Monday, March 23, 2020

Tales From The Vicarage ~ Lady Chatterley's Lover, The Book, The Trial, And The Bishop

lady chatterley's lover trial on BBC

Once upon a time in England there was a big commotion concerning the publication of Lady Chatterley's Lover, a book written by D. H. Lawrence and published by Penguin Books. 

The book was first published privately in Italy in 1928 and in France in 1929. However, it wasn't until 1960 that it was first openly published by Penguin Books in the UK.  

The publication of the book, which is about a working class man and an aristocratic woman having an affair, caused quite a stir. An affair between the upper and lower classes alone was offensive to many in England. Then, in addition, the book includes several four-letter words considered obscene at the time. 

Eventually a trial was held in London's Old Bailey charging Penguin Books with obscenity. The charge was supported by the conservative Archbishops of Canterbury and York. 

Reading some of my letters home from when I lived in the vicarage, I was reminded that I knew John Robinson, the  Bishop of Woolwich, whose testimony for the defense against censorship of the book helped to secure a jury verdict in favor of Penguin Books. 

The trial was a huge event in London at the time - reporters from newspapers and TV were packed outside the court. The commotion over this trial was sort of obscene in its own way and, somehow, I got a little bit involved at the end of it. 

The Bishop of Woolwich was a liberal New Testament scholar, who was a very good friend of the vicar. He visited the vicarage frequently and I got to know him and his family. I wrote home that I was supposed to address him as, "my lord," but had a hard time doing this, instead I managed to throw in a "sir" here and there I told my parents. Sitting here reading it, I had to smile at my younger self.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York were not pleased with the outcome of the trial and particularly not with the bishop. As a result of the liberal verdict and the upset Archbishops, the story continued to grow and the media descended on the bishop's house. 

His children were scared and upset about the noisy crowds outside their home; they couldn't go out and play, they couldn't get to school and no one knew when it all would end. So the vicar and I decided we were going to bring the children to the vicarage and look after them there. That way, the bishop and Mrs. Robinson could sneak out of their house and go into hiding until all the excitement died down.

I don't remember much about this. It's truly a gift that my mom saved the letters I wrote home and a good thing too that I loved to write to them about all my adventures. 

Looking back, I remember the the huge crowd. I believe I remember it because it was indeed scary. I had never seen anything like it, such a huge crowd, photographers, TV cameras, reporters relentlessly in pursuit of a glimpse of the bishop and his family. I have no idea how the vicar and I managed to get the kids in the car and drive out of there

What I do remember though is this: Soon everyone in the UK, including the vicar, bought the book, wrapped it in brown paper to hide what they were reading, and hopefully enjoyed it immensely!


"No other jury verdict has had such a profound social impact as the acquittal of Penguin Books in the Lady Chatterley trial." - The Guardian, October 22, 2010 (The 50th anniversary of the trial.)


  1. I remember that period. At the uni at the time. One copy passed around -- students couldn't afford to buy -- and we were underwhelmed. I remember wishing the fuss had been about a better book! It wasn't about the social rule breaking, it was all about the f and c words which people tried to claim they never used. Yeah, right!

  2. I don't remember any of this, in 1960 I was in high school, 10th grade level. I have never read the book, but do recognize the title of it, and had no idea it created such havoc. you really led a truly interesting life... I wrote letters to my mother with photos inclosed about the 90 days I drove a truck 80,000 miles. when I moved to Fl she asked me what to do with all the things she had, including my highschool annual. I told her to trash it all. now I wish I had them

  3. I think it became a movie at one time.

  4. I know the book and the history of it, but never read it. Might have to add it to the every growing list.

  5. I remember a bit of the controversy but how facinating to have lived through it like you did. You had a front row seat to history. Glad your mom saved the letters.

  6. Wow, I had no idea about all of this! I knew that the book was terribly controversial, and offensive to many, but did not know anything about a trial! So you were a major figure in a milestone of publishing history!

    1. Ginny, I was a very tiny figure who happened to know the most important figure in this controversy. And was able to help a little.

  7. What a fascinating story! thank you for sharing it.

  8. What a difference in this time!!!

  9. I didn't "get" to read this until college! Wasn't in our libraries, so I was shocked at the content. Grown up now, I see why people of that era were so upset.

  10. wow. you have made that period in history come to life! I can see how crowds of people could become scary.
    it's probably what our celebrities have to deal with. and it would most certainly frighten children!
    how wonderful that your mother saved all your letters! and for us to learn of your OWN place in a most fascinating time!
    I can't believe it but I don't think I've ever read that book.
    we were stationed in a small town in Minnesota in the very early 60's and I remember that our town banned
    a book that was very controversial. 1984 by George Orwell! our English teacher was against their banning it.
    I remember he brought his own paperback copy and we were to pass it around to each other after reading it.
    history is fascinating isn't it!

  11. You and Lady Chatterley! I admit I've never read the book, but we saw a movie version of it quite a few years ago. It was pretty sexy.


  12. Hi Inger - what a wonderful story ... yes I found a copy of the book at home and of course read it - might have been sometime later. You've really given us a great insight into those early days ... and one I can relate to. What great memories - also wonderful your mother kept your letters; I'd asked my mother to keep mine ... but sadly she didn't ... I think I can understand her reasoning ... but I'm disappointed now.

    Take care and brought back lots of memories ... cheers Hilary

  13. I do recall that the book was scandalous, but I must have had my head in the sand about the trial - but, then again, news didn't travel as far, as quickly and it was probably buried on the third or fourth page in our papers. You have had amazing experiences and I love that you are sharing them with us!

  14. What a wonderful memory. I have not read that book... but now I need to, along with its history. Thank you so much. I love these stories from your past!


Thanks for leaving a comment.. ~~ Inger


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