by Allan Foster
The recent BBC adaptation of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover has caused a resurgence in the debate surrounding this controversial novel. One thing is for sure though, that Edinburgh has a story in its literary history relating to this novel that is truly unique.
Allan Foster of the Edinburgh Book Lover’s Tour tells more:
Lady Chatterley’s Lover and an Edinburgh Lady’s solitary protest against the Freedom Of The Written Word
Apart from the outstanding achievements of UNESCO City of Literature, Edinburgh can take no pride in its efforts to mark its literary heritage. Sir Walter Scott’s mock-Gothic ruin on Princes Street – deemed by Dickens as ‘a failure’ – dominates the skyline, but after Scott, literary Edinburgh – regardless of City of Lit’s gallant efforts – is still pretty much an unmarked no-man’s-land.
Nothing could, apparently, be further from Edinburgh’s literary woes than the BBC’s autumn screening of a new adaptation of D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928). But it might come as a surprise to discover an obscure (albeit indirect and unintentional) marker on an equally obscure street, that captures the mood of Lady Chatterley’s struggle and the moral battle it represents, which was fought and eventually won.
In 1959, Jim Haynes opened a bookshop in Charles Street, just off George Square, where the University’s Informatics building now stands. Jim hailed from Louisiana, and in the fifties he was in the US Air Force stationed near Edinburgh. When he was demobbed he stayed on in the city and converted an old junk shop in Charles Street into the Paperback Bookshop. A distinctive focal point of the bookshop was a stuffed rhino head which Jim hung outside his shop at ground level, one for book lovers as well as those with taxidermic leanings.
“The rhino head was discovered by me when walking down Princes Street one sunny morning with a friend,” Jim Haynes commented. “Workmen were carrying it out of The New Club. When they say they were going to destroy it, I asked if I could have it. They were pleased to give it to me. My friend and I took it to Charles Street in a taxi and by chance there was a spike available to hang it immediately onto the wall.”
Probably the most memorable thing that happened in Jim’s bookshop took place around 1960 when an elderly lady entered the shop and asked Jim if he sold Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
“When I said yes, she paid for a copy and said she would be back in 20 minutes to collect it. I was immediately suspicious, so I called Alan Daiches, a friend and a photographer to come up immediately to the shop. He did and was standing there when the woman returned with coal tongs to pick up the book and carry it outside the shop. The photos Alan took went around the world and Sir Alan Lane, the founder and managing editor of Penguin Books, who loved my bookshop, was extremely happy with the publicity!”
From across the street the photographer shot the now-iconic picture of the burning book, the irate lady, Jim outside the bookshop and, of course, the stuffed rhino head.
The site of Jim’s shop today is celebrated by a bronze rhino head protruding from the wall of the Informatics building: a bizarre and mysterious effigy confusing most people who pass by it. There is a plaque, positioned at ankle level (about ten feet below the rhino), which states that this ‘sculpture’ marks the spot of the Paperback Bookshop.
The identity of the mysterious lady remains unknown, although she was rumoured to have been a retired missionary in Africa. But she was also a symbol of the moral conflict of the time, which would determine the path of human rights. And when Lady Chatterley’s publisher, Penguin Books, was eventually acquitted at the Old Bailey on 2 November 1960 of charges under the Obscene Publications Act, it became a signpost for human rights and the floodgates slowly began to open with the decriminalising of homosexuality, abortion reform, the abolition of capital punishment and theatre censorship, and radical changes of the divorce laws. To this day many people still dismiss Lady Chatterley’s Lover as a sex romp, but it was really about the freedom of the written word and a reflection of the constrained social mores of its time, which are perhaps best summed up by Philip Larkin in ‘Annus Mirabilis’ (1967).
Allan Foster is the author of The Literary Traveller in Edinburgh, a book lover’s guide to the world’s first City of Literature and he is the mastermind and tour guide behind the popular Edinburgh Book Lover’s Tour.
Owner of The Paperback Bookshop and Gallery from 1959, Jim Haynes (pictured at the top) went on to become one of the founders of the Traverse Theatre, Scotland’s New Writing Theatre, at its first home in the Lawnmarket in 1963.
Edinburgh has over 50 bookshops, of all shapes and sizes, carrying an amazing array of stock. You can visit them all online here or even better, visit them in person.