Now You Can Own a Dog-Eared Piece of Obscenity History: This Copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover

Illustration for article titled Now You Can Own a Dog-Eared Piece of Obscenity History: This Copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover
Image: Sotheby’s

A real collector’s item for all the lewd, rude history of sexuality nerds out there: Sotheby’s is auctioning off the copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover that belonged to the judge presiding over the 1960 obscenity trial that ultimately broke what you could publish in the U.K. wide open.


Penguin Books was being prosecuted for daring to publish the unexpurgated text, in all its racy-for-the-time glory. (Now, of course, you can get stuff that would have made D.H. Lawrence blush to the roots of his hair in roughly 4 seconds.) “This is far from the only copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover to have been read with particular attention to the sex scenes, but its place in British literary and social history is unique,” Sotheby’s explained in their listing. The Guardian reported:

Presiding judge Sir Lawrence Byrne’s wife, Lady Dorothy Byrne, read the novel for her husband, noting down the passages and pages that veered into sexually explicit areas – or, as she put it, “coarse” territory, or “love making”. She is also understood to have sewn the damask bag in which the copy was kept. Sotheby’s, which will auction the book, the notes and the bag on 30 October for an estimate of £10,000-15,000, said the blue-grey bag was “no doubt to prevent the press photographers from capturing the judge carrying a copy of the book”.

A very tasteful bag for your smut! We should all have a pretty little gray damask bag with lavender ribbons for storing our illicit things. It is also extremely funny who read this book, considering the prosecutor’s opening remarks: “...[W]ould 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?” It’s doubly funny when you read in the Sotheby’s notes that, “Mr Justice Byrne’s summing up had been fair but his private views were almost certainly glimpsed in his refusal to award costs, leaving the defendants with a substantial legal bill.”

Would truly love to have been a fly on the wall for nighttime discussions in the privacy of their marital bed about Dorothy’s reading.

Within two years Penguin had sold 2 million copies of the book.

Senior Editor at Jezebel, specializing in books, royals, romance novels, houses, history, and the stories we tell about domesticity and femininity. Resident Windsor expert.


KristenfromMA - A Moon Shaped Fool

I read the book a couple of decades ago. (I used to be an ambitious reader, set on reading all the classics including all of DH Lawrence’s published works. I failed.) I don’t remember being shocked by the sex. What was more controversial (and what I especially enjoyed) was the criticism of the church.