Literary daybook, Dec. 20

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors
Published December 20, 2002 8:00PM (EST)

Today in fiction

On December 20, Henrietta, a 266 pound chicken, receives Official Chicken License No. 1 from the City of Hoboken.
-- "The Hoboken Chicken Emergency" (1977)
By Daniel Pinkwater

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to

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Today in Literary History
On this day in 1929, D. H. Lawrence's "Lady Chatterley's Lover" was banned in the United States. This was only one of a string of bannings from its first publication the year before until the landmark obscenity trials in 1959 (U.S.) and 1960 (Britain), but for Lawrence personally it may have been the most devastating. Lawrence expected, wanted and got a fuss over the book, and knew from the start that no mainstream publisher would touch it -- though he was disappointed that even Sylvia Beach, who had become Joyce's champion with her first edition of "Ulysses" a decade earlier, declined the opportunity to publish what she called a "sermon-on-the-mount of Venus." Undeterred, Lawrence published the book himself, in a series of signed, private editions, sold by quiet subscription. These were banned in many countries, but sales were brisk, even with the many other pirate editions. As a result, though besieged by "policemen, prudes and swindlers," Lawrence made a good profit, much of which he invested on Wall Street. He could now confidently give up his half-hearted attempt to prepare an emasculated version for wider distribution: "I somehow didn't get on very well with the expurgation," he wrote Knopf Publishing, "I somehow went quite colourblind, and couldn't tell purple from pink." He could now finance his long-contemplated and permanent return to his ranch in New Mexico, this now almost a last resort for his ever-worsening tuberculosis -- though he refused to call it that. "I do really and firmly believe, though," he wrote in one letter, "that it's Europe that has made me so ill ... Anyhow in New Mexico the sun and air are alive, let man be what he may."

The collapse of this hope, and then his health, Lawrence put down to the U.S. ban. His subscription orders to America had been disappearing in the mails for some time; he now believed that he too was persona non grata, his application for immigration buried permanently at the bottom of the pile. Even as he finally agreed to a sanatorium in Italy -- still refusing to say the T-word -- he would be pouring over ship's timetables for Atlantic crossings. A last snapshot of him, taken on the day of his death, March 2, 1930, shows the "Phoenix" come to final ground: he is 85 lbs, in bed, reading a book about the voyage of Columbus to the New World.

That new world could seem to be the '60s, and "Lady Chatterley's Lover" could seem to be its cause. Accounts of the 1960 British trial often quote this gaffe by the prosecutor before the jury, as if it were the death knell for not just the case but the old world-views which informed it: "Ask yourselves the question: would you approve of your young sons, young daughters -- because girls can read as well as boys -- reading this book. Is it a book that you would have lying around the house? Is it a book you would wish your wife or servants to read?" A more pointed and poetic nail-in-the-coffin is Philip Larkin's "Annus Mirabilis":

"Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(Which was rather late for me) -
Between the end of the Chatterley ban
And the Beatles' first LP ..."

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," contact Steve King.

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