A book used in “one of the most important criminal trials of the 20th century” must be kept in the UK, a minister has said.
The copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover was used by a judge and his wife during a trial in 1960, in which Penguin Books was prosecuted under the Obscene Publications Act.
DH Lawrence’s novel, which tells the story of a love affair between a young, married, upper class woman – Lady Chatterley – and her gamekeeper, Oliver Mellors, contains explicit descriptions of the central characters’ relationship, complete with four-letter words.
It was published in Italy in 1928, and in 1929 in France and Australia, but was not openly printed in Britain for fear of prosecution over its explicit content.
There are concerns that the copy in question, which was used by judge Sir Laurence Byrne, could leave the country unless a buyer can be found to match an asking price of £56,250, set after its owner decided to auction it last year.
It contains two pages of notes, annotations, a list of page numbers, and short summaries of various sections of the story.
Many of the comments were made by the judge’s wife, Dorothy Byrne, alongside those made by Sir Laurence himself.
Mrs Byrne was allowed to sit on the bench with her husband as witnesses were called.
A temporary export bar has been issued to try to keep the book in the UK.
Arts Minister Michael Ellis said the trial was a “watershed moment in cultural history, when Victorian ideals were overtaken by a more modern attitude”.
He added: “I hope that a buyer can be found to keep this important part of our nation’s history in the UK.”
During the trial, academics and literary experts, including the novelist EM Forster, were called as witnesses.
When chief prosecutor Mervyn Griffith-Jones asked whether it was the kind of book “you would wish your wife or servants to read”, the prosecution was ridiculed for being out of touch with modern society.
Penguin was found not guilty in November 1960 and bookshops sold out of an initial run of 200,000 copies on the first day. Foyles bookshop in London said its first batch of 300 copies went in 15 minutes. Three million were eventually sold.
Experts on The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), recommended the book be kept in the UK.
RCEWA chairman, Sir Hayden Phillips, said: “The prosecution of Penguin Books for publishing Lady Chatterley’s Lover was one of the most important criminal trials of the 20th century.
“Judge Byrne’s copy of the novel, annotated by him and his wife, may be the last surviving contemporary ‘witness’ who took part in the proceedings.”
A decision on an export licence has been deferred until 9 August.