A landmark legal victory in the UK that determined D.H. Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” wasn’t obscene, turned 57 on Nov. 2. The case is important in light of other types of art in the 20th century, such as music that gets labeled obscene and is held up to legal scrutiny. Further, it establishes the right of artists of various sorts to portray their works in the manner they see fit.
D.H. Lawrence and obscenity
“Lady Chatterley’s Lover” was published in 1928 and depicts the life of a housewife who cheats on her wealthy, paralyzed husband. The lover she chooses is her husband’s gamekeeper. The book had actually been written in 1920, but because of difficulties with the contents, it wasn’t published until 1928. Even then, the book wasn’t published widely. Censored versions of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” had been available in the early 1930s. Problems didn’t start until the book was published uncensored in 1959.
“Lady Chatterley’s Lover” wasn’t the first title of Lawrence’s to warrant legal scrutiny. But it was the first one to garner a high level of legal attention. According to theguardian.com, the case “changed Britain’s cultural landscape.”
“Lady Chatterley’s Lover” in other forms
Lawrence’s book was adapted into a movie in 1981. Perhaps because the plot involves the title character receiving permission from her injured husband to have an affair, the storyline became less palatable to some audiences.
At any rate, when the book became a movie, it was considered rather racy, and was only shown on cable after primetime. This created a kind of stigma. Lawrence’s work is considered a seminal text in early 20th century British literature. To relegate film adaptations of it to late night airings seems at once sensible and puritanical. When fewer people have access to so-called problematic art, said art is deprived of an opportunity to be understood.
Regardless of whether a person is a fan of British literature or not, the importance of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” and its publisher, Penguin Books Ltd., winning against a charge of obscenity, teaches artists and the public that freedom of expression, and the depiction of what some might find disagreeable, have no bearing on what the artist can create.
The case of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” calls to mind the charge of obscenity leveled at rap group, 2 Live Crew. That a group of performers was silenced because a group of people couldn’t find the redeeming qualities of their art, is problematic.
Hopefully, those who create and appreciate art in different media, can see the not-so-fine line between personal taste and legal offenses in regard to that art. “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” stands as an example of art winning over personal objection.