Thursday, 1 April 2010

Lady Chatterley's Lover and the Blue Pencil

Blue is a primary color. Blue means "puritanical". A blue law is a law set up for the rigid control of moral and conduct. "Blue": Indecent, Obscene.
Joseph Roppolo

When Penguin announced in May 1960 that it was going to publish 200,000 copies of D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, a book banned since its publication in 1928, there was a flurry of activity. The Director of Public Prosecutions decided to prosecute, the attorney general agreed and there was a rush to find witnesses from the literary world to testify to the novel's "gratuitous filth".

In his Bound and Gagged A Secret History of Obsenity in Britain, Alan Travis relates how the Public Prosecutions Office compiled a list of offending words. "Blue pencil" in hand they counted all the "filth" and concluded that the word "fuck" or "fucking" appeared no fewer than 30 times. The trial came to nothing as the only witness the prosecution could produce was Detective Inspector Charles Monahan - alone against the defence's 35 witnesses, including Dame Rebecca West, EM Forster and Helen Gardner.

But the blue pencil of censorship continued to make its mark. Lord Chamberlain's Office, the official censor of theatrical performances until 1968, was going to allow the performance of Lady Chatterley's Lover in London's West End under the condition that offending words would be censored. The actors should appear fully dressed, "Connie must never wear less than the stated slip, which must be opaque", "Mellors must be reasonably clothed". The Lord Chamberlain's directions were clear

"you will appreciate, and in fact I am to make quite plain to you, that the Lord Chamberlain will not allow 'Mellors' and 'Connie' to appear to be together under a blanket in a naked condition whether this actually is or is not so. In allowing them to appear on the stage under a blanket the Lord Chamberlain is making a very definite concession, and because of this he asks me to give a particular warning that no love making beyond that actually noted in the Stage Directions submitted will be allowed."

Joseph P. Roppolo's article "Blue: Indecent, Obscene", American Speech, vol.28, No. 1 (Feb. 1953), looks interesting although I wasn't able to access it. On the Red Pencil of Censorship see Chekhov.

1 comment:

  1. If "fuck" is 100% offensive, is "duck" 75% offensive?

    Richard Bandler Co founder of NLP