Prudes on the Prowl: Fiction and Obscenity in England, 1850 to the Present Day

ISBN : 9780199697564

Dr Rachel Potter; David Bradshaw
240 Pages
145 x 221 mm
Pub date
Oct 2013
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This innovative book comprises nine essays from leading scholars which investigate the relationship between fiction, censorship and the legal construction of obscenity in Britain between 1850 and the present day. Each of the chapters focuses on a distinct historical period and each has something new to say about the literary works it spotlights. Overall, the volume fundamentally refreshes our understanding of the way texts had to negotiate the moral and legal minefields of public reception. The book is original in the historical period it covers, starting in 1850 and bringing debates about fiction, obscenity and censorship up to the present day. The history that is uncovered reveals the different ways in which censorship functioned and continues to function, with considerations of Statutory definitions of Obscenity alongside the activities of non-government organisations such as the anti-vice societies, circulating libraries, publishers, printers and commentators. The essays in this book argue that the vigour with which novels were hunted down by the prowling prudes of the book's title encouraged some writers to explore sexual, excremental and moral obscenities with even more determination. Bringing such debates up to date, the book considers the ongoing impact of censorship on fiction and the current state of critical thinking about the status and freedom of literature. Given contemporary debates about the limits on freedom of speech in liberal, secular societies, the interrogation of these questions is both timely and necessary.


1. 1850-1885: Poison more deadly than prussic acid: Defining Obscenity after the 1857 Obscene Publications Act
2. 1885-1899: Pernicious Literature: Vigilance in the Age of Zola
3. 1900-1915: Circulating Morals
4. 1916-1929: Censorship and Sovereignty
5. James Douglas: The Sanitary Inspector of Literature
6. 1930-1945: After Jix
7. 1946-1959: American Beastliness, the Great Purge and Its Aftermath
8. 1960-1970: 'Bollocks to respectability: British fiction after the Trial of Lady Chatterley's Lover
9. 1971 - present day: The Art of Offence: British Literary Censorship since 1971

About the author: 

David Bradshaw is Professor of English Literature at Oxford University and a Fellow of Worcester College. He has written numerous articles and essays on all aspects of modernism and has edited some of its key texts. He is Co-Executive Editor (with Professor Martin Stannard) of the 42-volume OUP edition of The Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh. ; Rachel Potter is a Senior Lecturer in English Literature at the University of East Anglia. She is the author of Modernism and Democracy: Literary Culture 1900-1930 (Oxford, 2006) and Modernist Literature (Edinburgh, 2012), and has co-edited The Salt Companion to Mina Loy (Cambridge, 2010). She has published a number of essays on literary censorship and modernism and has just completed a book called Obscene Modernism: Literary Censorship and Experiment, 1900-1940.

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