Book title: Radclyffe Hall: A Case of Obscenity? 
Author: Vera Brittain
Posted July 01, 2001
Brittain was a journalist in Britain and a contemporary of Hall's. She was a reporter and covered the censorship of The Well of Loneliness (TWL). After the publication of TWL, the book itself was put on trial (no charges were filed against Radclyffe Hall). Under the Obscene Publications Act of 1857, English magistrates had the power to declare any publication obscene and to have all existing copies destroyed. Evidence of the book's literary value was irrelevant. The only consideration was whether or not the book was obscene.
The persecution basically argued that homosexuality was obscene, and therefore any book about homosexuality was also obscene. The defense argued that the book was not perverse, since it dealt with the issue of inversion |AMP|ndash; which was a medically recognized, naturally occurring disease. The judge in the case, Sir Chartres Biron, ruled that the book was obscene (even though English common law, like U.S. law today, had no definition of obscenity). Biron ordered all copies of the book destroyed. The case was appealed, but the appeal failed. The higher court ruled that "[TWL] is a most dangerous and corrupting book. It is a book of which the general tendency would be to corrupt the minds of the general body of those who may read it. It is a book which, if it does not condemn unnatural practices, certainly condones them, and suggests that those guilty of them should not receive the consequences they deserve to suffer. Put in a word, the view of the Court is that this is a disgusting book|AMP|hellip;it is an obscene book, and a book prejudicial to the morals of the community" (p. 126).
On April 8, 1929, the American trial of TWL began (State of New York v. Donal Friede and Covici-Friede, Inc). The prosecution presented a case similar to that mounted in England, and the American judge held similar biases. However, the defense argued that the book was no different than other books that had escaped obscenity charges (such as Madeline and Mademoiselle de Maupin) and that judged as a whole, the book was a sensitive treatment of a contemporary social issue. The court ruled that the book was not obscene.
This book was interesting -- I learned about the history of these trials, and was glad I read it for that reason. Since Brittain based a lot of the book on her own newspaper stories, this is probably very close to reading about the trials in the papers as they were progressing and is light on analysis. It was poorly written and based on reminisces 40 years after the fact. It was not very well edited -- it rambled and there were several typos and errors of grammar. I would rate it a on content and a - on style; hence the 0 rating overall.
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Caveat Lector: This website documents my own reading adventure. I am the only reviewer and book selection is guided by my own tastes and interests. You may or may not agree with my opinions -- that's what makes the world an interesting place.