Some of you may recall my debating over which book to read for Freedom to Read week, but the question was settled for me when I came upon an entry in Elizabeth Smart’s Journals (which I was reading for the Women Unbound Reading Challenge).
On July 26, 1933 she records the outline of a conversation she had about D.H. Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which had been banned in England.
Elizabeth Smart had been reading the book all morning and then, over lunch, was challenged for doing so: “I think it’s perfectly disgusting to want to read a book my country won’t allow.”
Smart wished she had responded more strongly to her lunch companion than she had, and she lamented, after having gone back to read more, the way that “people can contaminate things! She also made it unclean for me. But no. There it was and I was swept on its great tide.”
She was not after all, she said, “influenced by small minds. For in that direction many minds are small. But there’s no good explaining or arguing with them.”
Ironically, the question she poses here (“Why on earth are sensual joys supposed to be so low?”) about Lawrence’s novel being unfairly judged is doubly relevant because Elizabeth Smart’s own novel, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept (1945), would also be banned, this time in Canada (whilst available in England), a handful of years later, for related reasons.
This site explains briefly, stating that the 2,000 copies of the book that were printed that year in London, England were banned entry into Canada because other members of the Smart family used their political connections to institute and uphold the ban (it was the story of an affair between a young woman and an adulterous man) in Canada (her mother destroyed the copy sent to her personally and the six others she was able to find in Ottawa).
In writing of this event, Kim Echlin remarks upon the new value that publicly censored work acquires because it challenges the status quo; works like Joyce’s, Nabokov’s and Rushdie’s are recognized. “But By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept suffered a fate far worse than official censorship or public condemnation in Canada. It was not discussed. It was not criticized. It was disappeared.” (Echlin, 113)
[Also of note on this site and worth checking out: some photographs, a page from ES’s diary in 1933-4 when she was 20-21 y.o., many pages of gardening notes in the author’s hand, and three pages of the handwritten manuscript of BGCSISD&W.]
So even thought I had only planned to read it as part of my Women Unbound reading, it seems that Elizabeth Smart’s BGCSISD&W is also the perfect candidate for Freedom to Read Week. It would also make a great candidate for the Women Unbound Reading Challenge because, as Echlin explains, the narrator doesn’t die like Juliet or Isolde or Anna Karenina: “She survives to tell her version of the story in her own voice.”
Daily throughout Freedom to Read Week, I’ll include quotes from Elizabeth Smart, whose novella Brigid Brophy described as one of the “half dozen masterpieces of poetic prose in the world”.