How a Book Reminded the World That Sex Sells

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When D.H. Lawrence published his salacious 1928 novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover, English officials declared it “forever banned” in that country. More than three decades later, on Nov. 2, 1960, a court proved the declaration false by removing the ban.

By then, however, the book had by then lost much of its oomph. The socio-economic and sexual taboos it had broken were no longer so titillating. And when an unexpurgated American version was published about a year earlier, TIME’s critics took its explicit scenes in stride:

But is it pornography? The answer of literary people is no. Lawrence, a fretful neurotic always at war within himself, was a serious writer. But there is another question: Is Lady Chatterley dull and tiresome? This time the answer must be yes.

The story is simple enough. Sir Clifford Chatterley comes back from World War I paralyzed from the waist down. An upper-class snob, he stuns his wife by telling her that she ought to have a child by another man. Connie Chatterley falls in love with Mellors, her husband’s gamekeeper, learns for the first time what real sex is all about. Sir Clifford, of course, is incensed at Connie’s betrayal of her class. Why make love to a workingman? By this time Sir Clifford is more than half in love with his lady attendant, and the book ends with Mellors working as a farm laborer and waiting for Connie to join him.

The critical panning did little to deter readers. When the ban was lifted in 1960, Brits flooded into bookstores. “A Leicester Square book vendor peddled 1,300 copies in an hour after setting out a window placard reading ‘Lady C.—12 Sharp!’ By evening of C-day, the paperback edition, priced at 50¢, was being hawked and sold by Soho scalpers for $2.80,” TIME reported.

Though Lady Chatterley might not have had much to teach audiences of the 1960s about love, she did have something to remind the publishers of the era: sex, as ever, sells.

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