All images here are taken of from a copy Lady Chatterley's Lover, owned and housed by Special Collections, University of Virginia Library. The images here presented in no way infringe on the copyright of the work and are consistent with the "Use, Reproduction, and Publication of Materials" guidelines outlined by the Special Collection Library.

Rare Book School

I was recently fortunate enough to attend a course during the first session of UVA's Rare Book School on Printed Books Since 1800. The course was great and I highly recommend it; the particular advantage of the course (and, from what I understand, of all RBS courses) is the hands-on experience with a broad variety of materials. Most of the material covered in the course is presented with greater thoroughness in Philip Gaskell's monumental A New Introduction to Bibliography. But what even the most attentive reading of Gaskell can't get you is the experience of handling type, or of seeing a variety of different items arranged all in one place for comparison and handling: different bindings, different illustration processes, et cetera. This is the great strength of RBS. The diversity of the audience was also a virtue of the class; scholars, librarians, and book-sellers are all in attendance, and their different attitudes proved genuinely surprising.

The hands-on nature of RBS makes it difficult to pass the experience along (in tweets, for example, or a blog post). Part of the week, though, is spent on an independent bibliography project, attending to the bibliographic detail of a single book object. I used the opportunity afforded by the RBS class to have a look at a pirate edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover. The result, I think, helped deepen my understanding of Lawrence's fascinating appeal to the materiality of printed books in his essay A Propos of "Lady Chatterley's Lover," and also provided an interesting insight into the intersection between the history of obscenity and the history of reading.

A Funereal Volume

Book piracy is a fascinating topic in general and it is crucially important to any understanding of the history of obscenity. While many works were pirated with great frequency (Sherlock Holmes stories, the Oxford Edition of the Bible, etc; major British works were ripe for American piracy throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, though an informal courtesy system among publishers kept this from growing out of control), book piracy and obscenity thrived together in the early twentieth century. In part this is because they both used the same semi-legitimate channels of distribution and sale. It was also a peculiar effect of Anglo-American copyright law which offered no protection for "obscene" works.

No individual case better illustrates this confluence of obscenity law and copyright than that of Lady Chatterley's Lover. The market in pirate editions of Lawrence's novel which emerged immediately after the first, 1928 Florentine edition of the novel was printed, prompted Lawrence to authorize a "popular edition" of the novel, printed in Paris and selling for (the relatively cheap) 60 francs. (The political geography of censorship in the early twentieth century is itself a topic worthy of analysis.) This cheap edition, bound in paper wrappers, vied (mostly unsuccessfully) with pirate editions for readers in England and America where, technically, none of the editions could be legally sold.

The popular edition was printed from a photographic copy of the Florentine edition (ironic given the way Lawrence picks out photographic reproduction for particular scorn in his discussion of piracies). To the photographically reproduced text of the novel, Lawrence prepended an essay, "My Skirmish with Jolly Roger: Written Especially as an Introduction to this Popular Edition." This essay, in turn, would form the basis for Lawrence's much longer reflection on Lady Chatterley, A Propos of "Lady Chatterley's Lover". (This fact alone is worthy of greater comment; but I'll abstain here so I can get to the pictures). In the essay Lawrence explains how the emergence of piracies necessitated the release of the Popular Edition. The essay offers a uniquely fascinating historical moment where literary history and book history (and, I'd insist, the history of obscenity) crucially inform one another.

The essay is fascinating for the degree of engagement Lawrence has with the materiality of the different volumes he discusses. Because most of these piracies were reproduced photographically from the Florentine edition, their text is identical to that of the Florentine and popular editions (they are all, in Gaskell's terms, the same "edition," a fact recognized in Gertzman's truly impressive bibliography). And so, in distinguishing them, Lawrence appeals to the physical properties of the book itself, drawing distinctions between the various states and issues (though Lawrence doesn't use these terms) based on the quality of printing and the physical experience of holding the volume.

I spend quite a bit of time with this interesting argument in my dissertation. At RBS, though, I wanted to focus on just one of these piracies; the one of which Lawrence writes:

I have had in my hand a very funereal volume, bound in black and elongated to look like a Bible or long hymn-book, gloomy . . . it is a sinister volume―like Captain Kidd with his face blackened, reading a sermon to those about to walk the plank. Why the pirate should have elongated the page, by adding a false page-heading, I don't know. The effect is peculiarly depressing, high-brow. (305)

UVA's Special Collections owns a number of pirate editions of Lady Chatterley including the "Faro" edition published by Samuel Roth (which has a reasonable claim to being the chief way in which the novel reached the American reading public during the period between 1928 and 1959). They are also in possession of the New York piracy which Lawrence describes as "Funereal."

In discussing piracies, Lawrence at no point appeals to the discourse of intellectual property. This may be simply tactical: because the work was obscene, US and British copyright law offered no real avenue for Lawrence to assert his rights (additionally, the work was not printed in the US as required by US copyright law at the time making any such claim moot... but these are tertiary issues I think). In my dissertation I argue that Lawrence's focus on the book's materiality is not simply a tactical response to piracy. But whatever the undergirding logic of Lawrence's appeal to the materiality of these volumes, it is fascinating to see the "Priest of Love" suddenly turn bibliographer (without losing any of the vehemence of his convictions).

Lady Chatterley's Lover (PR6023 .A93 L28 1928e). Special Collections, University of Virginia.

Here, for instance, are the running heads which the New York piracy has added to the text (note the lack of alignment between the pages; an instance of the shoddiness of work Lawrence complains of elsewhere in "My Skirmish"). Lawrence celebrates the simple craftsmanship of the Florentine edition. The running heads adulterate that simplicity by unnecessarily complicating the page. While I haven't been able to do a side by side comparison with the Florentine edition (the UVA library does not own this rare item), the "Funereal" edition does expand the size of the pages slightly (Gertzman measures the leaves of the piracy at 9 5/8" x 6 1/4" while Roberts measures the Florentine editions at 8 15/16" x 6 3/8", a discrepancy of nearly three quarters of an inch in page height; I think one would need direct examination to compare whether the type-size was at all affected by the process of reproduction.)

Title Page of New York Piracy of Lady Chatterley's Lover

Lady Chatterley's Lover (PR6023 .A93 L28 1928e). Special Collections, University of Virginia.

The title page features a truly bizarre eagle vignette which seems to oddly echo Lawrence's own phoenix. It seems more appropriate to an elementary school American History textbook than to Lady Chatterley's Lover.

Smeary Printing in New York Pirate Edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover

Lady Chatterley's Lover (PR6023 .A93 L28 1928e). Special Collections, University of Virginia.

And as Lawrence complains elsewhere in the essay, the printing is rather shabbily done, resulting in a smeary text. It is these differences (rather than any difference in the text itself) which for Lawrence mark the piracy as "gloomy" and "high brow."

How to Read Obscenely

I spent some time with this volume largely because of the ire it elicited from Lawrence. But this particular copy proved interesting for some other reasons. Folded and placed between pages 200 and 201 is a newspaper clipping from the Washington Herald (Dec. 24, 1929) with the headline "Smoot to Read Racy Books in Plea for Ban: Senate to Conduct Secret Session When He Takes the Floor" and a penciled list made on the rear end-paper.

The clipping details Senator Reed Smoot's plan to read selections from a number of books books to a private session of the Senate. Smoot was interested in reversing an amedment to US Tariff passed the previous year which effectively removed the censorship authority of Customs agents. The change had been advocated by Senator Bronson Cutting of New Mexico (who corresponded with Ezra Pound on precisely this issue). (Further details about the debate can be found in this article from Time). Smoot hoped this reading would senators of the perniciousness of works that had previously been "excluded by the customs authorities" (chief among them a work the clipping describes as "Lady Chatterton's Lover"). Echoing James Douglas's infamous statement two years earlier (that he would rather give a child prussic acid than a copy of The Well of Loneliness), Smoot claimed that he would "rather have a child of mine use opium than read these books."

In the end Smoot never read his selections to a closed Senate committee. Instead a compromise was reached, by which customs officers could turn books over to district courts who could pursue censorship through existing obscene statutes.

The clipping however notes the following: "The tall, austere, Mormon elder will read to the Senate—in secret session—passages he has culled from the racy and spicy books..." (my emphasis).

This strategy, of culling particularly "racy" and "spicy" passages from books in order to prove that they are "obscene" was a common among those who wished to censor books. The larger tendency throughout the twentieth century was in the opposite direction. The gradual process by which controversial works (from Ulysses to Lolita and Naked Lunch) were admitted into the domain of "literature" proceeded first by insisting on the unity of the work as a whole. Judge Woolsey, deciding that Ulysses is not obscene in 1933, writes: "reading 'Ulysses' in its entirety, as a book must be read on such a test as this, did not tend to excite sexual impulses or lustful thoughts" (xiii, my emphasis). (One wonders, could any novel of 800 pages manage to so excite "in its entirety"?). The process of art/literature and pornography becoming antithetical by definition (to be obscene a work must, in the language of Miller v. California "lack[] serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value") proceeds by first insisting that (again, the language of the Miller test) be "taken as a whole."

What, of course, this suggests is that the question of obscenity is less a question about a work than it is about a way of reading. To ask, therefore, whether or not a particular work is obscene reifies a question which is really about how a work was read. The question of obscenity is not chiefly a matter of gauging the sexual explicitness of a text, but of understanding the uses to which literature is put and the types of reading that are recognized as literary (and those which are a priori non-literary). At least one hallmark of obscene reading is its disregard for the whole.

Pencil List on Rear End-Paper of Pirate Copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover

Lady Chatterley's Lover (PR6023 .A93 L28 1928e). Special Collections, University of Virginia.

And, turning to the rear end papers of this particular copy of Lawrence's novel, one finds evidence of exactly this sort of reading: a list of penciled in numbers which, a casual perusal suggests, correspond to the "spicier" moments in the novel.

The tantalizing question is who made this list and to what end? In their style of reading, at least, the reader looking simply for pornographic enjoyment and the antivice crusader share a similar disregard for regarding the work "in its entirety." This penciled list of passages culled from this edition, together with the clipping describing Sen. Smoot's own culling, suggests a practice of reading at odds with that which would be recieve the blessing of judicial authority first, three years later, by Judge Woolsey and later enshrined in U. S. obscenity law.

Works Cited

  • Gertzman, Jay. A Descriptive Bibliography of "Lady Chatterley's Lover": With Essays Toward A Publishing History of the Novel. NY: Greenwood P, 1989.
  • Lawrence, D. H. Lady Chatterley's Lover and Apropos of "Lady Chatterley's Lover." Edited by Michael Squires. Cambridge Edition of the Letters and Works of D. H. Lawrence. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2003.
  • Roberts, Warren and Paul Poplawski. A Bibliography of the D. H. Lawrence. 3rd Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
  • Woolsey, John M. Decision in United States v. One Book called "Ulysses." In Ulysses by James Joyce. New York: Vintage International, 1990. ix - xiv.