Publishing Oddity

Today I ran across Lady Chatterley’s Lover, but not the Lover that you may think of. Instead, it was Samuel Roth’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover A Dramatization of D.H. Lawrence’s Novel. Roth is quite a character, something one can tell immediately upon reading him. In the preface to his book, which he titled “By Way of Explanation”, he had this to say of his dramatization

This play, being nearly all my own work, is probably very dull. But don’t let it prejudice you against my version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover which you should read whether you like this play or not.

When Roth speaks of his version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, he is referring to the Lover you have mind. He calls it his because, in addition to being a dramatist, Roth is a publisher, and one who had brought out D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover a year before releasing this play.

On that occasion, as well as this one, Roth did not have permission from D.H. Lawrence’s widow — the heir of Lawrence’s work — to publish the work. Likewise, he did not have permission from James Joyce when he reprint Joyce’s Ulysses. Nor did he have T.S. Eliot’s for publishing one of his poems. For all these breaches, Roth said this by way of explanation

If anyone is at fault morally, it is the laws of our country which, by denying a book like Lady Chatterley’s Lover legal status*, make it common property. I do not think there is one publisher in the United States who during the past ten years has not at least once taken advantage of these laws to print books without permission. On the other hand, I have never published anything for which I did not pay something . . .

Call our publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover piracy, if you like, as long as you remember that piracy is a common practise among American publishers. And until our laws are amended so as to make this practice illegal, why discriminate against the only pirate who pays royalties?

Quite a character, no?

Note *: The “legal status” Roth alludes to refers to the fact that both Joyce’s Ulysses and D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover were censored as “obscene books imported from abroad” and thus subject to seizure by the US Postal Office. This means that nobody in the US could’ve published these two books — even with the permission of their authors or the estates — and so when somebody did, fewer people could complain on copyright grounds. The richer irony is that Roth seems to have bowdlerized the bits from the novels that the censors found objectionable, and so his works — as it seems from the notice on the verso of the title page of his Dramatization — were copyrightable and indeed copyrighted.

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One Response to Publishing Oddity

  1. Also, the court case that stemmed from Roth publishing Lady Chatterley’s Lover resulted in a test for obscene materials articulated by the Supreme Court in 1957 that became the standard for defining obscene materials for many years. The standard bears his name and is commonly referred to as the Roth test. See here.

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