Thursday, December 14, 2006

Literary Bans

I discovered D.H. Lawrence when I was in school. Tucked away in a shelf of the school library was the book 'Sons and Lovers'. I was struck by the title, as any school kid would be. I wanted to take it home to read. So, in a very matter of fact way, I took it to the librarian for issue. She told me promptly, 'it is not meant for you'. Her tone seemed collected and indifferent, but her eyes screamed 'discomfort'. I asked my mother about Lawrence, she said that I would understand when I was older. I left it at that, I never attempted to borrow the book when I was 'old enough' to read it. For consolation, I read about Lawrence in the encyclopaedia and the pieces fell together. Lawrence was and is still well known for the explicit content in his work. It only added fuel to the fire, and I vowed ,after reading his poem titled 'The Snake', that I would read his work some day.

The day wasn't that far off. Two years ago,I picked up a collection of three of his novels at a book fair for a trifling amount. I set about reading 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' ; a story about Constance Chatterley, a woman unhappily married to a man who has lost both his legs and more in World War I , and her illicit affair with the gamekeeper. As Wikipedia put it, 'he was working class while she was bourgeois'. I was quite taken by Lawrence's lyrical cynicism. It is said that Lawrence edited the original version to make it more 'palatable' to readers. Lawrence's style is not tongue in cheek, it is brazen, laden with four lettered f-words and euphemisms that are utterly useless. (Every aspiring writer should read Lawrence. If euphemisms are futile, it's better to avoid them.) Somewhere in the middle of all this stands an empathetic writer , whose love life was rather unfortunate so to speak, with a crystal clear understanding of human society and its hypocrisy.

A few months ago I read about 'The Chatterley Ban'. The book was banned in Britain till 1960. When 'Penguin' first published 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' it was sued under the 'Obscenity Act'. The ban was lifted after the publishers proved in court that the book had 'literary and artistic value'. I was intrigued to note that Vladimir Nabokov wrote 'Lolita' , a novel on the rants of a paedophile, in 1955. The book was published in 1955 and I haven't come across anything like 'The Lolita Ban'. I don't quite understand this lapse in judgement on the part of the moral police. Interestingly enough, 'Lolita' was turned into a major motion picture in 1962. Perhaps Lawrence was unlucky enough to belong to the post Victorian era.

Nevertheless,when something cursed with a ban becomes antiquated it turns to art. So it all ends happily after all! (At least for the reader.)

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