more than 2 million copies in the next two years. The verdict was a crucial step in ushering the permissive and liberal sixties and was an enormously important victory for freedom of expression.
During the trial, the presiding judge, the Hon. Sir Laurence Byrne, referred to a copy of the book which had been annotated by his wife, Lady Dorothy Byrne. She had made notes of character names in the margins, underlined important sections, and had produced a list of page numbers relating to significant passages in the book (“love making”, “coarse”, etc).
This hand-annotated copy, which played an important part in an even more important trial, was recently sold at auction to an overseas bidder for £56,250.
Because of its unique importance in British history, the arts minister, Michael Ellis, has determined that it should remain in the UK, and has placed a temporary bar preventing its overseas export if a UK-based bidder can match its price.
English PEN works to support freedom of expression both in the UK and around the world. We believe that this historic artefact is of unique value and should remain in the UK, allowing the British public access to understand what is lost without freedom of expression.
Our aim is to raise £56,250 to keep this copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover in the UK. We will work with relevant organisations including the British Library and Arts Council England to identify an organisation who can house this artefact and guarantee its preservation.
If we are unable to secure the purchase of the book, any money we raise will go towards supporting the work of English PEN and defending freedom of expression, fighting for writers and readers around the world, or be returned to the donor at their request.
We want to ensure this piece of our cultural history remains in the UK. Please support us.