In honor of Banned Books Week (September 27th through October 4th), I thought I’d recommend an excellent book on the subject of literary censorship and obscenity prosecutions in the United States, written by a First Amendment lawyer: Edward de Grazia’s 1992 Girls Lean Back Everywhere: The Law of Obscenity and the Assault on Genius. The title is taken from a quote by Jane Heap, who (with Margaret Anderson) was prosecuted in 1920 for publishing episodes from James Joyce’s Ulysses in their magazine, The Little Review:
Mr. Joyce was not teaching early Egyptian perversions nor inventing new ones. Girls lean back everywhere, showing lace and silk stockings; wear low-cut sleeveless blouses, breathless bathing suits; men think thoughts and have emotions about these things everywhere–seldom as delicately and imaginatively as Mr. Bloom–and no one is corrupted.
This work describes in detail the publishing histories and obscenity trials of the most controversial books of the 20th century, including Joyce’s Ulysses, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness, Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, and Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, as well as later trials involving the monologues of Lenny Bruce, the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe, and the lyrics of 2 Live Crew.
What makes this work particularly entertaining are the extensive quotes from the authors and publishers involved. As de Grazia notes in his introduction:
I wanted to find out, and describe, how the persons who were most immediately affected by literary censorship–authors and publishers–responded to and felt about it, and to present their reactions as much as possible in words of their own. I also wanted to say what I could about the nature of the legal and constitutional process that has framed the struggle against censorship in our country….
Visit the American Library Association’s website for more information about Banned Books week, including lists of the most frequently challenged authors and books, descriptions of notable First Amendment court cases, and information on how to fight censorship and deal with challenges to library books.
Update 4/24/13: Edward de Grazia, the author of Girls Lean Back Everywhere, has died. See my new blog post for details.