Mervyn Griffith-Jones

Mervyn Griffith-Jones


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Mervyn Griffith-Jones, the son of the barrister, John Stanley Phillips Griffith-Jones and Eveline Yarrow Griffith-Jones, was born on 1st July 1909, at 19 Kidderpore Gardens, Hampstead, London. He was educated at Eton College and Trinity Hall and after leaving the University of Cambridge he trained as a lawyer. He was called to the bar by the Middle Temple in 1932 where he acquired a good criminal practice.

On the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 Griffith-Jones joined the Coldstream Guards. His biographer, Michael Beloff, has pointed out: "Mervyn Griffith-Jones... served with distinction in the western desert and in Italy. He was mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Military Cross in 1943; in a later memoir by a then newly commissioned officer he was remembered for his bravery and selfless concern for those who served under him. After the war his two streams of adult experience came together when he was instructed as one of five junior barristers in the British prosecuting team at the Nuremberg war crimes trial. Dressed in the conventional garb of black jacket and striped trousers, he - and his co-counsel - exhibited the common law art of cross-examination at its best." Griffith-Jones was especially praised for his questioning of Julius Steicher. According to Michael R. Marrus, the author of The Nuremberg War Crimes Trial 1945-46 (1997): "Streicher's testimony and cross examination were noteworthy mainly for what they revealed about the accused - a course, garrulous, repulsive fanatic whom even Nazi loyalists found embarrassing."

In 1946 Griffith-Jones returned to private practice, setting up his own chambers at 2 Harcourt Buildings, Temple, London, where he specialized as a prosecutor. Griffith-Jones served as counsel for the crown, first at north London sessions (1946–50) and then at the central criminal court, the Old Bailey. He developed a reputation as a conservative reactionary. Ludovic Kennedy commented: "Square is the word that suits him. He is so ultra-orthodox that some aspects of modern life have escaped him altogether."

In 1954 Griffith-Jones became involved in a very controversial case. The previous year Walter Baxter published his second novel, The Image and the Search. The main character, Sarah, is happily married but after the death of her husband in the war, she takes several lovers. E. M. Forster described it as "a serious and beautiful book", however, Lord Beaverbrook, wrote an article in the Sunday Express, where he condemned the message that "sexual excess can be indulged in with a light heart and a clear conscience". Beaverbrook then suggested that Alexander Stewart Frere, the chairman of the book's publisher Heinemann, should immediately withdraw the book. The company agreed to do this and admitted that "the Sunday Express' attack has succeeded in having the book banned. We regard this as an extremely unfortunate case of arbitrary censorship."

It was decided to charge Baxter and Frere under the 1857 Obscene Publications Act. The case, that began in October, 1954, was prosecuted by Mervyn Griffith-Jones. Frere argued: "I regard Walter Baxter as one of the most gifted writers of this generation, whose powers are not yet fully developed. I feel that the publishers owe a duty to such writers and to the public to ensure that their creative work is not still-born. If it has value and is not deleterious to potential readers, I was, and am myself, satisfied that this book would not harm any readers." When the jury could not reach agreement after two trials, the defendants were acquitted. Baxter never published another novel.

In June 1955 he was one of the prosecuting team at the trial of Ruth Ellis. She had been charged with murdering her boyfriend, David Blakely, on 10th April, 1955. The jury took 14 minutes to convict her and she was sentenced to death. However, the judge in the case, Cecil Havers, wrote to the Home Secretary Gwilym Lloyd George suggesting a reprieve as he regarded it as a "crime passionnel". However, he rejected the advice and she was executed on 13th July. She was the last woman executed in Britain and it is claimed that the case helped to bring an end to capital punishment.

In 1959, the Labour Party MP, Roy Jenkins, introduced a private member's bill, that aimed to change the 1857 Obscene Publications Act that had successfully forced the banning of The Image and the Search. Jenkins persuaded Parliament to pass a new Obscene Publications Act. Before 1959 obscenity had been a common-law offence, as defined by the lord chief justice in 1868, extending to all works judged to "deprave and corrupt" those open to "such immoral influences". Under the new act works were to be considered in their entirety and could be defended in terms of their contribution to the public good; after 1959 those convicted of obscenity would also face limited (in contrast to previously unlimited) punishments of a fine or up to three years' imprisonment.

As a result of this legislation, Sir Allen Lane, the chairman of Penguin, agreed to publish an unexpurgated edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover, a novel that had been written by D.H. Lawrence in 1926. The initial print was 200,000 copies. Alerted to Penguin's intention to publish the novel, Sir Theobald Mathew, the director of public prosecutions, decided to prosecute the firm under the act of 1959. It was a move welcomed by Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller, the Conservative government's attorney-general, who expressed the hope that "you get a conviction".

Mervyn Griffith-Jones was selected as the prosecuting counsel in the trial that was held at the Old Bailey between 20th October and 2nd November 1960. Michael Beloff has commented: "From the outset Griffith-Jones's hostility to the unexpurgated edition was apparent to those observing this high-profile test case of the new legislation." One observer, the journalist, Sybille Bedford, commented on a "voice quivering with thin-lipped scorn".

In his opening statement Griffith-Jones advised jury members that they must answer two questions: first, whether the novel, taken as a whole, was obscene in terms of section 2 of the new legislation ("to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read the matter contained in it") and, second, if this proved so, whether publication was still justified for the public good. "You may think that one of the ways in which you can test this book, and test it from the most liberal outlook, is to ask yourselves the question, when you have read it through, 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?" C. H. Rolph later argued that the question "had a visible - and risible - effect on the jury, and may well have been the first nail in the prosecution's coffin".

Witnesses for the defence included several academics Richard Hoggart, Raymond Williams, Graham Goulder Hough, Helen Gardner, Vivian de Sola Pinto, Kenneth Muir and Noel Annan. They were accompanied by thirteen authors and journalists, including Rebecca West, E. Forster, Francis Williams, Walter Allen, Anne Scott-James, Dilys Powell, Cecil Day Lewis, Stephen Potter, Janet Adam Smith; John Henry Robertson Connell and Alastair Hetherington. Other defence witnesses included John Robinson, the Bishop of Woolwich.

In his closing speech, Mervyn Griffith-Jones questioned whether the opinions of university lecturers and writers were those of the "ordinary common men and women" who would read Penguin's cheap paperback edition, and reiterated that the novel contained depictions of sexual activity of the kind that could only be found "some way in the Charing Cross Road, the back streets of Paris and even Port Said". Griffith-Jones's efforts were in vain and on 2nd November, 1960, the jurors returned a verdict of not guilty, so opening the way for the legal distribution of novels that had previously been considered obscene. The book went on sale on 10th November, at 3s. 6d., and by the end of the first day the complete run of 200,000 copies had been sold. Within a year of its publication, this edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover had sold more than 2 million copies.

In April, 1963, Dr. Stephan Ward was accused of living off the immoral earnings of Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies. Mervyn Griffith-Jones was selected as the head of the prosecution team. The trial of Stephen Ward began at the Old Bailey on 22nd July 1963. Keeler admitted in court that she had sex with John Profumo, Charles Clore and Jim Eynan. In all three cases the men gave her money and gifts. During cross-examination she confessed that some of this money was paid to Ward as she owed him money for rent, electricity and food while she was living at his flat.

Rice-Davies also admitted receiving money and gifts from Peter Rachman and Emil Savundra. As she was living with Ward at the time she gave him some of this money for unpaid rent. As Rice-Davies pointed out: "Much was made of the fact that I was paying him a few pounds a week whilst I was living in Wimpole Mews. But I said before and say it again - Stephen never did anything for nothing and we agreed on the rent the day I arrived. He most certainly never influenced me to sleep with anyone, nor ever asked me to do so." She added: "Stephen was never a blue-and-white diamond, but a pimp? Ridiculous.... As for Christine, she was always borrowing money (from Stephen Ward)."

Ludovic Kennedy, the author of The Trial of Stephen Ward (1964) has argued that Ward's defence counsel, James Burge, was unable to compete with Griffith-Jones: "In short, Mr. Burge was a very nice man; indeed, as the trial went on, I began to think that alongside Mr. Griffith-Jones, he was almost too nice a man. He was a civilised being, a person of wit and humour. I had been told by one of his colleagues that he was one of the few men at the Bar who could laugh a case out of court. The atmosphere here, as I think he realised, was not conducive to this sort of approach, but I was told he had tried it once or twice at the Magistrate's Court with some success. In addition to his quip about Mr. Griffith-Jones making a honeymoon sound obscene, he had also said that he had no objection to some of Mr Griffith-Jones's leading questions, as they were not leading very far. Mr. Griffith-Jones himself would have been incapable of either of these two remarks. But equally Mr. Burge could not match Mr. Griffith-Jones's cold relentless plodding, his battering away at the walls until, by sheer persistence, they began to crack. It was this, in the last analysis, that made one admire Mr. Griffith-Jones as much as one deplored him. Because his own attitude to the case was committed, one became committed in one's attitude towards him. It was this outward lack of commitment, not in matter but in manner, that at times led one to feel that Mr. Burge was doing himself literally less than justice. They say that the days of the committed lawyer are over: yet one would have liked to see Ward's defence accompanied by some passion, with his counsel as contemptuous of the charges laid against him as the prosecution were contemptuous of Ward himself. As it was, while I had no doubts which of the two counsel was the more intelligent, urbane and congenial, equally I had no doubts, where the jury was concerned, which was the more effective advocate."

Christine Keeler took a strong dislike to both Griffith-Jones and Justice Archibald Pellow Marshall. "How I hated those evil men going about their bad business in those toffee-voiced tones". Mandy Rice-Davies agreed with Keeler: "I hated Griffith Jones. If ever anyone deserved a custard pie in his face, he did. I thought he was a hypocrite. If he practised what he preached, then he was undoubtedly too good for this world. He belonged in a Victorian melodrama, was cold and cutting."

In his cross-examination of Stephan Ward, Burge asked him about his annual income. Ward replied that he was earning about £4,000 from his practice and another £1,500 or so from his drawings - a total of between £5,000 and £6,000 a year. Burge then asked: "If the prosecution's picture of a man procuring, and the picture of people in high places and very wealthy men was true, would you have needed to carry on your practice and work as an osteopath?" Ward replied: "If that were true, evidently not."

Philip Knightley, the author of An Affair of State (1987) pointed out: "That ended the prosecution case. How strong was it? Griffith-Jones had succeeded in establishing that Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies took money for sex. He had shown that both girls gave money to Ward. Even though, given that in law the dividing line between living with a prostitute and living on a prostitute is very thin, the prosecution's weak point was that both girls owed Ward - one way or another - far more money than they ever paid him."

At the end of the case, Stephan Ward told James Burge: "One of my great perils is that at least half a dozen of the (witnesses) are lying and their motives vary from malice to cupidity and fear... In the case of both Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies there is absolutely no doubt that they are committed to stories which are already sold or could be sold to newspapers and that my conviction would free these newspapers to print stories which they would otherwise be quite unable to print (for libel reasons)."

Stephen Ward was very upset by the judge's summing-up that included the following: "If Stephen Ward was telling the truth in the witness box, there are in this city many witnesses of high estate and low who could have come and testified in support of his evidence." Several people present in the court claimed that Judge Archie Pellow Marshall was clearly biased against Ward. France Soir reported: "However impartial he tried to appear, Judge Marshall was betrayed by his voice."

After the day's court proceedings, Ward contacted Tom Critchley, a Home Office official working with Lord Denning on the official investigation. Later, Critchley refused to comment what was said in that telephone conversation. That night Ward met the journalist Tom Mangold: "Stephen was very relaxed... He wasn't walking around in a froth. He was very calm and collected, just writing his letters and putting them in envelopes. I wanted to pretend that I hadn't seen what I'd seen. My excuse, which was not a good excuse, was that I was on a yellow card from my wife. I reckoned I could risk being home two hours late. But I knew the marriage wouldn't survive if I showed up any later. So all I did was to bleat at Stephen not to do anything foolish."

After Mangold left Stephan Ward wrote to his friend, Noel Howard-Jones: "It is really more than I can stand - the horror, day after day at the court and in the streets. It is not only fear, it is a wish not to let them get me. I would rather get myself. I do hope I have not let people down too much. I tried to do my stuff but after Marshall's summing-up, I've given up all hope." Ward then took an overdose of sleeping tablets. He was in a coma when the jury reached their verdict of guilty of the charge of living on the immoral earnings of Christine Keeler and Mandy Rice-Davies on Wednesday 31st July. Three days later, Ward died in St Stephen's Hospital. It is claimed that Griffith-Jones cried when he heard the news. Burge's friend, Sir David Napley later commented: "When Ward committed suicide, Jimmy Burge was very affected. He never seemed to be the same man again... It was not long after this that he left the bar and took up residence abroad."

Mervyn Griffith-Jones died of renal failure at St Stephen's Hospital, London, on 13th July 1979.

It was now the turn of Ward's defence counsel, Mr. James Burge. James Burge was not a Q.C., as might have been expected in a case of this importance, and I understood that that was because Ward had been so pleased with his handling of the case at the Magistrate's Court that he had decided to retain him for the trial. On the other hand Mr. Burge is of the same seniority as many Q.C.s and considered to be the leading junior criminal counsel at the Bar. He is a jovial, sunshiney, Pickwickian sort of man, who always seems to be smiling. It was not entirely coincidence, I thought, that some of his practice was devoted to licensing cases. Beer and Burgundy seemed to blend with his beaming face.

In short, Mr. They say that the days of the committed lawyer are over: yet one would have liked to see Ward's defence accompanied by some passion, with his counsel as contemptuous of the
charges laid against him as the prosecution were contemptuous of Ward himself. As it was, while I had no doubts which of the two counsel was the more intelligent, urbane and congenial, equally I had no doubts, where the jury was concerned, which was the more effective advocate.

To be fair to Mr. Burge he was labouring under certain handicaps. The first was that the judge did not appear-I do
not say he wasn't-as sympathetic to the presentation of the case for the defence as he was to the case for the prosecution. His odd little trick, when addressing Mr. Burge, of allowing a noticeable pause between "Mr." and "Burge" has already been noted.

There were other instances, and they increased as the trial went on, when various remarks he made and the moment at which he made them had the effect of taking the edge off what Mr. Burge was saying. He did not do this, or he did not do it so often, with Mr. Griffith-Jones.

Mr. Burge's other great handicap was his inability to hear much of what the witnesses were saying. Miss Christine Keeler was only the first of many female witnesses who gave their evidence in a whisper. Again and again Mr. Burge found himself saying: "You went where?" - "What do you say he was doing?" -"You said what?" Often he repeated the witnesses' answers so as to be sure that he had heard right: often he heard wrong, so that the witnesses had to repeat themselves. But sometimes, while they were drawing breath to repeat themselves, the judge, who was halfway between Mr. Burge and the witness-box, saved them the trouble by relaying their answers for them. He did this, I thought, in a most unfortunate manner, raising his voice and enunciating each syllable, as though talking to a backward child. Psychologically, all of this combined to put Mr. Burge at a slight disadvantage. Nor was he helped by Ward's blow-by-blow comments on the trial which came tumbling over the dock wall in a seemingly endless stream of little pieces of paper.

Mr. Burge's object with Christine Keeler was to show that she was less a prostitute than what the Americans call a "party girl". Here he found himself in the odd position for a counsel of cross-examining a witness who was only too happy to agree with him; and his task in this respect was as easy as Mr. Griffith-Jones' had been difficult.

"You know the prosecution are endeavouring to prove that Ward had been living on the earnings of prostitution?"

"Yes, I do."

"When you were living at 17 Wimpole Mews, is it right to say you were frequently hard up for money?" "Yes."

"And Ward gave you spending money?" "Yes."

"It is quite obvious to anyone who has seen you, if you wished to earn money by selling your body you could have made very large sums of money?"

"Yes." Miss Keeler looked suitably flattered. Burge repeated "Yes" after her, and glanced round the court almost as if to say, "There, you see! This girl isn't a tart at all".

Griffith-Jones had more success with Christine Keeler on the charges against Ward to do with procuring. She confirmed Griffith-Jones's account of how Ward had got her to approach Miss R., the shop assistant, and Sally Norie in the restaurant. And he managed to imply that these were not isolated instances. "You are telling us that it became the understood thing that you find girls for him?" he asked Keeler. "Yes," she replied. In case the jury began to wonder why Keeler had therefore not also been charged with procuring, the judge explained that the prosecution had given an undertaking not to take action against her.

Ward's counsel, James Burge, then rose to cross-examine Keeler. His approach was very much to the point. "You know the prosecution are endeavouring to prove that Ward had been living on the earnings of prostitution?" Keeler said she did. "When you were living at 17 Wimpole Mews, is it right to say that you were frequently hard up for money?" Keeler replied, "Yes." Burge went on to elicit from Keeler that she was living rent-free at Ward's flat, and had the use of telephone, lights and hot water. However, when she had money she sometimes made small payments to Ward. "But you never returned to the accused as much as you got from him?" Burge asked. Keeler's answer was firm. "No," she said.

I hated Griffith Jones. He belonged in a Victorian melodrama, was cold and cutting.

"Did you have intercourse with Lord Astor?"

"Yes."

"Did he give you £200?"

"Yes - but - "

"No buts. Answer the question, yes or no."

By the time the defence, Mr Burge, could extract the information that there was a two-year interval between my receiving £200 from Bill Astor and my going to bed with him, which by any standards alters the emphasis entirely, the damage had been done.

Ward had given a good account of himself. But the jury was less influenced by his carefully-worded replies than by two damaging questions put to him, one by Griffith-Jones and one by the judge. In the middle of Ward's admission that he had picked up a prostitute, Griffith-Jones suddenly said, "Are your sexual desires absolutely insatiable?" Ward answered carefully, "I don't think I have more sexual relationships than any other people of my age, but possibly the variety is greater."

Then, just as Ward was about to leave the witness box, the judge said, "Dr Ward, when do you say a woman is a prostitute?" Ward thought for a moment and then replied, "It is a very difficult question to answer, but I would say when there is no element in the relationship between the man and the woman except a desire on the part of the woman to make money, when it is separated from any attachment and indeed is just a sale of her body." The judge pressed Ward further. "If anyone does receive a payment when the basis is sexual is she not in your view a prostitute?" he asked. Ward said that when sentiment or other factors entered into the relationship, it became a more permanent relationship, like a kept woman. "You cannot possibly refer to such a woman as a prostitute," he said.
The significance of this exchange was not lost on the jurors. The judge's questions had made it clear that in his view a kept woman was as much a prostitute as a woman who plied the streets, whereas Ward's view was that kept women were no more prostitutes than women who married for money. In the judge's view, therefore, both Christine and Mandy were prostitutes. And since Ward was living with them, the onus was on him to prove that he was not living off them. In Ward's view the girls were not prostitutes. The jurors would have to decide which view they would accept.

Mervyn Griffith-Jones: On arrival did he take you into the flat?

Vickie Barrett: Yes.

Mervyn Griffith-Jones: Was there anybody in the living room?

Vickie Barrett: No.

Mervyn Griffith-Jones: What did he say to you?

Vickie Barrett: I asked him where the man was.

Mervyn Griffith-Jones: What did he say?

Vickie Barrett: He said he was waiting in the bedroom.

Mervyn Griffith-Jones: Yes.

Vickie Barrett: Well then he gave me a contraceptive and told me to go to the room and strip and he said he would make coffee.

Mervyn Griffith-Jones: Did you go into the bedroom?

Vickie Barrett: Yes.

Mervyn Griffith-Jones: Was there anyone in the bedroom?

Vickie Barrett: Yes, a man.

Mervyn Griffith-Jones: Where was he?

Vickie Barrett: In bed.

Mervyn Griffith-Jones: Dressed in anything?

Vickie Barrett: No.

Mervyn Griffith-Jones: Did you go to bed with him?

Vickie Barrett: Yes.

Mervyn Griffith-Jones: Did you have sexual intercourse with him?

Vickie Barrett: Yes...

Mervyn Griffith-Jones: Was anything more said, while you had coffee, about money?

Vickie Barrett: Yes, Ward said it was all right. He had already received the money.

Mervyn Griffith-Jones: Did he say how much he had received?

Vickie Barrett: No.

Mervyn Griffith-Jones: Did you agree to him keeping it for you?

Vickie Barrett: Yes.


Griffith-Jones, Robin 1956–

PERSONAL: Born May 29, 1956, in London, England son of Mervyn (a lawyer and judge) and Joan Griffith-Jones. Education: Attended Oxford University, New College, 1974–78, and Cambridge University, Christ's College and Westcott House, 1986–89. Religion: "Christian (Episcopalian)."

ADDRESSES: Office—The Temple Church, c/o The Master's House, London EC4Y 7BB, England. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER: Christie's Fine Art Auctioneers, London, England, worked in Department of English Drawing and Watercolours, 1978–84 The Church of England, Liverpool, England, curate (assistant minister), 1989–92 Lincoln College, Oxford University, Oxford, England, chaplain and teacher, 1992–99 The Temple Church, London, master of the temple, 1999–. Church Times, weekly "Sunday Readings" columnist The Veil of the Temple (television), producer, 2003. Previously worked among the poor and homeless with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India, and in London, England.


British prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Mervyn Griffith-Jones

Portrait of Lieutenant Colonel Mervyn Griffith-Jones, British prosecutor at the IMT Nuremberg commission hearings investigating indicted Nazi organizations.

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Five Fascinating Facts about D. H. Lawrence

1. He wrote a story about Jesus Christ called ‘The Escaped Cock’. This story, also sometimes published under the title ‘The Man Who Died’, was summarised by Lawrence himself as follows: ‘I wrote a story of the Resurrection, where Jesus gets up and feels very sick about everything, and can’t stand the old crowd any more – so cuts out – and as he heals up, he begins to find what an astonishing place the phenomenal world is, far more marvellous than any salvation or heaven’. In fact, the story ends with a last line that would be made more famous by another writer, Margaret Mitchell: ‘Tomorrow is another day.’

2. In the 1960s, Helen Corke wrote a book about D. H. Lawrence’s time as a schoolteacher in London called D. H. Lawrence: The Croydon Years. During his early years, Lawrence worked for a short while as a teacher, but he was plagued by poor health – the tuberculosis that would kill him in his mid-40s.

3. Lawrence liked to climb mulberry trees in the nude to stimulate his imagination. This is perhaps our favourite D. H. Lawrence fact of all: Lawrence – or ‘Lorenzo’ as he was known to his friends – was obsessed with sex throughout his work. As John Sutherland points out in his Lives of the Novelists, the title of Lawrence’s first novel, The White Peacock, is so named as a punning nod to the fact that a man’s ‘cock’ is the only part of him that doesn’t ever see sunlight, even when he pees – hence ‘white pee-cock’. Lawrence gave the title ‘John Thomas and Lady Jane’ to the second draft of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, ‘John Thomas’ being early twentieth-century slang for the … er, male trouser area again.

If you try to nail anything down, in the novel, either it kills the novel, or the novel gets up and walks away with the nail. – D. H. Lawrence

4. Only ten people attended D. H. Lawrence’s funeral. One of the mourners was Aldous Huxley, one of the few literary friends Lawrence appears not to have alienated by the time of his death. Lawrence’s last words had reportedly been ‘I’m getting better.’ Although they were ironic, he had succeeded in staving off tuberculosis for 44 years, producing countless books and short stories, some in a matter of weeks.

5. One of his books was put on trial. In November 1960, Penguin Books was found not guilty of obscenity in the trial R v Penguin Books Ltd. The trial had lasted nearly a fortnight, with a novel written by an author who had been dead for thirty years in the dock: Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence. The prosecuting lawyer, Mervyn Griffith-Jones, memorably asked the jury, ‘Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?’ But in fact the tide had turned and such views now seemed outdated – even a bishop took to the stand to defend the novel – and, because it was found to possess ‘redeeming social merit’, Chatterley, and its publisher, Penguin Books, was found not guilty. It went on to become a bestseller, 32 years after D. H. Lawrence had completed it. Lady Chatterley’s Lover went on to sell 200,000 copies on its first day of legal release in the UK, on 10 November 1960 – some thirty years since its author had died.

If you enjoyed these fascinating D. H. Lawrence facts, we recommend our book crammed full of 3,000 years of interesting bookish facts, The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History, available now from Michael O’Mara Books.

Image: D. H. Lawrence aged 21, author unknown, Wikimedia Commons.


The Right to Read: Belinda Jack on the History of Women’s Literacy

From ancient Babylonian princesses and rebellious medieval nuns to Nineteenth-century New England mill girls and the women of modern day Afghanistan, women readers have sparked controversy in every era of human history. In her new book, The Woman Reader, Belinda Jack traces the stories of these women, which are marked by persistent efforts to prevent them from gaining literacy or reading what they wish. She also recounts the counter-efforts of those who have battled for girls’ access to books and education. Here, Jack reflects on the inspiration for her book and why the battle for women’s right to read is far from over.

In my early teens I was surprised, delighted and disconcerted by Colette’s The Ripening Seed. It was the first novel I read that described erotic encounters and it had a similar effect on me as reader. I had been delighted, frightened, amused, informed and saddened by books before but this was something new and quite different. I realised that the power of reading could now be experienced in another dimension.

I grew up in a bookish family but now looking back I see that my parents were different kinds of readers. My father was a bibliophile and his first love was poetry. He read a good deal of biography and delighted in expensive art books. My mother, on the other hand, was a lover of the novel and of the malleable paperback that could be read almost anywhere. They both had firm views about what children should and shouldn’t read and I was aware early on that my own reading was subject to greater censorship than my brothers’.

I was born the year the second edition of Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover was published in the U.K. The earlier trial of Penguin Books under the Obscene Publications Act of 1959 had created a furore. The new act allowed for publishers to avoid conviction if it could be demonstrated that a work was of literary merit. This Penguin succeeded in doing. But there had been fierce opposition. At one point the chief prosecutor, Mervyn Griffith-Jones, had asked if the book in question was one ‘you would wish your wife or servants to read’. The implication, of course, was the book might be corrupting of sexual morals and lead to relationships that transgressed class boundaries – imitating the central plot of Lawrence’s novel.

Of all women’s reading the novel has been the most controversial. As soon as it started to be read more widely and the reading of poetry went into something of a decline, concerns were expressed in strong language. Anna Seward (1742-1809), poet and correspondent, in a letter penned on 17 August 1789, expressed a not atypical attitude: “The contemptible rage for novel-reading, is a pernicious and deplorably prevalent taste, which vitiates and palls the appetite for literary food of a more nutritive and wholesome kind. It surprises me that superior genius stoops to feed this reigning folly, to administer sweet poison for the age’s tooth….”

Anxieties about women’s reading are not simply part of the Western tradition. In the early years of the seventeenth century in Japan women’s reading was the subject of lively debate as commercial booksellers in Kyoto started to publish the corpus of earlier fiction at affordable prices. Classics of the Heian period, particularly Ganji monogatari and Ise monogatari, and other works in the courtly female poetic tradition, were deemed wholly inappropriate. Nagata Zensai (1597-1664) was explicit in his criticisms: “… all educate their daughters with Genji monogatari and Ise monogatari. This is doubtless because they want them to compose waka [poetry]. What possible benefit can there be in women composing waka? People simply want to accustom women to lewd behaviour.” There were some women, however, who countered this argument. Nonaka En (1660-1725), who was a doctor, wrote a guide to female behaviour for a friend who was about to marry. She criticised women who were concerned above all with their looks and recommended reading as the best way to learn valuable moral lessons. Among the works she recommended were the Genji.

Despite all the suspicion and fear of women reading, throughout history there have been energetic advocates of women’s literacy. The most ubiquitous and influential image of a woman reader is, of course, of the Virgin Mary – although there are no references to Mary reading in the Bible.

Luther wanted the Bible to be available to everyone in their own mother tongue (as opposed to Latin) and had great respect for spoken languages. This runs in parallel with his profound respect for all people, whether educated or not. He writes, movingly: “You must ask the woman in her house, the children in the streets, the common man in the market, and look at their mouths, how they speak and translate that way then they’ll understand and see that you’re speaking to them in German.” It is striking that Luther begins with the women and children and the need to understand their language, before considering the ways in which the Bible can be made accessible to them. Like Erasmus, Luther was deeply committed to enfranchising women as readers of the Bible. This was in part so that they could teach their children – an argument for women’s literacy that begins in classical Rome.

For many women readers today it’s easy to think that the history of women’s reading as a distinct story has come to an end. But in some parts of the world women continue to risk their lives reading material which those in authority have forbidden. In Herat, Afghanistan, under the Taliban, girls and women were excluded from education. A fellowship of women writers who belonged to the Herat Literary Circle set up a group called the Sewing Circles of Herat as a cover for establishing schools for women. The Golden Needle Sewing School was founded in the mid-1990s. Christina Lamb, journalist and writer, found out about it while visiting Afghanistan. It became central to a book she wrote about the country, Sewing Circles of Herat: A Personal Voyage Through Afghanistan, published in 2002. For five years women came to the school ostensibly to sew, but actually to read together. And most of their reading was made up of banned foreign titles:

They would arrive in their burqas with their bags full of material and scissors. Underneath they would have notebooks and pens. And once they got inside, instead of learning to sew, they would actually be talking about Shakespeare and James Joyce, Dostoyevsky and their own writing. It was a tremendous risk they were taking. If they had been caught, they would have been, at the very least, imprisoned and tortured. Maybe hanged.

Differences between men and women’s literacy and reading has often been seen as a litmus test of the relative positions of men and women in a society. This remains the case today.


Belinda Jack
is Tutorial Fellow in French, Christ Church, University of Oxford. She is the author of George Sand: A Woman’s Life Writ Large and Beatrice’s Spell. Her newest book, The Woman Reader, is now available from Yale University Press.


November 2 in Literary History: Lady Chatterley is Acquitted

1950: George Bernard Shaw dies. The author of over fifty plays – perhaps most famously, Pygmalion, which gave us Professor Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle – Shaw also devised his own phonetic alphabet and was a co-founder of the London School of Economics, or LSE. Here are 10 of George Bernard Shaw’s best and wittiest quotations.

1960: Penguin Books is found not guilty of obscenity in the trial R v Penguin Books Ltd. The trial had lasted nearly a fortnight, with a novel written by an author who had been dead for thirty years in the dock: Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence. The prosecuting lawyer, Mervyn Griffith-Jones, famously asked the jury, ‘Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?’

But the tide had turned and such views now seemed outdated – even a bishop took to the stand to defend the novel – and, because it was found to possess ‘redeeming social merit’, Chatterley, and its publisher, Penguin Books, was found not guilty. It went on to become a bestseller, 32 years after D. H. Lawrence had completed it.

2000: Robert Cormier dies. He was an American author of numerous novels including the young adult novel The Chocolate War (1974), in which a mob of youngsters gang up on one student at a Catholic school.

Image: George Bernard Shaw (1936), Wikimedia Commons, public domain.


What’s Wrong with Twinkling Buttocks?

A crude culture makes a coarse people, and private refinement cannot long survive public excess. There is a Gresham’s law of culture as well as of money: the bad drives out the good, unless the good is defended.

In no country has the process of vulgarization gone further than in Britain: in this, at least, we lead the world. A nation famed not so long ago for the restraint of its manners is now notorious for the coarseness of its appetites and its unbridled and antisocial attempts to satisfy them. The mass drunkenness seen on weekends in the center of every British town and city, rendering them unendurable to even minimally civilized people, goes hand in hand with the appallingly crude, violent, and shallow relations between the sexes. Britain’s mass bastardy is not a sign of an increase in the authenticity of our human relations but a natural consequence of the unbridled hedonism that leads in short order to chaos and misery, especially among the poor. Take restraint away, and violent discord follows.

C uriously enough, the revolution in British manners did not come about through any volcanic eruption from below: on the contrary, it was the intellectual wing of the elite that kicked against the traces. It is still doing so, though there are very few traces left to kick against.

For example, the boundless prurience of the British press concerning the private lives of public figures, especially politicians, has an ideological aim: to subvert the very concept and deny the possibility of virtue, and therefore of the necessity for restraint. If every person who tries to defend virtue is revealed to have feet of clay (as which of us does not?) or to have indulged at some time in his life in the vice that is the opposite of the virtue he calls for, then virtue itself is exposed as nothing but hypocrisy: and we may therefore all behave exactly as we choose. The loss of the religious understanding of the human condition—that Man is a fallen creature for whom virtue is necessary but never fully attainable—is a loss, not a gain, in true sophistication. The secular substitute—the belief in the perfection of life on earth by the endless extension of a choice of pleasures—is not merely callow by comparison but much less realistic in its understanding of human nature.

It is in the arts and literary pages of our newspapers that the elite’s continuing demand for the erosion of restraint, and its unreflective antinomianism, is most clearly on view. Take for example the June 8 arts section of the Observer, Britain’s most prestigious liberal Sunday paper. The section’s two most important and eye-catching articles celebrated pop singer Marilyn Manson and writer Glen Duncan.

O f the pop singer, the Observer’s critic wrote: “Marilyn Manson’s ability to shock has swung like a pendulum in a high wind. . . . He was really scary at first, when [he] burst out of [his] native Florida and declared war on all Middle America holds dear. Manson spun convincing tales of smoking exhumed bones for kicks. . . . But . . . Manson’s autobiography revealed a smart, funny man—even if he did enjoy covering hearing-impaired groupies in raw meat for sexual sport. He turned into an artist, rather than the incarnation of evil. Church groups still picketed his gigs, which often echoed Nazi rallies (they still do). But any fool could see that Manson was making a valid point about rock ‘n’ roll gigs and mass behavior, as well as flirting with fascist style.”

The author of this review—who fastidiously balks at using the word “deaf” for the hearing-impaired but appears not to mind too much if they are exploited for perverted sexual gratification—takes pains to let the reader know that she is not so unsophisticated, naive, and, well, Middle American, as to find the whole spectacle disgusting: for example, by objecting to the adoption of the name of a sadistic multiple killer for trivial publicity purposes. To have responded in such a way would have been to lose caste, to side with the gawky, earnest Christians, rather than with the secular devil worshipers—though the determination to be shocked by nothing, to object to nothing, is itself, of course, a convention. It seems beyond the critic’s range of imagination or sympathy that people who actually fought against fascism and risked their lives and lost their compatriots in doing so, or who suffered under fascism’s yoke, might find the concept of flirtation with fascist style not only offensive but a cause of real despair in the last years of their lives. Fascism is not fashion.

The “any fool” of the last sentence is a subtle form of intellectual snobbery and flattery, intended to suck the reader into the charmed circle of the sophisticated, disabused intellectual elite, the knowing and the cognoscenti who have moved beyond moral judgment and principles, who are not deceived by mere appearances, do not condemn according to outmoded ways of thought, and are therefore unmoved by such trifling (and oppressive) considerations as public decency. It does not occur to the writer—nor would it matter to her if it did—that in the audience in which fascism was flirted with there might not have been any fools but many fools, those who failed to see the ironically playful “valid” point behind the flirtation and would embrace fascism without irony. Not long ago, a newspaper asked me to attend a “concert” to report on a group whose main selling point was that they urinated and vomited over their audience, as well as abused it constantly by calling every member of it “motherfucker” countless times. Thousands attended the “concert”—in fact, a reverberating wall of deafening, discordant electronic noise punctuated by the chanting of obscenities—among whom were hundreds of children as young as six. For these unfortunate children, this was not nostalgie de la boue this was total immersion in the boue itself, the boue in which they lived and breathed and took their cultural being, the boue from which it is highly unlikely that they would now ever crawl. Any fool could see that this was not a suitable spectacle for children, but many fools—their parents—didn’t.

T he Observer’s interview with the author Glen Duncan was entitled DARK, SATANIC THRILLS , and the interviewer found herself “pleasantly shocked” by the sadomasochism of Duncan’s work—any other kind of shock than the pleasant being strictly infra dig for one of her caste, of course. “[He] has ventured even further into the dark wood of sexual violence and cruelty” than another author of sadomasochistic literature, Mary Gaitskill—praise indeed, since Gaitskill has been critically acclaimed for “her unflinching flirting with taboo” (oh, how flirtatious they are, our literati, drawn to taboo as flies to dung), “her clear-eyed use of seamy detail.” There is nothing finer for extending human freedom, maturity, and self-knowledge than a bit of seamy detail, of course: though naturally, you can never be quite unflinching enough, nor the detail sufficiently seamy.

Not, of course, that Mr. Duncan’s graphic depiction of sadomasochistic practices is prurient or sensationalist heaven protect us for so “grossly reductive” a thought: “though”—let us be quite frank, for mature people can face any truth—“it is an excellent selling point for the publishers.” The sexual scenes, “not for the fainthearted” (such as those who, for example, do not think that fascism is a fit subject for merely stylistic treatment), have a serious philosophical import and not a merely commercial one. As the author put it to the interviewer, no doubt to establish beyond doubt his reputation as a serious thinker: “Weird shit happens and I wanted the narrator to have to figure out how to live even in the light of that.” The sexual scenes are not gratuitous, therefore, much less publicity stunts—nor of course are they the result of human choice (weird shit isn’t chosen: it just happens it is inevitable)—but they raise important metaphysical questions about the boundaries of the permissible.

W hen exactly did this downward cultural spiral begin, this loss of tact and refinement and understanding that some things should not be said or directly represented? When did we no longer appreciate that to dignify certain modes of behavior, manners, and ways of being with artistic representation was implicitly to glorify and promote them? There is, as Adam Smith said, a deal of ruin in a nation: and this truth applies as much to a nation’s culture as to its economy. The work of cultural destruction, while often swifter, easier, and more self-conscious than that of construction, is not the work of a moment. Rome wasn’t destroyed in a day.

In 1914, for example, Bernard Shaw caused a sensation by giving Eliza Doolittle the words “Not bloody likely!” to utter on the London stage. Of course, the sensation that this now-innocuous, even innocent exclamation created depended wholly for its effect upon the convention that it flouted: but those who were outraged by it (and who have generally been regarded as ridiculous in subsequent accounts of the incident) instinctively understood that sensation doesn’t strike in the same place twice, and that anyone wanting to create an equivalent in the future would have to go far beyond “Not bloody likely.” A logic and a convention of convention-breaking was established, so that within a few decades it was difficult to produce any sensation at all except by the most extreme means.

If there was a single event in our recent cultural history that established literal-minded crudity as the ideal of artistic endeavor, however, it was the celebrated 1960 trial of Penguin Books for the publication of an obscene book, the unexpurgated version of D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The trial posed the question of whether cultural tact and restraint would crumble in the absence of legal sanctions. For, as the much derided prosecutor in the case, Mervyn Griffith-Jones, understood only too well, and specifically advised the government of the day, if the publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover went legally unchallenged, or if the case were lost, it would in effect be the end of the law of obscenity. To adapt slightly Dostoyevsky’s famous dictum about the moral consequences of the nonexistence of God, if Lady Chatterley’s Lover were published, everything could be published.

P enguin Books had long wanted to publish Lawrence’s novel but decided to do so in 1960, because Parliament had changed the obscenity law the previous year. The law, whose stated purpose was to suppress pornography while protecting literature, retained more or less the previous definition of obscenity, as that which, taken as a whole, tended to corrupt and deprave. But for the first time the law contained a provision according to which the interests of art, literature, or science could override the goal of preventing depravity and corruption. Furthermore, the law allowed “expert” evidence to be called in defense of the artistic or literary merit of an allegedly obscene work. The timing of Penguin Books’ proposed publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover clearly suggests that the company knew the book could not be defended against the charge of obscenity publication had to wait until Penguin could rely for the book’s defense upon the evidence of “expert,” that is to say elite, opinion. Among the expert witnesses was Roy Jenkins, later a liberal Home Secretary, who was one of the framers of the new law, whose effect turned out to be more the protection of pornography and the suppression of literature than the other way around—an effect that, in view of Jenkins’s later pronouncement that the permissive society was the civilized society, was exactly what the framers of the law desired but found inexpedient to acknowledge at the time.

The elite fell over itself to testify in the book’s favor during the trial, and the defense was able to produce a star-studded list of experts, including E. M. Forster and Rebecca West. It was undoubtedly assisted in its task by the maladroitness of the prosecutor, who seemed not to have noticed that society had changed since his upper-class youth, and who opened the case with such consummate pomposity that he became a figure of fun ever afterward and is still remembered—and remembered only—for what he said in his opening remarks to the jury: “You may think that one of the ways in which you can test this book . . . is to ask yourselves the question . . . would you approve of your young sons, young daughters—because girls can read as well as boys—reading this book? Is it a book you would leave lying about your house? Is it a book you would even wish your wife and servants to read?” The court, not surprisingly, erupted in laughter and later, after the “not guilty” verdict, in a debate in the House of Lords on an unsuccessful motion to strengthen the law of obscenity, one of the noble Lords was reported to have replied to the question of whether he would mind if his daughter read Lady Chatterley’s Lover that he wouldn’t mind in the least, but he would mind very much if his gamekeeper read it.

Griffith-Jones was clumsily raising the possibility that what was harmless for some individuals might not be harmless for society as a whole, and that artists, writers, and intellectuals had a responsibility to consider what the effects of their work were likely to be: a debatable proposition, certainly, but not an inherently absurd one. But his case never recovered from his gaffe, and the fact that a mere gaffe could so have obscured the important question at issue illustrated the frivolity of mind that had already taken hold in British society.

In fact, the expert evidence was, in its way, just as absurd as Griffith-Jones’s opening remarks, and vastly more destructive in its effects. For example, when Helen Gardner, the eminent, cultivated, and very proper Cambridge don who had spent much of her life studying the metaphysical poets, was asked about Lawrence’s repeated if not incessant use of the word “fuck,” she (as well as other witnesses) implied that Lawrence had somehow managed to render the word less obscene and more refined by depriving it of its smutty connotations. In his closing address to the jury, Griffith-Jones—absurd, maligned, pompous as he was—proved much more realistic than the expert witnesses about the likely social consequences of weakening the taboo against bad language: “Miss Gardner said . . . ‘I think the very fact that this word is used so frequently in the book, with every subsequent use the original shock is diminished. . . . ’ I suppose that is put as mitigation for the use of this language. Is it? Or, if it be right, is it not a terrible thing to say, ‘It is all right, if we forget about the shock of using this language, if we use it sufficient times, no one will be shocked, everybody will be using it and it will be all right?’ Can you not apply the same test to everything? Filthy pictures, if you look at them a number of times, the shock, the effect will die out and so we can have everything flooded with filthy pictures!” Miss Gardner, but not Griffith-Jones, would have been surprised, had she been present in my consulting room four decades later, to hear a three-year-old child say to his mother, when thwarted in his attempts to destroy my telephone, “Well, fuck you!”

T he witnesses grossly, and I suspect dishonestly, inflated Lawrence’s status as a writer to bolster the defense’s case, which was, in effect, but a stalking horse in their campaign for the removal of artistic limits and the erosion of the irksome restraints of civilization. Helen Gardner stated in her testimony that in assessing the literary value of a work, there were two considerations to be taken into account: what the author was trying to say and his success in saying it. On both counts, Lawrence fails, and fails dismally. No doubt it is remarkable that the son of a Nottinghamshire miner of that era should have written novels at all, which explains why he became the Bloomsbury group’s pet proletarian: but the rarity of a thing should not cloud our judgment as to its intellectual or aesthetic value. For example, Lawrence’s prose manages the difficult feat of being leaden and overwrought at the same time. I found the following passage by opening the book at random and pointing with my eyes shut to a place on the page: “She ran, and he saw nothing but the round wet head, the wet back leaning forward in flight, the rounded buttocks twinkling: a wonderful cowering female nakedness in flight.” Polonius would have exclaimed, “That’s good! ‘Twinkling buttocks’ is good.”

The radical humorlessness of this passage (apart from being typical) is indicative of a profound moral defect, insofar as a sense of humor requires a sense of proportion. Of course, as Somerset Maugham once noted, only a very mediocre writer is always at his best: but only a very bad writer is so often at his very considerable worst, as is Lawrence. The following passage relates to a conversation that the gamekeeper, Mellors, has with Lady Chatterley’s father, Sir Malcolm, after she has become pregnant by Mellors:

Only when coffee was served, and the waiter had gone, Sir Malcolm lit a cigar and said, heartily: “Well, young man, and what about my daughter?” The grin flickered on Mellors’ face. “Well, Sir, and what about her?” “You’ve got a baby in her all right.” “I have that honour!” grinned Mellors. “Honour, by God!”, Sir Malcolm gave a little squirting laugh, and became Scotch and lewd. “Honour! How was the going, eh? Good, my boy, what!” “Good!” “I’ll bet it was! Hah-ha! My daughter, chip off the old block, what! I never went back on a good bit of fucking, myself. Though her mother, oh Holy Saints!” He rolled his eyes up to heaven. “But warmed her up, oh, you warmed her up, I can see that. Hah-ha! My blood in her! You set fire to her haystack all right.”

It would be difficult to find a worse, cruder, or more insensitive passage in the whole of English literature. It is startlingly unrealistic, of course (and Lawrence claims to be a realist): no father would speak of his own daughter in this men’s-locker-room manner, nor any widower of his deceased wife. It reduces human relationships to the lowest possible denominator: humans become no more than farmyard animals. And Lawrence approves of Sir Malcolm, wanting us to accept his view that he is superior, because more earthy and biological, to others of his social class.

Lawrence was an earnest, but not a serious, writer—if by serious we mean one whose outlook on life is intellectually or morally worthy of our consideration. Lawrence put a lot of himself into Mellors, who at one point in the book enunciates the essence of Lawrence’s philosophy, the summary of all his reflections on human existence, his final testament to the world: “I believe in something, I believe in being warm-hearted. I believe especially in being warm-hearted in love. I believe that if men could fuck with warm hearts and women took it warm-heartedly, everything would be all right.” The idea that social perfection is to be achieved through wonderfully sensual sexual relations between men and women is a fantasy unworthy of prolonged intellectual consideration. To call it adolescent tripe is to be unfair to many intelligent adolescents. The fact that so many eminent persons were willing to testify in court that Lawrence was one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century, worthy to be compared, say, with Conrad, is an indication of the elite’s loss of taste and judgment. Their imprimatur helped transform a bad writer and worse thinker into a major cultural influence: and his crude, egotistical literal-mindedness has been successively trumped ever since by yet cruder, more egotistical literal-mindedness.

Yet literal-mindedness is not honesty or fidelity to truth—far from it. For it is the whole experience of mankind that sexual life is always, and must always be, hidden by veils of varying degrees of opacity, if it is to be humanized into something beyond a mere animal function. What is inherently secretive, that is to say self-conscious and human, cannot be spoken of directly: the attempt leads only to crudity, not to truth. Bawdy is the tribute that our instinct pays to secrecy. If you go beyond bawdy and tear all the veils away, you get pornography and nothing else. In essence, therefore, Lawrence was a pornographer, though a dull one even in that dull genre.

T here never was much demand, except from the elite, for relaxation of the law of censorship: indeed, until the law was relaxed, the public had shown a distinctly limited appetite for the works of D. H. Lawrence. But no sooner had the relaxation been legislated, and the book published, than one in four British households had acquired it. The genie was well and truly out of the bottle, the supply had created a demand, and the appetite grew with feeding.

It is, of course, a common prejudice that censorship is bad for art and therefore always unjustified: though, if this were so, mankind would have little in the way of an artistic heritage and we should now be living in an artistic golden age. But if we cannot censor, we can censure: and we should be tireless in saying that D. H. Lawrence and his deplorable and hackneyed progeny down to Marilyn Manson and Glen Duncan, with his “dark, satanic thrills,” darken the world rather than enlighten it.


The Chatterley Trial 60 years on: a court case that secured free expression in 1960s Britain – Lois Bibbings

The paperback copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover (pictured right) is of great cultural significance. Leafing through the pages one discovers hidden gems: pencil markings, underlinings, marginal annotations. Accompanying the book are sheets of headed stationery from the Old Bailey, containing handwritten notes relating to the novel along with a clumsily hand-stitched fabric bag – apparently made not to protect the book but rather the person carrying it by obscuring its title.

It’s the “judge’s copy” of the book, used by Mr Justice Lawrence Byrne who presided over the 1960 Lady Chatterley trial in which DH Lawrence’s famous novel was at the centre of a test of Britain’s new censorship law.

The University of Bristol’s acquisition of the so-called “judge’s copy” in 2019 was an important moment and, having assisted in making the case for its new home to be in the university’s special collections, examining it for the first time was thrilling. Now, on the 60th anniversary of the trial it is timely to consider this intriguing volume. But first a reminder of the case with which it was connected.

In August 1960, by pre-arrangement, the police were handed copies of the unexpurgated Lady Chatterley by its publisher. Following this, Penguin Books Limited was charged with publishing an obscene article under the Obscene Publications Act 1959.

The 1959 act aimed both to strengthen the law concerning pornography and to protect literature. It created the publishing offence (the handing over constituted publication) and provided that material was “obscene” if its effect, taken as a whole, was such as to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who were likely to read, see or hear it.

But a public good defence meant a conviction would not result if it were proved that publication was justified “in the interests of science, literature, art or learning, or of other objects of general concern”. The Lady Chatterley trial was a test of the act in particular, would the defence protect creative works?

In the courtroom, while the defence did not accept the book was obscene, their focus was on its literary merit. A line up of 35 witnesses (women and men) were called on behalf of publisher Penguin to speak in favour of the book, including authors, academics, clergy, a 21-year-old English graduate and a headmaster. The prosecution played a minor role, calling only one witness and sometimes putting no questions to those who appeared for the defence. In the end, after three hours of deliberation, the jury of three women and nine men returned a unanimous verdict. Penguin was acquitted.

Judge’s copy

Which brings us back to Lady Chatterley and, in particular, the book in the fabric bag. Copies of the unexpurgated novel were circulating before 1960, meaning some of those involved in the case had long been familiar with it – the first defence witness had read it in about 1940. The police had acquired a marked-up proof copy of the Penguin book before the publisher’s handover.

The lawyers had taken great pains to study the 1960 text in preparing for the trial. Defence files show that Penguin’s solicitors undertook an analysis not entirely dissimilar to that on show in the “judge’s copy” with its accompanying notes. As prosecutor Mervyn Griffith-Jones demonstrated in his opening to the jury, where he observed that the words “fuck” or “fucking” occurred at least 30 times within the novel’s pages, so too had the Crown.

The jury were given copies in court, just before the trial began. At the end of the first day, the judge adjourned the case, directing them to read the book but forbidding them from taking it home. After a gap of several days the proceedings resumed and the trial continued for a further five days.

Reports tell how copies of the novel were handed round the court during the trial, to the jury, witnesses and to the judge, with the players occasionally leafing through the pages in search of a particular passage. The judge, however, was given a copy of the book at the same time as the jury first received it, on day one of the trial, before proceedings got underway.

It seems that at some point Byrne shared the novel with his wife, as we are told that most of the markings in the book and all of the separate notes are in Lady Dorothy Byrne’s hand, with a few annotations apparently made by her husband. Accounts suggest she worked on the text before the trial (or perhaps during the jury’s reading days), with her husband adding notes during proceedings as she sat next to him. Lady Byrne is also credited with making the bag.

This all suggests that the couple worked together, with Lady Byrne taking the leading role. Moreover, they did so despite Griffith-Jones’s question to the jury on day one of the trial: “Is it a book that you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?

How then did the “judge’s copy” journey to Bristol? The Byrne family auctioned it in 1993. It came up for sale again in 2018, selling to a private individual in the US. In an attempt to keep it in the UK, the book was placed under temporary export deferral and expressions of interest were sought. At Bristol we put together a case to acquire the book and fundraising efforts began, with contributions coming from organisations and individuals.

As a result, the “judge’s copy”, notes and bag now reside alongside the Penguin Archive and trial papers of Michael Rubinstein, Penguin’s solicitor. Given its history, however, I wonder if we might begin to reconsider how we refer to this Lady Chatterley. Because of her work, the judge’s wife seems to deserve credit it is not only the “judge’s copy” it is also very much “Lady Byrne’s copy”.

Lois Bibbings, Professor of Law, Gender and History, University of Bristol

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


14 weird things that have happened in November through history

In November 1996, three people – two neighbours from Tipperary, southern Ireland, who shared a ticket, and another person who bought a ticket in County Waterford, southeast Ireland – shared the Irish Lotto jackpot of IR£1.6 million. The numbers the winners chose were based on the dates of the birth, ordination and death of St Pio of Pietrelcina (1887–1968), the Italian Catholic priest and mystic better known as ‘Padre Pio’.

A Lotto spokesman told the press that the use of numbers relating to saints was common among players. “The very first winner of the Lotto was a woman in Donegal who used the birth dates of her favourite saints,” they said.

Insuring a grim outcome

Jack Gilbert Graham of Colorado stood to inherit a substantial sum of money upon the death of his mother (some reports suggest $150,000), but he decided to up the stakes. On the morning of 1 November 1955, he escorted his mother to Denver Airport, carrying the suitcase he’d packed for her, which was, in fact, filled with dynamite.

United Airlines Flight 629 exploded in mid-air, killing Graham’s mother and 43 other people. Forensic examination of the site aroused suspicion, while witnesses came forward to say that they’d seen Graham at the airport frantically buying insurance policies from a vending machine (they had vending machines for everything in those days).

The criminal trial, one of the earliest to be televised, was a national sensation. Graham was found guilty and executed in January 1957.

Constable foretells election result

The US presidential election of 1976, held on 2 November, pitted the Democrat James Earl ‘Jimmy’ Carter against the incumbent Gerald Ford. This was the year in which the US was celebrating its bicentennial (200 years since the adoption of the Declaration of Independence), while a rather more low-key celebration marking the 200th anniversary of the painter John Constable was marked in Britain.

The Constable bicentenary, it was claimed, predicted the outcome of the presidential contest and the Democrat victory, because Constable’s most famous painting, The Hay Wain, shows a farm cart(er) going over a ford (crossing).

Lady Chatterley chatter

On 2 November 1960, an Old Bailey jury ruled that DH Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928) was not obscene. The case against Penguin Books famously included Mr Mervyn Griffith-Jones for the prosecution asking jurors: “Is it a book you would wish your wife or your servant to read?”

In the US, though, the quote about the book that’s best remembered comes from a review in country pursuits magazine Field & Stream: “This fictional account of the day-to-day life of an English gamekeeper is still of considerable interest to outdoor minded readers, as it contains many passages on pheasant raising, the apprehending of poachers, ways to control vermin, and other chores and duties of the professional gamekeeper.

“Unfortunately one is obliged to wade through many pages of extraneous material in order to discover and savour these sidelights on the management of a Midlands shooting estate, and in this reviewer’s opinion this book can not take the place of JR Miller’s Practical Gamekeeping.”

Many at the time (and since) considered this a serious review, but it was a joke – its author, Ed Zern, contributed humorous articles to the magazine.

Dogs in space

The first animal to go into orbit was a dog named Laika, shot off by the Russians on 3 November 1957 in Sputnik II. The capsule wasn’t designed to return to Earth, and Cosmodog Laika died a few hours after departing from earth.

This was a PR disaster for the Soviets, with protests from animal-lovers all over the world. Significantly, when the Russians launched a two-dog mission in 1960, the animals – Strelka and Belka – accompanied by a rabbit, 40 mice, two rats, and some flies – returned unharmed.

Strelka went on to have a number of puppies, one of which was presented to President Kennedy’s daughter Caroline by Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev.

Crane of thought

Robert Devereux, Second Earl of Essex, who was born on 10 November 1566, grew up vain and arrogant, and flattered his way into the affections of the ageing Queen Elizabeth I. Devereux’s life went swiftly downhill after his abortive rebellion, and he was executed for treason in 1601. It took three strokes of the executioner’s axe to despatch him.

According to legend, the executioner was one Thomas Derrick, who had been spared from a flogging for rape some years previously by the very same Earl of Essex on condition that he became an executioner.

Derrick had been a sailor and now used his experience with ropes, blocks and pulleys to devise a new type of hoisting beam that he employed to hang an alleged 3,000 miscreants.

The poorest rich woman in the world

Henrietta (‘Hetty’) Howland Robinson (née Green) was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, on 21 November 1838. Reading the financial pages of the papers at the age of six, Hetty would sit on her father’s knee and examine stock market reports with him.

Hetty inherited six million dollars, but was eager for more. She contested an aunt’s will, which left two million to charity and, when she married millionaire Edward Green, Hetty made him sign away all rights to her fortune. The couple had two children, but grew increasingly estranged because of Hetty’s miserliness and eccentricities.

In later years Hetty lived alone in a small, two-room apartment in Brooklyn, eating mainly oatmeal (heated on radiators) and broken biscuits. Yet she was one of the most able financiers of the age, investing shrewdly in real estate, mines, railroads, and government bonds. When she died a pauper’s death in 1916, she was probably the richest woman in the world.

Crawling for Jesus

“A lot of people tell me I’m crazy,” said Baptist minister Hans Mullikin in the 1970s, but as far as he was concerned, crawling 1,600 miles on his hands and knees from Texas to Washington was a religious act. His intention, he said, was to show America “that we need to get on our knees and repent”.

Mullikin crawled from his home in Marshall, Texas, to the gates of the White House in Washington DC, in two-and-a-half years. Equipped with footballer’s kneepads, he would crawl a certain distance, jog back to his car, drive the car up to the stopping point, then start crawling again, repeating this process over and over. The voyage was not continuous, as he returned home to work in the winter months to finance his journey.

When he arrived at the White House on 22 or 23 November 1978 (some ambiguity surrounds the date), President Carter was unavailable for a meeting.

King Otto I

Albania proclaimed itself independent of the Ottoman Empire on 28 November 1912. What happened in the immediate aftermath is a matter of some dispute. According to one story, the independence leaders chose as their ‘protector’ Halim Eddine, a Turkish prince. Eddine turned up in Durrës, the then Albanian capital, richly dressed and accompanied by a strapping bodyguard. He declared an amnesty for all prisoners, a week of celebrations, and appointed all the feudal grandees a place in his cabinet. In turn, he was presented with 25 women for his harem. It was suggested that he be formally crowned king, and so became known as King Otto.

King Otto I of Albania reigned for five days. On day five, the Albanian prime minister received a telegram from Halim Eddine, puzzled to hear reports of his reception, as he hadn’t left Turkey yet. The impostor was a German circus performer named Otto Witte (1872–1958), with sword-swallower Max Schlepsig as one of his bodyguards.

Back in Germany the authorities reportedly permitted Witte’s identity card to bear the words: ‘Former King of Albania’.

A humane invention

Contrary to popular belief, Richard Jordan Gatling (1818–1903) did not ‘invent’ the machine gun. He merely patented what turned out to be one of the earliest practical ones, on 4 November 1862.

Gatling was a prolific inventor, and his gun – a sequence of rotating barrels operated by a hand-crank – was based on a seed-planting machine he had devised. Gatling later claimed that the gun, far from making the battlefield more murderous, had been invented for humane reasons: “It occurred to me that if I could invent a machine – a gun – which could by its rapidity of fire, enable one man to do as much battle duty as a hundred, that it would, to a large extent, supersede the necessity of large armies.” Thus, fewer soldiers would be needed and fewer people would be killed.

Baby saint

The feast of St Rumwold (also sometimes known as Rumwald or Rumbold), one of the most interesting of Britain’s Anglo-Saxon saints, is celebrated on 3 November. Rumwold was a grandson of Penda, King of Mercia in the mid-7th century and was born, according to legend, at King’s Sutton, Northamptonshire, and died three days later. During his brief life he is supposed to have said “I am a Christian” several times professed his belief in the Holy Trinity asked for baptism and Holy Communion and preached a sermon on the importance of the Trinity and the need for clean living among all good Christians.

The cult of this highly improbable saint was popular in England before the Norman invasion.

Great Catherine’s dull death

The death of Empress Catherine the Great of Russia in November 1796 is surrounded in scandalous legend. With the help of her lover, Count Grigory Grigoryevich Orlov, Catherine deposed her husband Peter III in 1762 and took the throne.

Catherine had a succession of lovers after Orlov, each initially ‘road-tested’ by Catherine’s chief lady-in-waiting, the Countess Bruce. Bruce was sacked when it was found she was ‘road-testing’ young Ivan Rimsky-Korsakov (an ancestor of the composer) far more than was deemed necessary.

Catherine’s love-life became the scandal of Europe, leading to all manner of outrageous stories, the silliest ones being about how she died: she was, the story goes, crushed to death by a horse (in other versions, a bull) that had been suspended over her bed using a harness used for unspeakable purposes. In another version of the story, Catherine was assassinated by spring-loaded blades in her toilet seat.

In reality she had a stroke, lapsed into a coma, and died in a bed of which she was, at the time, the sole occupant.

Pulling the plug

Lake Peigneur in Louisiana was 10ft deep, with a botanical park on one side and some oil wells on the other. On 20 November 1980, contractors working for Texaco were drilling a test hole in the middle of the lake when their rig started to tilt.

The five-man crew fled for the shore as the water in the lake started to turn into a huge whirlpool. A large crater formed at the bottom of the lake as though someone had pulled the plug from an enormous bath, and all the water in Lake Peigneur ran out of the increasingly large hole.

The whirlpool consumed the drilling platform a tugboat 11 barges greenhouses from the nearby botanical gardens a couple of trucks and trailers 65 acres of land and another nearby rig – along with 1.5 billion gallons of lake water.

The drillers, it transpired, had drilled into a salt mine. They knew it was there, but just didn’t think it was right under their borehole. Nobody was killed in the incident the hole was stabilized and the lake filled once more.

Cheating the bank, and the hangman

Henry Fauntleroy was a partner in Marsh, Sibbald & Co, an early 19th-century London bank. His earnings allowed him to indulge his obsession with Napoleon, to the extent he decorated his parlour like the inside of Bonaparte’s campaign tent.

The reason Henry could afford this opulence was simple he was embezzling cash from the bank. His death sentence after being caught was unpopular: Henry was a flamboyant figure who had earned himself a number of fans, many of whom appealed for clemency. One fan even offered to be executed in Fauntleroy’s place.

Nevertheless, Henry was hanged on 30 November 1824… or was he? Before the introduction of the hangman’s drop, which kills by breaking the neck of its victim, hanging was a matter of slow strangulation, and a legend arose that it was possible to cheat the rope by inserting a silver tube into the windpipe.

Fauntleroy was said to have used this method and made a quiet escape after being cut down for dead. There is no evidence that this happened, but many people believed it.

Eugene Byrne is an author and journalist. To find out more, visit eugenebyrne.wordpress.com or follow him on Twitter @EugeneByrne.

This article was first published on History Extra in November 2015


Lady Chatterley’s Lover: A Queer Case

On November 2, 1960, D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928) was found ‘not guilty’ of obscenity charges at the Old Bailey, permitting the publication of a sexually explicit novel that had been banned for decades. Thus the story of the adulterous affair between Lady Connie Chatterley and her gamekeeper Oliver Mellors became available to millions of British readers and was accompanied by extensive media coverage. The trial is often credited with historical, social and cultural significance far beyond an individual court case, as testified by the almost obligatory presence of Philip Larkin’s poem ‘Annus Mirabilis’ (1967) in essays and articles on the subject: ‘Sexual Intercourse began / (which was rather late for me) – / Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban / And the Beatles’ first LP’.

Larkin’s positioning of the trial as a measure of Britain’s changing attitudes to sex and sexuality has been both echoed and challenged over the last sixty years, but this debate often ignores an element that is long overdue critical attention. The Chatterley trial hinged on the disavowing or defending of ‘deviant’ sexual acts within the novel, reflecting and amplifying broader post-war anxieties about normative sexuality. When viewed from this perspective, it becomes a distinctly queer case.

The Penguin edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and trial notes belonging to Mr Justice Byrne, the Judge in the obscenity trial. (Image courtesy of Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport)

The accepted narrative of the trial has been that of a liberal Defence pitted against a reactionary Prosecution, but in fact both sides offered conservative interpretations of the novel’s sexual content. The Prosecution identified adultery as the source of the novel’s obscenity, with Sybille Bedford’s articles for Esquire and C.H. Rolph’s commentary in the official Penguin account stating that it was as though Lady Chatterley herself were on trial. Rather than challenge this conflation of literary obscenity with moral judgement, the Defence reversed the terms of the argument by suggesting that Lawrence was condemning adultery and revering monogamy. Their barrister Gerald Gardiner stated that,

It is quite plain, in my submission, from the whole of this book that the author is pointing out that promiscuity yields no satisfaction to anyone and that the only right relationship is one between two people in love which is intended to be a permanent one.

This determination of the Defence to present the novel as conforming to normative sexual conventions was closely connected to the historical context of the trial.

The proximity of the case to the Wolfenden Report offers a partial explanation for this preoccupation with policing sexual propriety. The report, produced by a Home Office departmental committee, focused on legal reform in the areas of prostitution and homosexuality and attracted widespread publicity upon publication in 1957. It responded and contributed to a growing focus on sexuality in British culture which Prosecutor Mervyn Griffith-Jones alluded to when telling the jury, ‘you have only to read your papers to see, day by day, the results of unbridled sex’. The Defence attempted to ensure that their interpretations of the text disavowed any suggestion of sexual nonconformity. Hector Hetherington, editor of the Guardian, gave testimony that contrasted the ‘literary merit’ of Lady Chatterley’s Lover with ‘books on sale openly dealing with sadism, lesbianism, incest, sexual perversions’.

Despite these protestations, there were moments during the trial which suggested that the novel depicted more subversive sexual acts. Doris Lessing acknowledged that Lady Chatterley’s Lover contained a description of anal sex but claimed that ‘it was not noticed by judge or jury, by the prosecution or defence – not by anybody’. However, this was noted by numerous commentators – including those present in court. During the closing remarks, the Prosecution read from the scene identified by Lessing:

It was a night of sensual passion, in which she was a little startled and almost unwilling: yet it pierced again with piercing thrills of sensuality, different, sharper, more terrible than the thrills of tenderness, but, at the moment, more desirable. Though a little frightened, she let him have his way…

C.H. Rolph stated that Prosecutor Griffith-Jones then added, ‘[n]ot very easy, sometimes, not very easy, you know, to know what in fact he is driving at in that passage’ and that ‘[t]his unexpected and totally unheralded innuendo visibly shocked some members of the Jury’. This reaction suggests an awareness within the courtroom that the scene could be read as depicting anal sex. This interpretation circulated further and with greater emphasis after the trial itself had concluded.

The literary periodical Encounter became the primary channel through which a debate about the presence and significance of anal sex in the novel continued. Numerous writers and correspondents engaged with the topic through essays, articles and letters that continued over multiple issues and several years. It began with Andrew Shonfield’s article ‘Lawrence’s Other Censor’ which, with reference to the court case, analysed the scene in question and concluded that ‘we are left in no doubt that what Mellors did was unconventional and even perverse’. In the ensuing discussion, the potential link between depictions of anal sex and queer sexualities was often refuted. John Sparrow argued in a 1962 issue of Encounter that it was not ‘to be equated (as is sometimes ignorantly supposed, and as colloquial usage might suggest) with homosexual practice’, but even the act of disavowal created a space in which further debates could circulate. In the following issue, the bisexual writer Colin MacInnes responded to Sparrow’s article in order to link the trial to ongoing debates about sexuality. He bemoaned the rigidity of contemporary sexual discourse and ‘[o]ur whole sterile tendency […] to compartmentalize into categories (whereas few human creatures belong entirely to any one’, demonstrating that attempts to stifle queer associations with Lawrence’s text instead proliferated them.

The trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover produced multiple and contradictory legacies. The victory of the Defence suggests the waning power of repressive literary censorship and yet their arguments relied on a sexually conservative interpretation of the novel. While this interpretation was prompted by contemporary anxieties about sexual normativity, it inadvertently produced extended discussion regarding the novel’s depiction of anal sex.

The trial’s relationship to queer history is similarly complex, containing repudiations of ‘deviant’ sexualities but also prompting responses from queer writers. Martin Dines, credits the more explicit discussions of homosexuality in Martyn Goff’s novel The Youngest Director (1961) to the liberating effects of the ‘not guilty’ verdict. Whether disavowed or defended, queer sexualities shaped both the trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and its aftermath. Based on this evidence, it deserves to be considered as a significant moment in British queer history.

Gareth Smith is a postgraduate researcher of English Literature at Cardiff University. His thesis examines representations of class and homosexuality in post-war British culture 1945-67, focusing particularly on class difference, citizenship and cultural studies. He has co-chaired the postgraduate research group Assuming Gender.


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