LITERATURE, OBSCENITY AND LAW by Felice Flannery Lewis

LITERATURE, OBSCENITY AND LAW

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A study of the kinds of literature legally indicted as ""obscene"" in the US, the content of the works in question, and the judges' standards of obscenity. In the 18th century, obscenity denoted sacrilege or blasphemy as much as offensive sexual reference, and it was not until 1815 that a court heard a case exclusively involving the sexual dimension. Late 19th-century Comstockery, of course, considered any mention of sex, prostitution, or excretion a degrading reference. Lewis focuses on the classics that were targeted--the Decameron, Rabelais, the Arabian Nights--as well as the abandonment of the ""genteel tradition"" which gave rise to fights over Whitman, Shaw, Dreiser and others. She provides summaries of both the classics and the modern works, noting changes in the judicial criteria for obscenity, which ranged from the author's intent and the pervasiveness of sexual allusion to ""redeeming social importance"" and ""appeal to prurient interest."" After Lady Chatterley was finally okayed in 1960 and Naked Lunch drew only two state-level suits, books gave way to films and magazines as targets for censorship, until in the mid-1970s the Burger Court raised the ""community standards"" test. Lewis observes that ""Taking the bad with the good would appear to be the price we must pay for freedom of choice."" The book is unsystematic in exposition but decidedly useful, not least for its comparisons of the classics' cheerful and ironic bawdiness with solemn or spaced-out 20th-century explicitness.

Pub Date: June 14th, 1976
Publisher: Southern Illinois Univ. Press