The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Lady Chatterley's buyer

London, Jan. 17: A first edition of D.H. Lawrence's sexually explicit 1928 novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover, which could not be sold legally in Britain until after a famous prosecution brought by the Crown for obscenity in 1960 was lost, fetched '3,290 at an auction at Bonhams in Bath today.

'There was a lot of interest,' said a Bonhams spokesperson. 'The buyer who bid by telephone from Switzerland wishes to remain anonymous.'

The book, one of 1,000 in the first edition, was signed by Lawrence.

The buyer has certainly got hold of a piece of literary history because after the Crown's failure to win the case against Penguin in 1960, the floodgates were open in England as to what could or could not be published in terms of sexual explicitness.

When Lawrence wrote Lady Chatterley's Lover in 1928, including passages of sexual passion between her ladyship and Mellors, the family gamekeeper, the establishment ruled that such a novel was likely to corrupt morals by putting ideas into the minds of the working classes. The novel was published in Italy.

Bonhams' books specialist Gill Atkins said the novel was particularly significant for collectors interested in the history of law and censorship.

She said: 'The vendor lent this copy of Lady Chatterley to the court during the 1960 trial of Penguin Books for publishing an unexpurgated version of the novel. Unfortunately, no supporting documentation is available as all records of this loan were retained by the court.'

Had such documents been available, the sale price might have doubled.

In today's 'anything-goes climate', it is hard to imagine the fierce debate caused by the trial.

In 1959, the government introduced the Obscene Publications Act but said that any book considered obscene by some might still be published if it could be shown to have 'redeeming social merit'. This prompted Penguin to print off and store 200,000 copies with the aim of completing a set of works by Lawrence to commemorate the 30th anniversary of his death.

Penguin sent 12 copies to the director of public prosecutions challenging him to prosecute, which he duly did. The six-day trial at the Old Bailey began on October 27, 1960, and gripped the nation.

The defence produced 35 witnesses, including bishops and leading literary figures, such as Dame Rebecca West, E.M. Forster and Richard Hoggart. A nine men and three women jury heard the evidence.

The prosecution was unable to make a substantial case against the novel and at one point prosecution counsel Mervyn Griffith-Jones shocked the jury by asking: 'Is it a book you would wish your wife or servants to read'

Penguin was found not guilty and won the right to publish the book in its entirety. It discovered that there is nothing like a controversy, especially about sex, to stimulate sales.

Penguin's first run of the controversial novel Lady Chatterley's Lover ' a total of 200,000 copies at three shillings and six pence ' sold out on the first day of publication.

London's largest bookstore, W&G Foyle Ltd, said its 300 copies had gone in just 15 minutes and it had taken orders for 3,000 more copies. Hatchards in Piccadilly sold out in 40 minutes and also had hundreds of orders pending. Selfridges sold 250 copies in minutes. A spokesman told the Times newspaper: 'It's bedlam here. We could have sold 10,000 copies if we had had them.'

Within a year, two million copies were sold. The famous trial of Lady Chatterley was not only a victory for Penguin but for all British publishers, as from then on it became much more difficult to prosecute on grounds of obscenity.

Today, the book hardly stirs any interest because of its sexual explicitness.

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