Saturday, March 25, 2006

Lady Chatterley's Lover, the F word and Penguin Books

Last night there was another excellent drama on BBC4 - a re-enactment of the trial of the book Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence - as I have mentioned before I am a big fan of this writer's work.

The programme was a combination of fact (the transcript from the court proceedings) and fiction (the effect of the trial on two of the jurors). As the proceedings went on, these two jurors began and pursued an affair, initiated, in part by the fact that they were required to do a kind of group read of the book. She was a divorced and experienced woman, he was a younger, and much more naive, married man, whose wife was expecting a baby. Eventually passages from the book and their interpretation by experts led these two jurors to question the morality of what they were doing and by the end of the case they had decided that the affair must also end.

Lady Chatterley's Lover, it turned out, was not a corrupting influence at all. In fact it was the opposite - it examined the sanctity of the monogamous sexual relationship, supported loyalty and faithfulness, and explored the themes of beauty and honesty particularly between the working and upper classes in pre-war England.

I thought it was particularly interesting how D H Lawrence's use of the word 'fuck' was defended. Apparently he believed that the word should be used for the sexual act and and was demeaned when used frequently as a swear word. He thought it a pure word which had a proper place in the English language and in literature.

I was also interested to hear that the publisher Allen Lane set out to found Penguin books for the working man (or woman). He wanted books to be accessible and the same price as a packet of 10 cigarettes. I am so glad he won the case. He was, he said, willing to go to jail in order to defend his right to publish the book. My parents always had a great deal of respect for Penguin books - and now I think I know why.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've never read Lady C. I was forced to read another Lawrence book at school and hated it. But over the years, it has stayed with me more than any book I read at that time and I eventually recognise the genius of the man. It irks me a little- how did he do it?
I think the rehabilitation of the four-letter words is a lost cause, though. Their simplicity and explosive sound gives them the essential features for obscenity: saying "Well, goodness me, that smarts" when you stub your toe just doesn't do the job.
Any book, I think, can corrupt some: but I would say a jewellry catalogue with its invitation to lust after worthless baubles was far more corrupting than anything Lawrence wrote.

Sun Mar 26, 12:35:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great and interesting post, Clare!

At school, I was never in the "right time" or class to have a Lawrence book in the curriculum. I did read Lady C, however, some years later and under somewhat strained circumstances. I should have been cramming "tax" for an exam, but my father had an accident and was in hospital with an op scheduled for the following day, a "touch and go" variety. "Tax" didn't make the grade for me in terms of distraction that night; I read Lady C and downed the best part of a bottle of port when reading it. I had difficulty with the language - the sort of phonetic dialect as opposed to the terminology, but distraction it provided and I couldn't see what the big deal had been about. But then, I was reading it in the mid/late 80s.

What I also found interesting about this programme was the nedia comment that Andrew Davies (and the BBC) was using this programme to make the "C" word "decent" in our language, to break the final barriers of decency. Someone in the media said that Victoria Coren's "Balderdash & Piffle" series had also devoted almost a whole episode to the word and that the BBC was clearly on the warpath.

But honestly, are there people at the BBC who desire and strategise to change the nature of our language? In some places, very sadly, the "F" word is already as common as "and". I hope one day that it will actually lose its current attraction and sorry veneer as a swear word, but I'd also hate to the "C" word replace it in such a way.

Corruption? I agree with anon on our contemporary world. It's Sunday and I used to enjoy the supplements that came with "The Mail on Sunday" but these days it's all about consumerism; heavy and hefty spending at that. You can now find out what your favourite "celebrity" loves in the latest technology offerings. They can afford it, of course. The reader is more likely to need a loan or a second mortgage.

Which brings me back to Lawrence and Lady C. Relationships had importance and some form of simplicity. The linking of human beings transcended class and wealth. The link was earthy, needy and pure. Two individuals seeking solace of a sort, aware of their primal needs and the nature of life around them.

Today, given the ease of "virtual" access, via the internet and extensive media, "relationships" are nutured between celebrity and fan/the aspiring. Real, day to day human relationships suffer.

I think this was a good time to bring Lady C and the controversy of publication to the public conscience. We need to remember what is important in life. A controversy of old can highlight shortcomings in the contemporary world. But isn't that what the study of history is all about? So shall we reap; so shall we learn, eventually.

Sorry to go on. I have that tendency.

And in case anyone is curious: my father survived the op, did well and is still alive and avidly reading in his retirement; I marginally failed the "tax" exam, what a surprise, but resat it six months later and qualified; I subsequently tried another book by Lawrence, but did not get hooked on the author; and I may have had a hangover that following day. I don't remember now, it's so long ago.

Sun Mar 26, 07:16:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One PS, if I may: I loved the interspersing of the black and white newsreels that accompanied the drama element of the programme, especially the woman in the queue, who, after a moment's thought said she was "buying the book for someone else".

She showed great courage in actually being there, in that queue for the sale of the book, post-law case, at that time! She was coy. What can we be coy about these days? And if we think "nothing", is that really so good?

I read a review of the movie "Hostel" this weekend and the reviewer said that in all his years of reviewing he'd never come across anything so awful (not his actual words). He highlighted the
reference to media influence on teenage behaviour before he even started his review. In our days of "happy slapping" that is not at all "happy" but actually gruesome to the extreme and violently disrespecting of human life, do we need such a movie to make it to our screens as an 18 certificate, if at all?

Yes, we can be liberal and liberal is good, on occasion. Moving towards fewer "hang ups" is the better. But exhibiting extreme violence, in the form of torture, for all to see? That's not.

Censorship does have role in life. We need to feel that we are in the hands and thoughts of the "like minded" for the majority. At this point in time, March 2006, we also need to believe that some form of effective censorship still exists.

Sun Mar 26, 07:42:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks very much for the responses - really enjoyed reading them, so very interesting.

Crimeficreader: I think it would be very sad if the c word replaced the f word - at least the f word applies to both sexes .

It is very interesting how words become perverted. I have been using the word 'squaw' in the novel I'm writing at the moment, but now find I have to scrap it since it now has some pretty dreadful racist and sexist connotations - and yet it is a word that I grew up using, quite innocently.

I agree completely about consumerism. We used to buy the Observer every Sunday but have given up now for many reasons - but the concentration on celebrity and 'lifestyle' was certainly a big factor. It is a kind of brainwashing, really, quite insiduous.

The ending of your first comment reminded me of the drama itself - a wistful looking back - a good echo.

Anon: That jewellry catalogue - such an excellent example of corruption. I am sure there is a lot more - things that we are brainwashed into thinking we need but do not - a desire that does not come from within ourselves but from the greedy mind of some businessman or his marketing man.

But now I am thinking - does anyone actually need my books when they could be giving the money to a charity that needs the money more? Is what I am doing therefore corrupt too? After all no one asks me to write my books and the world would survive perfectly well without them. And they have to be marketed to some degree to sell the little that they can I say all marketing is corrupt?

I guess I am back to D H Lawrence again. There is a difference between the sort of marketing (or perhaps more accurately 'selling') that seeks to brainwash and that which merely seeks to inform. I suppose the only way I can reassure myself is that in my writing I aim (but not necessarily succeed) to inform and explore - and I suppose that might fill some small pore in the skin of the reader's soul.

Mon Mar 27, 09:12:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Clare, I've been on a little holiday, so it's only now I've seen your reply. LOL at your Observer comment; I stopped it ages ago, as the bits I read are free on line...

Do hang fire on your worry about possibility of corruption for your writing in particular and marketing in general! I studied marketing at university. At its basic level marketing is simply the bringing to the marketplace of a product or service that fulfils a customer need. People buy your books because they want to be entertained and enlightened. If you have a readership, especially a repeat readership, then you are clearly bringing a successful product to the market. Then, there are many ways to ensure that the author and the books come to the attention of the potential customers - a blog and a website being two of them!

Everything is generally good and has its place in our lives. But all things can be taken too far and be subject to corruption. Unfortunately, there's always someone on the make out there somewhere... And of course, there's always someone who gets it wrong, e.g. remember Clive Sinclair and his C5 (a mode of transport not to be confused with the latest Citroen)? Or Gerald Ratner comparing his jewellry to M&S sandwiches, thus ending a brand name and business empire?

Fri Mar 31, 11:31:00 pm  

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