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Books: The Lady’s Not for Mailing

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Neither critical opinion, nor press censure, nor threat of legal action, nor the embarrassment of looking a little stuffy last week stayed Postmaster General Arthur E. Summerfield from swiftly reaching a foregone conclusion: The unexpurgated edition of D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover is “an obscene and filthy work,” and may not be sent through the U.S. mails. He thus continued a 30-year ban, and backed up New York Post Office operatives who vigilantly followed the old ruling last month by seizing 164 copies.

Manhattan’s Grove Press marshaled Critics Alfred Kazin and Malcolm Cowley to defend the book at a preliminary hearing. Both bookmen discussed Lawrence’s somewhat tedious and dated story of a gamekeeper who played round games with the lady of the manor, pointed out its philosophical overtones (nature v. civilization), granted its explicit language on sex (mild by the standards of many a modern bestseller), but professed to see not even a quiver of prurience in the book. As for the Postmaster General, he sat down to read the novel himself, concluded: “The book is replete with descriptions in minute detail of sexual acts, utilizing filthy, offensive and degrading words and terms. Any literary merit the book may have is far outweighed by the pornographic and smutty passages and words.” Summerfield leaned heavily on a 1953 decision (concerning Henry Miller’s notorious Tropics) by Judge Albert L. Stephens of the U.S. Court of Appeals: “Dirty word description of the sweet and sublime, especially of the mystery of sex and procreation, is the ultimate of obscenity.”

Lady, meanwhile, climbed up the bestseller list and—with the Postmaster General’s own review in its scrapbook—would climb higher. Some 70,000 copies were in print at week’s end, and Grove was moving them by every means except dog team. The outlook: more publicity, more sales this week, when the publisher seeks an injunction against the postmaster of New York. As for Postmaster General Summerfield, he is now free to return to his more customary reading matter, mostly books and magazines about hunting, fishing, motorboating. He is currently on Zanza buku, the account of safaris to Africa. whose four-letter words for the most part are confined to oryx, topi, lion and Zulu.

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