Thursday, December 1, 2011

When Field and Stream Magazine Reviewed Lady Chatterley's Lover

by Stephen J. Gertz

Coming in November:
• Secrets of an English Gamekeeper, or The Lady Bags a Stag.

It isn't often that magazines extolling the virtues and lore of the Great Outdoors feature book reviews. It's rarer still for them to review a book thirty-one years old. It's positively unheard of to review a thirty-one year old literary novel. In Guns and Ammo, maybe. But Field and Stream?

Yes, indeed. And there's proof. Below, we reprint a Field and Stream book review from 1959 in its entirety.

"Although written many years ago, Lady Chatterley's Lover has just been reissued by the Grove Press, and this fictional account of the day-to-day life of an English gamekeeper is still of considerable interest to outdoor minded readers, as it contains many passages on pheasant raising, the apprehending of poachers, ways to control vermin, and other chores and duties of the professional gamekeeper.

"Unfortunately, one is obliged to wade through many pages of extraneous material in order to discover and savor these sidelights on the management of a Midlands shooting estate, and in this reviewer's opinion this book cannot take the place of J.R. Miller's Practical Gamekeeping" (Ed Zern, Field and Stream, November 1959, p. 142).

According to Roberts & Poplawski's bibliography of D.H. Lawrence (pp. 152-153),  Hugh Grey, editor of Field and Stream, requested that Zern choose an outdoors-oriented book for review as a "sort of test case." This was their first.

R&P note that "hereafter no Lawrence collection can said to be complete without a copy of Miller's Practical Gamekeeping to place alongside Lady Chatterley's Lover!"

No such book, however, exists; J.R. Miller's Practical Gamekeeeping was (and remains) a figment of Zern's fertile imagination, a book that can now be safely added to the list of great non-existent books in literature. If Roberts and Poplawski were ignorant of this and serious, Lawrence collectors can now relax - and have a laugh. If R&P were aware, have a bigger laugh - after cursing them out for sending you, with cruel glee, on a wild-goose chase.

Zern's deadpan-tongue-in-cheek review was a delightfully wacky, if not widely known, literary hoax. Hats off to Field and Stream's editor and publisher for running with the prank.

But why did they bother?

1959 was the year of Lady Chatterley; it was big news; the talk of the nation. More than any  other novel, perhaps, it was, because of its decades-old notoriety as a novel with hot parts, the most widely known book in the country, the title familiar to everyone, even those who had little interest in reading or literature. The Grove Press issue (published May 4, 1959 with three printings of 15,000 copies each, before publication), was the first complete, unexpurgated, legal, openly distributed and sold American edition published, and it was a signal event in the contemporary United States. The erotic walls of Jericho came tumbling down - or, at least, began to crumble - in the wake of the Supreme Court's Roth decision of 1957.

Roth was a landmark case that redefined the Constitutional test for determining obscene material under the First Amendment. The conviction of publisher Samuel Roth, the defendant (who had been clandestinely publishing literature with suggestive or explicit sexual content since the 1920s), was upheld and Roth went to jail. Ironically, "redeeming social importance," the vague rule that the Supreme Court determined a requisite for Constitutional protection, not only allowed literary classics of merit that had formerly been banned but paved the way for erotic literature in general to be freely published. And it was, invariably with a legitimate or patently phony Introduction by a real or imaginary social scientist, psychiatrist, or other "expert" to provide the redeeming social importance that kept the authorities at bay.

It should come as no surprise that Samuel Roth's 1930 abridged piracy of Lady Chatterley's Lover (through his William Faro imprint) and his subsequent unexpurgated piracies were, from 1930 until the Grove Press edition of 1959,  the most widely available in England and the United States.

Lady Chatterley's Lover has lent itself well to parody and sequel, temptations as irresistible as Zern's review for Field and StreamLady Chatterley's Husbands (1931); Lady Chatterley's Friends (1932); Sadie Chatterley's Cover (1933); Lady Chatterley's Second Husband (1935);  Lady Loverley's Chatter (1945); Lady Chatterley's Daughter (1961); Lady Chatterley, Latterly (1963); and Lady Loverley's Chattel (1968) are but a few.

The concept of niche magazines reviewing novels in some way associated with their particular subject is ripe and worthy of further development. We eagerly await, for instance, Horticulture's belated review of Octave Mirbeau's The Torture Garden (Le Jardin des supplices, 1899), and what it might say about the following passage in which Mirbeau appears to have dipped his pen in Miracle-Gro, then mainlined it as an aphrodisiac:

"'Why, flowers are violent, cruel, terrible and splendid... like love!'  He picked a ranunculus which gently swayed its golden head above the grass beside him, and with infinite delicacy, slowly and amorously, he turned it between his fat red fingers, from which the dried blood scaled off in places:  'Isn't it adorable?' he repeated, looking at it.  'It's so little, so fragile, and besides, it's all of nature; all the beauty and power of nature.  It contains the world.  A puny and relentless organism which goes straight to the goal of its desire!  Ah, milady, flowers do not indulge in sentiment.  They indulge in passion, nothing but passion.  And they make love all the time, and in every fashion.  They think of nothing else; and how right they are!  Perverse?  Because they obey the only law of life; because they are satisfied with the only need of life, which is love?  But consider, milady, the flower is only a reproductive organ.  Is there anything healthier, stronger, or more beautiful than that?  These marvelous petals, those silks, these velvets... these soft, supple, and caressing materials are the curtains of the alcove, the draperies of the bridal chamber, the perfumed bed where they unite, where they pass their ephemeral and immortal life, swooning with love.  What an admirable example for us!'"  (The Torture Garden, Ch. 6, trans. by Alvah C. Bessie). 

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