D.H. Lawrence and South Africa.

I picked up a copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover at a second-hand bookshop last week. It’s a beautiful bound edition, printed in Stockholm- ! – in 1956. (A note on the copyright page warns: “This edition must not be sold in the British Empire or U.S.A.” Why? What exactly does Jan Förlag of Stockholm have to hide from British and American eyes? Are the book’s salacious sex scenes being spiced up with buxom Swedes?) I’d forgotten how much I love this book; the last time I read it, incredibly, was in Malindi, Kenya, where I found a copy at a book exchange in a low-budget traveler’s hotel. (About the only good thing to come out of Malindi, FYI.)

I was struck – and not for the first time – by the opening paragraph:

Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes. It is rather hard work: there is now no smooth road into the future; but we go round, or scramble over the obstacles. We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.

What struck me this time around, though, was how apt that gloomy fatalism seems for a reader in South Africa today. Hopefulness, resignation, a trace of gallows humor. Add a few broken robots, a stadium scandal, and a Malema tirade, and you’ve pretty much nailed SA c. 2010.

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2 responses to “D.H. Lawrence and South Africa.

  1. There’s nothing like finding an English language bookstore, full of old books, while living as an expat. Brings back memories. Great article.

  2. The unexpurgated version was not published in the UK, it was banned. Penguin published the full text in 1960 and was prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act. The prosecuting counsel famously asked “Is it a book you would wish your wife or servants to read?”. Penguin won and it became all but impossible to prosecute on grounds of obscenity in the UK; cue the swinging sixties! The US unbanned it (along with Tropic of Cancer and Fanny Hill), in 1959, it may still be banned in Australia.
    As Philip Larkin wrote
    “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”
    Shame it’s not a better book.

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