03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Lady and a Penguin (Not a Dirty Story)

Generally, we don't associate the iconic Penguin Books with "dirty books." And neither did a British jury. On November 2, 1960, Penguin won a landmark British publishing case when Lady Chatterley's Lover was deemed "not obscene" by a jury of three women and nine men. Penguin had published the novel, written in 1928, to mark the 30th anniversary of Lawrence's death. During the six-day trial, many British literary lights including E.M. Forster, took the stand to defend the book. In the end, the prosecution was simply behind the times: counsel Mervyn Griffith-Jones at one point asked the jurors --

Is it a book you would wish your wife or servants to read?

The famed story of a love affair between an aristocratic lady and her groundskeeper had been cleared for sale a year earlier in the United States.

In defining "obscenity," Associate Justice Potter Stewart wrote in a famous 1964 Supreme Court decision,

I know it when I see it.

People have been arguing over obscenity and pornography (which in the original Greek meant "to write about prostitutes"), almost since there was writing. For publishers, the label has been a mixed blessing. Books have been burned, banned from the mails, and yanked from library shelves. But the phrase, "Banned in Boston," eventually became a favorite selling slogan. And many books once deemed "dirty" are now bona fide classics.
Do you think you know obscenity when you see it? Unwrap the plain brown paper around this quiz about some notorious "obscene" books.

1. Which hefty novel depicts a character reading "Titbits" magazine on the toilet, allowing "his bowels to ease themselves quietly as he read"?
2. Which memoir did poet Ezra Pound once call "a dirty book worth reading"?
3. What Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, among the most frequently challenged books in American schools, was once banned in a Minnesota town for including the words "damn" and "whore lady"?
4. Which 1881 poetry collection, now considered an American classic, was withdrawn from circulation by its publisher under a District Attorney's threat of obscenity charges?
Adapted from Don't Know Much About Literature.


1. Ulysses (1922), by James Joyce. The character described is Leopold Bloom.
2. Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller. The novel was published in France in 1934, but banned in the U.S. until 1961.
3. To Kill a Mockingbird (1960), by Harper Lee.
4. Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass (1881 edition). In 1865, Whitman had been dismissed from his day job as a clerk in the Bureau of Indian Affairs after James Harlan, Secretary of the interior, found and read a working copy of Leaves of Grass and considered it obscene.

Here is a link to a brief D.H. Lawrence biography at

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