26 Books in 2017 Book 18: A Previously Banned Book

Lady Chatterley’s Lover – Prohibition did it no harm

Book number 18 in the challenge has to be a book that was previously banned.

Originally published privately in 1928, DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover wasn’t widely available until it was picked up for publication by Penguin at the end of the 1950s. But before it could be released for sale the book was banned. Its contents were described as including unprintable words during the obscenity trial that ensued. However Penguin won the case and the full unexpurgated version of the novel went on sale in 1960. Millions of copies were sold.

The book tells the story of a love affair between an upper-class woman and a working class man and it seems that this cross-class relationship was judged almost as offensive as the sexually explicit language.

It wasn’t the first of Lawrence’s books to be banned. Two of his earlier novels, The Rainbow and Women in Love were also initially blocked from being released.

Of course things have moved on considerably and nowadays Lawrence’s writing would hardly raise an eyebrow. But exploring sexuality as he did in a lot of his writing was considered pornographic at the time he was writing.

However, by the time I was at high school in the 1970s, Lawrence’s work was considered respectable enough to be included in the reading list for the upper school literature syllabus. I read both The Rainbow and Sons and Lovers while I was at school. And, yes, for a teenage school girl they were fairly shocking reads but the message from our teacher was definitely that we were reading first-rate literature.

I went on at university and beyond to read more of Lawrence, including Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and he’s an author I have huge respect for. He wrote thought-provoking and engaging stories. And he didn’t just write about sexual relationships. He also wrote about emotional and mental health, about living life in a way that’s spontaneous and true to the self, and his female characters were strong and unconventional women.

Yes he was controversial and his writing was ahead of its time, but banning his books only served to raise their profile and the profile of the issues he wrote about. His writing paved the way for novels that were more broad-minded and inclusive than what had gone before. The rights and wrongs of censorship is a whole other post topic, but having his work banned has done nothing to sully Lawrence’s long term reputation as a first-class writer.

Have you read any previously banned books?