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No sex for export

A copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover used by the judge of the novel’s landmark 1960 obscenity trial, with all the rude bits carefully and dutifully marked up by his wife, has been temporarily stopped from leaving the UK. This is the copy of D.H. Lawrence’s novel that was taken into court by judge, Sir Laurence Byrne. The British arts minister Michael Ellis has placed an export bar on the book, and the government now hopes a UK-based buyer will be able to match the £56,250 asking price. Lady Chatterley’s Lover was Lawrence’s final novel before his death in 1930 and tells the story of an aristocratic wife trapped in a sexless marriage, finding passion with a handsome, lusty gamekeeper. It was not published in full in Britain until 1960 because of fear of prosecution. The trial at the Old Bailey, a test case for the 1959 Obscene Publications Act, was a sensation, a clash between the out-of-touch establishment and the permissive society of the 1960s. The opening remarks of the lead prosecutor, Mervyn Griffith-Jones, have gone down in history: ‘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 turns that one wife had read it. Laurence Byrne had asked his wife Dorothy to underline the naughty bits as well as provide annotations. In the end, it took just three hours for the jury to decide that the book did not deprave and corrupt.

Tony Canavan

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