“There are no dirty words. There are only dirty minds and dirty tongues, and these have imported a foul odor to what originally were mere descriptive terms for quite common experiences.”
These memorable lines were written in response to the furor over the publication of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1928). Critics particularly took issue with Lawrence’s use of colloquial terms for coitus and the female anatomy, and generally denounced the book as filth. Lawrence, for his part, answered his critics. One essay, A Propos of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, is frequently included in later editions of the book.
At some point after the book’s publication, another response to Chatterly critics appeared. We don’t know who wrote this work, but it makes for a very interesting read. While Lawrence’s name appears on the cover, there seems to be a consensus that someone else wrote the essay. This six-page pamphlet, appropriately – and provocatively – titled “Dirty Words,” is tucked away on a shelf in the Salisbury House Library. It makes a nice addendum to our many other Lawrence works (including a rare first edition of Lady Chatterley, signed by Lawrence), though it is not of Lawrence’s hand.
“Dirty Words” offers a fascinating glimpse into the ways in which the writer, first of all, perceived Lawrence’s own use of language in Lady Chatterly and, secondly, observations on those who labeled Lawrence’s use of language obscene and sought to have his work expurgated, censored, or repressed. One hundred and fifty copies of this pamphlet were printed “For A.H.”
Ultimately, the writer indicts Chatterley critics for raising an uproar over “mere combinations of letters and harmless enough, which have been buried so deep in men’s consciousness, and so over-laden with poisonous accretions, that to be hated they need but to be uttered.” The author continues, “If sex has become a foreign [impure] element in modern life, then modern life, not sex, is the thing to be cleansed.”
It makes for a fascinating read. The full text of “Dirty Words” appears below.
Note: The Salisbury House Library Collection is now housed at Grinnell College, where it is being digitized and studied. To learn more about the collection check out the Special Collections Website.