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Lady Chatterley's Lover
By D.H. Lawrence (1928)
First Grove Press Edition, First Printing (1959)
DESCRIPTION: The world just recently saw the passing of Grove Press founder Barney Rosset; and to be honest, the American arts would be a much different and worser thing if not for the passion of this controversial, polarizing publisher. A press that had been around since 1951, and had already earned its chops in the avant-garde intellectual field (for example by being the first American publisher of Samuel Beckett), in the late '50s Rosset saw the writing on the wall before many others, and thought that the time was ripe among the so-called "New Left" to really start pushing the way we define obscenity in this country. It started with the Evergreen Review, a Grove magazine that published equal amounts of cutting-edge literature and softcore nudie shots (much like his young peer Hugh Hefner was doing at Playboy the same time); and then in 1959 Rosset decided to deliberately publish a book that had been banned in the United States in the past, D.H. Lawrence's infamous 1928 smutty class-warfare romance novel Lady Chatterley's Lover, specifically so that in court they could try to convince a judge to declare the book not obscene after all, and usher in a new age for creativity in those shiny post-war Mid-Century-Modernist United States.
And as a person can see in this first-edition, first-printing copy, the version designed specifically to be seized by the Postmaster General (which is exactly what he did), the way Rosset and co. prepared for this trial was by literally publishing their evidence right into the book material itself, so that if the prosecutor wanted to refer to the book at all they would be forced to allow the redeeming value in; namely, an introduction and preface by noted intellectuals Mark Schorer and Archibald MacLeish, as well as back-cover blurbs from fellow intellectuals Jacques Barzun, Edmund Wilson and Harvey Breit. This allowed Grove lawyer Charles Rembar to say, "Hey, look at all these respected academes who think this book has actual artistic value;" and that was the litmus test that finally let a federal judge say, "Yeah, you know, this does have artistic value," just in time for Rosset to flood the market with a gush of second-edition copies. This gave Grove the courage (and the huge amounts of money needed) to do the same thing for Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer two years later, then William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch a few years after that; and between those victories and the establishment of the ratings system in the movie industry, this opened the floodgates for the modern open culture we have now, where anyone is allowed anywhere to publish any material they want (well, within certain very extreme conditions), and instead of banning it outright our society merely tries to make sure such stuff is sold only in the right conditions and only to the right people.
Grove Press has a fascinating history beyond this too -- the company delved into smut peddling much more heavily as the '60s continued, tried its hand at film distribution (it made millions from one of its first acquisitions, the notorious I Am Curious (Yellow), then lost millions on nearly every other film they tried), opened lavish new offices in the heart of Manhattan, and eventually like SuicideGirls.com got (rightly) accused of exploiting and degrading the very envelope-pushing women that was making Grove its millions and millions in the first place. The notoriously womanizing Rosset took to second-wave feminism badly, which led to a nasty union attempt and an infamous "Black Friday" mass firing right as the '70s started up, and the press never really recovered to the former "king of the underground" status they had once held for so long, eventually merging with Atlantic in the 1990s and becoming yet another sub-imprint of a sub-imprint at a giant multinational corporation. But meanwhile, here is the book that started it all, back when the Kennedy-era Grove was still trying to be straight-laced and space-age; being sold at a modest price today because of the condition of its dust jacket (but more on that below), this book is almost guaranteed to go up in value for the patient serious collector, as the beginnings of the countercultural movement become more and more of a historically important subject in the ensuing decades.
CONDITION: Text: Very Good Plus (VG+). In general this copy is in great shape, and in fact only really misses being categorized as "Fine" just because the pages are starting to yellow, and there are a few spots of sunning on the spine (see photos for more). Dust jacket: Good Minus (G-). There are many serious problems to this dust jacket, the main reason the book is being sold at such a modest price: gouges on the spine, an entire half-inch missing along the top, scrape marks along the front cover, and the complete detachment of the inside front flap from the rest. Now fully protected in a Demco archival mylar sheet. As confirmed by the McBride Guide to the Identification of First Editions, lack of additional printing notices on the copyright page proves this to be a first edition, first printing; don't be fooled by the notice on that page that says that this is the "third manuscript version," in that Grove is referring to the previous two European versions from decades past, not any previous editions of the Grove version itself.
PROVENANCE: Acquired by CCLaP at the Armadillo's Pillow, Chicago, winter 2013.