The business of distributing erotica today is vastly unlike that of the 1920s and 30s. The same can be said of present day sexual taboos. They still exist, however, and challenges made to the taboos by commercial enterprises such as publishing, film making, and book selling still call forth moral indignation. Erotica dealers' careers and personal tensions can teach us a great deal about what both repressing and trading upon sexual curiosity do to the moralists and the merchants.
Bookleggers and Smuthounds presents information gathered in part from personal interviews and archival collections. This supplements, and in some cases corrects, existing secondary sources. In reviewing the body of material, I have become convinced of a salient fact: publishers of erotica and the moralists who attacked them during the mid-twentieth century had (as they continue to have) a subtle symbiotic relationship. As good businesspeople, erotica distributors necessarily appealed to prurient fascination. Because they invited their clients to indulge curiosities which kept intact the association of sex with obscenity and shameful silence, the blunt fact of their existence provided the anti-vice crusaders with the public enemy they needed to show how fascination with sex was indeed a vice exploited by people with contempt for purity.
Sketch by "Arco," in C. Stevens, Secret and Forbidden (NY: Living Age Books, 1966), 115.
Without the bookleggers, there would be no enemy of decency for the smuthounds to scapegoat. And it *is* scapegoating, because it wasn't the bookleggers who tied sex to shame and shock--they just exploited the connection, using the smuthounds' teaching about how sinful sex was to sell their books, which, even when they by writers like Lawrence, Joyce, Nin, and Miller, were still advertised and/or sold as smut. And so the smuthounds could stigmatize them as eenemies of decency. It's especially revealing to see how this symbiosis worked in the period 1920 to 1940--when "the eroticization of leisure time" and "the commericalization of sex" took strong hold in America.
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