Chapter 4:"Fifth Avenue Has No More Rights Than the Bowery." Taste and Class in Obscenity Legislation

Since the works of modern writerswho dealt explicitly with sexual desire, such as James Joyce, D. H. Lawrence, and Theodore Dreiser, were as vulnerable as Cleland's Fanny Hill, everyone was at risk from moral entrepreneurs. Out of the desire for a respectable public image emerged a false dichotomy between responsible "bookmen" and "smut-mongering" pariahs, driven by the policies of publishers' and booksellers' professional organizations desirous of protecting the public image of their profession. But both the carriage-trade book stores and those with shady reputations stocked various genres of banned erotica,

and during the twenties both sorts of booksellers and publishers accommodated themselves to Secretary Sumner. In their own ways they tolerated such tactics as refusal to return confiscated books, even after charges had been dropped.

This frontispiece is in the style of the illustrator and Greenwich Village celebrity Clara Tice:



Sumner particularly disliked her work, and in fact had had her arrested in 1915. Female pudenta were visible in many of her drawings, as here. The book in which it appears, The Adventures of Hsi Men Ching, was confiscated during a raid on the Gotham Book Mart in 1928. Sumner often focussed his attention on the Gotham. The store had strong public approbation, and "numbered among his customers some of the most prominent and distinguished people in the city." By the late twenties, the vice suppressor needed to show New Yorkers--and especially prominent politicians, law-enforcement officers, religious leaders, and jurists--that he could arrest, in the name of a "decent" moral consensus, the spreading influence of the "younger school" of modernist writers and artists and its "imitation foreign invasion" of "American life and manners."

In the late twenties, the American Civil Liberties Union effectively attacked Sumner's entrapment tactics, and his cavalier use of the search warrant. It also successfully publicized both his intolerance even of literary classics, and his blatant disregard for First Amendment principles. Chapter Four deals with the significance of these developments. Court decisions liberalized the criteria under which erotic books were deemed non-obscene: they could no longer be interdicted based on their possible effect on the most weak-minded members of a community. Rather, the behavior of the average intelligent adult became the hard-won standard. During the Depression, Sumner lost not only the moral and legal high ground he held during the twenties, but his financial base. He continued, however, especially in support of the decency campaigns of the Catholic Church, severely to harass drug and cigar store lending-librarians, second-hand booksellers, and newsstand operators: that is, those who could be classified as smut dealers, as opposed to disseminators of culture.

Section Headings:
"Bad Taste in Books is Bad Business"
The Dirty Underside of the Publishing Business
High-Hat Booksellers and Erotica
Sumner and the Booksellers: Cooperation--and Reseentment
Thunder on the Left: Morris Ernst and the National Council for Freedom     from Censorship
Sumner Perseveres

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chapter 5