Category Archives: Penguin Books

Coarseness and vulgarity of thought and of language

‘It sets upon a pedestal promiscuous and adulterous intercourse’: Mervyn Griffith-Jones

Dalrymple writes that in R v Penguin Books Ltd, the prosecutor, Mervyn Griffith-Jones,

seemed not to have noticed that society had changed since his upper-class youth.

Griffith-Jones

opened the case with such pomposity that he became a figure of fun ever afterwards,

and is remembered only for what he said in his opening remarks to the jury:

It does tend…to induce lustful thoughts. It sets upon a pedestal promiscuous and adulterous intercourse. It commends…sensuality almost as a virtue. It encourages…coarseness and vulgarity of thought and of language…It must tend to deprave…One of the ways in which you can test this book, and test it from the most liberal outlook, is to ask yourselves the question, when you have read it through, would you approve of your young sons, young daughters—because girls can read as well as boys—reading this book? Is it a book you would have lying around in your own house? Is it a book you would even wish your wife and servants to read?

The court erupted in laughter, Dalrymple reminds us, and

later, after the not guilty verdict, in a debate in the House of Lords on an unsuccessful motion to strengthen the law of obscenity, one of the noble Lords was reported to have replied to the question of whether he would mind if his daughter read Lady Chatterley’s Lover that he wouldn’t mind in the least, but he would mind very much if his gamekeeper read it.