Netflix’s ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ stirs discourse on censorship trials
Lady Chatterley’s Lover: The Netflix movie starring Emma Corinne and Jack O’Connell, based on DH Lawrence’s scandalous latest novel, once again sheds light on why the book has been banned globally for decades.
Looking back, it’s quite laughable that this book was ever banned, as I think it was far from offensive. Instead, it’s a fascinating story, says actor Jack O’Connell in an interview about DH Lawrence’s latest novel and arguably his most infamous Lady Chatterley’s Lover, whose story has inspired many film scripts over the years. Currently listed on Netflix’s ‘Top Searches’, Laure de Clermont-Tonnere’s latest film adaptation has reignited the debate as to why this outrageous piece of literature had to be censored for decades.
The plot of the Netflix movie revolves around a young wealthy woman, Constance (Connie) Reid, played by Emma Corinne (remember Princess Diana in The Crown Season 4), who marries an upper-class baronet, Sir Clifford Chatterley, played by Matthew. Duckett, and now known as Lady Chatterley. Unfortunately, Clifford was wounded during World War I and has been paralyzed from the waist down ever since. The couple then move to their sprawling Wragby estate, near the mining town. Lonely and exhausted, Connie secretly begins an affair with the estate’s ranger, Oliver Mellors (Jack). Their forbidden love soon turns into a passionate and emotional bond between two people who lack empathy and human contact.
Like Lawrence’s earlier works, Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow and Women in Love, Lady Chatterley’s Lover also faced several censorship trials. Indeed, transgressive fiction has been considered problematic from the start. It was first published privately in Italy in 1928, followed by another edition in France a year later. Obscenity, perhaps, is a better way of explaining why it is forbidden. Many found it scandalous due to its depiction of infidelity (an affair involving an upper-class woman and a working-class man), explicit sexual content and rampant use of four-letter words. The fact that Connie and Oliver represent two different social states did not make for an acceptable plot for enjoyable reading. More than profanity, people raised their eyebrows at the author’s unapologetic description of a young woman with her body and prioritizing sexual pleasure over devotion to her paralyzed husband.
At the time the staunch lawyers, politicians and literary thinkers of England found the narrative intolerable and out of place. According to him, because Penguin sold the book at an affordable price, it contained explosive material that could potentially pollute the minds of women and the working class. This, among other factors, eventually led to his prosecution under the Obscene Publications Act. Getting permission to release the uncensored version commercially became a matter of great concern. It was only after Lawrence’s death (in March 1930) that heavily censored editions of the novel were published in the United Kingdom and the United States.
Nearly three decades later, Barney Rosett, publisher of New York’s Grove Press, sued the US Post Office in 1959 for attempting to appropriate his unauthorized version of the literary work. Fortunately, appellate judge Frederick van Pelt Bryan held that Lady Chatterley’s Lover had significant literary merit, and that excluding a novel from posting obscenity would create a rule applicable to a substantial part of our literary classics, and that such a rule is the enemy of a free society.