Lady Chatterley's Lover

Lady Chatterley's Lover Study Guide

D.H. Lawrence spent the last five years of his life in Europe, mostly in Italy, where he wrote Lady Chatterley's Lover. He had left England in 1919, following a stance of non-participation in World War I. (He was deemed physically unfit to be enlisted in the army, but the government was also suspicious of his relationship to Germany, as his wife, Frieda Weekley, was a German.) He was living in Italy after having been away in America, Mexico, Australia, and Ceylon from 1922-1925. While he never returned to England to live there following 1919, he did journey back to visit. His other novels deal with more exotic locales, while Lady Chatterley's Lover returns to his home setting, the English Midlands.

This novel marks a final exploration on Lawrence's part of his previous English themes -- the changing nature of the East Midlands in England, where the growth of the textile and mining industry during the 19th and early 20th century made for a palpable change in the lifestyles and landscape of the area. It is an exploration of the experience of modernization and industrialization upon existing class structures and personal relationships. It is about committed love between members of the different classes (see biography, Beckett 75). It is about the sensuality of sex as something that cannot be cerebrated upon: we might even say that it is a biography of Lady Chatterley's sex life as the central aspect of her life in general.

D.H. Lawrence wrote three different versions of Lady Chatterley's Lover. Rather than editing his first manuscript, he re-wrote it entirely for the second version. These two versions are titled, respectively, The First Lady Chatterley and John Thomas and Lady Jane. He then followed this same procedure of re-writing for his final and third version. Lawrence knew that it would be difficult to find a publisher for his novel, especially in England, where he had already had run-ins with obscenity law. He found a small publisher in Florence, and Giuseppe Orioli printed the third version in 1928. Lawrence found an American publisher who was willing to print it an expurgated version of it. However, the authorities still considered it to be indecent. This made for an unfortunate situation where Lawrence did not benefit from the success of Lady Chatterley's Lover, as it became heavily pirated since it did not have the legal protection of copyright.

In the years after Lawrence's death, many publishers would print their own expurgated versions. The reader of Lady Chatterley's Lover then should pay close attention to the publication date of the copy that he or she has picked up: anything existing before 1959, unless it is one of the rare original Florence editions from 1928, is not the novel Lawrence had wanted to publish. For more on this very complicated publication history, see Michael Squires' Introduction to the 1993 Cambridge University Press edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover.

The novel itself, once published in its unexpurgated form, came under the scrutiny of obscenity law. In 1959, Grove Press in America published the unexpurgated version. The novel was put to trial, and it was found to be not obscene under American law. In 1960, Penguin Books published the unexpurgated version, which invited the persecution of British law. The book was put to trial there, and the final verdict was that it was not guilty of breaking the obscenity law, in Regine v. Penguin Books Limited. This controversy itself, though, created a situation in which the novel became famous.