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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.