Monday, October 11, 2010

Trial Tip from History (Lady Chatterly's Lover Trial, 1960)

We're coming up on the 50th anniversary of the trial of Penguin Books for publishing Lady Chatterly's Lover.

The prosecutor was Mervyn Griffith-Jones.

In his opening statement, he tried to defuse the antiquated impression he must have realized he made [in his wig and gown], assuring the jury they were not being asked to "approach this matter in any priggish, high-minded, super-correct, mid-Victorian manner."

He went on to pose a series of rhetorical questions, the last of which, in the judgment of many commentators, doomed his case. Supporting this judgment is a document the defense had prepared, now in the Penguin archives. It is a list of the members of the jury and alternates, including their occupations. Among them were driver, cabinet fitter, dock laborer, teacher, dress machinist, none, housewife, butcher, and timber salesman. It is amusing to imagine the reaction of, say, Robert F. Bowman, the driver, as Griffith-Jones asked his questions:

"Would you approve of your young sons, young daughters -- because girls can read as well as boys -- reading this book? Is it a book you would have lying around in your own house? Is it a book you would even wish your wife or your servants to read?"

There was a titter in the courtroom, immediately silenced by the judge.
Tip: If you're trying to seem like a regular bloke, it's best not to assume that everyone has servants.

The trial, in late October and early November 1960, included testimony by writers, professors, ministers, and others. On November 4, the jury took just three hours to return a verdict of not guilty and the book sold briskly. This victory for the publisher "did not mark an immediate end of literary censorship in Britain" - but the climate changed soon after. Ben Yagoda recounts this historic trial in Trial and Eros, Am. Scholar, Autumn 2010.

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