Lawrence, Chatterley, America

December 20: Onthis day in 1929 D. H. Lawrence’s LadyChatterley’s Lover was banned in the United States. This was only one of astring of bannings dating from its first publication the year before until thelandmark obscenity trials in 1959 (U.S.) and 1960 (Britain), but for Lawrencepersonally it may have been the most devastating.

Lawrence expected, wanted, and got a fuss over the book, andknew from the start that no mainstream publisher would touch it—though he wasdisappointed that even Sylvia Beach, who had become Joyce’s champion with herfirst edition of Ulysses a decadeearlier, had declined the opportunity to publish Chatterley, which she called a “sermon-on-the-mount ofVenus.” Undeterred, Lawrence published the book himself, in a series ofsigned, private editions sold by quiet subscription. These were banned in manycountries, but sales were brisk, even with the many other pirate editions. As aresult, though besieged by “policemen, prudes and swindlers,”Lawrence made a good profit, much of which he invested on Wall Street. He couldnow confidently give up his half-hearted attempt to prepare an emasculatedversion for wider distribution: “I somehow didn’t get on very well withthe expurgation,” he wrote Knopf Publishing, “I somehow went quitecolourblind, and couldn’t tell purple from pink.” He could now alsofinance his long-contemplated, permanent return to his ranch in New Mexico, theclimate there seen as almost a last resort for his ever-worsening tuberculosis.

Lawrence attributed the collapse of this hope, and then hishealth, to the U.S. ban. His subscription orders to America had beendisappearing in the mails for some time; he now believed that his unwelcomenovel had made its author persona nongrata, his application for immigration buried permanently at the bottom ofthe pile. Even as he finally agreed to a sanatorium in Italy he was studyingship’s timetables for Atlantic crossings. One of the last photographs of him,taken on the day of his death, March 2, 1930, shows the “Phoenix”come to final ground: he is 85 lbs, in bed, reading a book about the voyage ofColumbus to the New World.


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.