R v Penguin Books Ltd.  

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R v Penguin Books Ltd. is the official name of the 1960 Lady Chatterley's Lover British obscenity trial.

Although Lady Chatterley's Lover was first printed in 1928, albeit in a small run, the release in 1960 of an inexpensive mass-market paperback version of prompted a court case.

The trial of the publishers, Penguin Books, under the Obscene Publications Act of 1959 was a major public event and a test of the new obscenity law. The 1959 act, introduced by Roy Jenkins, had made it possible for publishers to escape conviction if they could show that a work was of literary merit. One of the objections was to the frequent use of the word "fuck" and its derivatives.

Various academic critics, including E. M. Forster, Helen Gardner, Richard Hoggart and Raymond Williams, Norman St John-Stevas were called as witnesses, and the verdict, delivered on November 2 1960, was not guilty. This resulted in a far greater degree of freedom for publishing explicit material in the UK. The prosecution was ridiculed for being out of touch with changing social norms when the chief prosecutor, Mervyn Griffith-Jones, asked if it were the kind of book "you would wish your wife or servants to read".

The trial was described in a book by C.R. Hewitt. In 2006, this was dramatised by the BBC as The Chatterley Affair.

Trial

Richard Hoggart

In testimony that was later seen to have had a deciding influence on the trial the sociologist and lecturer in English Literature Richard Hoggart was called to testify to the literary value of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. In a detailed textual analysis of the book under defence examination, Hoggart was elicited on the purpose of the four-letter words in the book: "[t]he first effect, when I first read it was some shock, because they don’t go into polite literature normally. Then as one read further on one found the words lost that shock. They were being progressively purified as they were used. We have no word in English for this act which is not either a long abstraction or an evasive euphemism, and we are constantly running away from it, or dissolving into dots, at a passage like that. He wanted to say, 'This is what one does. In a simple, ordinary way, one fucks,' with no sniggering or dirt."

Under Prosecution cross-examination Griffith-Jones pursued Hoggart's previous description of the book as "highly virtuous if not puritanical". "I thought I had lived my life under a misapprehension as to the meaning of the word 'puritanical'. Will you please help me?" "Yes, many people do live their lives under a misapprehension of the meaning of the word 'puritanical'. This is the way in which language decays. In England today and for a long time the word 'puritanical' has been extended to mean somebody who is against anything which is pleasurable, particularly sex. The proper meaning of it, to a literary man or to a linguist, is somebody who belongs to the tradition of British puritanism generally, and the distinguishing feature of that is an intense sense of responsibility for one’s conscience. In this sense the book is puritanical."

See also




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