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NO WAY TO TREAT A 'LADY'

‘LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER’ WAS BANNED 34 YEARS AGO

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For over 30 years, from its first appearance in Italy in 1928, D.H. Lawrence’s bawdy romance, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, was banned from publication in the U.S. Although the book was widely available in Europe, even a ”cleaned-up” version (actually, Lawrence’s first draft) that appeared in 1944 had been prohibited in New York as obscene. For boys lucky enough to get their hot little hands on one, an uncut copy of the novel-complete with four-letter words and descriptions of sexual acts-was a coming-of-age status symbol. Finally, in May 1959, Grove Press took a chance on publishing the uncensored version for the first time in this country. In his introduction to Grove’s edition, poet Archibald MacLeish called Lady C, a tale of the passionate affair between a noblewoman and her gamekeeper, ”one of the most important works of fiction of the century.” U.S. Postmaster General Arthur E. Summerfield felt otherwise, banning it on June 11, 1959, from being sent through the mail. ”Any literary merit the book may have is far outweighed by the pornographic and smutty passages,” huffed Summerfield. That turned out to be the best publicity Grove could have hoped for. Since it was legal to sell the book in stores, Lady C quickly went to No. 1 on the best-seller list. On July 21, meanwhile, federal judge Frederick vanPelt Bryan overruled the Post Office ban, deciding that the book was not objectionable on moral grounds, adding: ”The Postmaster General has no special competence…on this subject which qualifies him to render an informed judgment.” Nonetheless, Summerfield kept up the pressure for almost another year by appealing the decision. Finally, in June 1960, 30 years after Lawrence’s death, the Justice Department announced it would not ask the Supreme Court to reinstate the Post Office ban. Bryan’s ruling also paved the way for a 1955 French film of Lady Chatterley to finally make its American debut in the fall of ’59. What exactly was so offensive to the Post Office? Though there are some explicit passages, most sexual interludes are described in florid, rather than clinical, terms: ”She knew herself touched, the consummation was upon her and she was born: a woman.”