Dirt for Art's Sake

Dirt for Art's Sake: Books on Trial from "Madame Bovary" to "Lolita"

Copyright Date: 2007
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 304
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    Dirt for Art's Sake
    Book Description:

    In Dirt for Art's Sake, Elisabeth Ladenson recounts the most visible of modern obscenity trials involving scandalous books and their authors. What, she asks, do these often-colorful legal histories have to tell us about the works themselves and about a changing cultural climate that first treated them as filth and later celebrated them as masterpieces?

    Ladenson's narrative starts with Madame Bovary (Flaubert was tried in France in 1857) and finishes with Fanny Hill (written in the eighteenth century, put on trial in the United States in 1966); she considers, along the way, Les Fleurs du Mal, Ulysses, The Well of Loneliness, Lady Chatterley's Lover, Tropic of Cancer, Lolita, and the works of the Marquis de Sade. Over the course of roughly a century, Ladenson finds, two ideas that had been circulating in the form of avant-garde heresy gradually became accepted as truisms, and eventually as grounds for legal defense. The first is captured in the formula "art for art's sake"-the notion that a work of art exists in a realm independent of conventional morality. The second is realism, vilified by its critics as "dirt for dirt's sake." In Ladenson's view, the truth of the matter is closer to -dirt for art's sake-"the idea that the work of art may legitimately include the representation of all aspects of life, including the unpleasant and the sordid.

    Ladenson also considers cinematic adaptations of these novels, among them Vincente Minnelli's Madame Bovary, Stanley Kubrick's Lolita and the 1997 remake directed by Adrian Lyne, and various attempts to translate de Sade's works and life into film, which faced similar censorship travails. Written with a keen awareness of ongoing debates about free speech, Dirt for Art's Sake traces the legal and social acceptance of controversial works with critical acumen and delightful wit.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6037-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Preface: Red Hot Chili Peppers
    (pp. xi-xxii)
    Elisabeth Ladenson
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxiii-xxvi)
  5. Prologue: History Repeats Itself
    (pp. 1-16)

    1857 was a landmark year in the history of literary obscenity. In England 1857 saw passage of the Obscene Publications Act, which was to set the tone for more than a century of legal conflict and seizure of allegedly obscene material, much of it coming from France. In France during the course of that same year the authors, publishers, and printers of three literary works were brought up on charges of offending public morals, along with various accessory charges of religious and political offenses. The defense won the first trial, although the verdict included a stern reprimand; the second book...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Gustave Flaubert: Emma Bovary Goes to Hollywood
    (pp. 17-46)

    Few books are as closely associated with their legal histories as is Madame Bovary. Most editions of Ulysses include in a preface Judge John M. Woolsey’s 1933 decision allowing Joyce’s novel into the United States, and the trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover was not only published as a book in its own right but also famously commemorated by Philip Larkin in his poem “Annus mirabilis” as an epoch-making milestone:

    Sexual intercourse began

    In nineteen sixty-three

    (Which was rather late for me)—

    Between the end of the Chatterley ban

    And the Beatles’ first LP.¹

    Neither sexual intercourse per se nor even...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Charles Baudelaire: Florist of Evil
    (pp. 47-77)

    In 1949, the year Minnelli’s Madame Bovary came out in the United States, the sixpoems that had been removed from Baudelaire’s Fleurs du mal by court order in 1857 were rehabilitated by the French judicial system. A law passed in 1946, specifically geared to Baudelaire’s case, allowed such previous decisions to be overturned, and the poet and his sixpoems, along with the publisher and printer, were duly exonerated (posthumous restitution of their fines was not, however, included in the new ruling). The rehabilitation does not exactly state that the original verdict had been wrong, but implicitly places matters in historical...

  8. CHAPTER THREE James Joyce: Leopold Bloom’s Trip to the Outhouse
    (pp. 78-106)

    The first thing that must be said of the special place held by Ulysses in the history of censorship is that Joyce’s novel is now known not only as a literary masterpiece and one of the key texts of modernism, but also—ask any English major—as perhaps the most difficult of centrally canonical modernist works. No other required reading, not even A la recherche du temps perdu, with its grotesque length and notoriously long and complicated sentences, quite compares to Ulysses in terms of difficulty. Proust’s magnum opus is rarely approached in its entirety, either in the classroom (where...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Radclyffe Hall: The Well of Prussic Acid
    (pp. 107-130)

    At first glance it might seem difficult to imagine a work less like Ulysses than The Well of Loneliness. Where Joyce’s epic offers a spectacular series of variations on the theme of nothing at all—and by the same token everything—elaborated on the unpromising basis of an eventless day, Hall’s novel is thematic to the point of didacticism. Resolutely eschewing innovation of form, it advances an argument through the highly conventional narrative of an involuntarily unconventional life. Where Ulysses is all style, The Well is all subject matter. Despite—and in part because of—the vast amount of controversy...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE D. H. Lawrence: Sexual Intercourse Begins
    (pp. 131-156)

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover occasioned without a doubt the most notorious literary obscenity battle of the twentieth century. In 1960, more than thirty years after Lawrence’s novel was originally published in Italy after being rejected out of hand by publishers in England and America, Regina v. Penguin Books finally ended the ban alluded to in Larkin’s poem “Annus Mirabilis.” The previous year another, less publicized but equally momentous trial, pitting Grove Press against the U.S. Post Office, had ended the American ban on the novel. Moreover, both these epochmarking events had been preceded by three-part legal proceedings in Japan against the...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Henry Miller: A Gob of Spit in the Face of Art
    (pp. 157-186)

    In Tropic of Cancer, his first published work, Henry Miller takes up the challenge first laid down by Flaubert and Baudelaire in the mid nineteenth century. Where Flaubert gives the reader no character with whom comfortably to identify, and Baudelaire accuses his hypocrite lecteur of various sins capped off by a refusal to recognize the abjection he has in common with the poet, Miller bypasses such niceties and goes straight for the jugular. He gets right to the point in the opening pages (the passage cited above is the sixth paragraph), declaring that his work is not a book but...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Vladimir Nabokov: Lolitigation
    (pp. 187-220)

    Lolita is an entirely different kettle of fish. All the works under discussion are necessarily very different from each other, of course. Each of the books entailed different difficulties, and the conditions in which they were—and sometimes were not—published were different as well. The case of Lolita differs greatly from all those we have looked at so far, both in itself and in terms of the history of its publication. Social mores and legal precedents changed during the mid twentieth century with remarkable speed, and at a certain point, around 1957 in both the United States and England...

  13. Epilogue: The Return of the Repressed
    (pp. 221-236)

    In 1957, the year of the Roth decision and therefore the turning point for the legal definition of obscenity in the United States, Jean-Jacques Pauvert was convicted in France on approximately the same grounds on which Flaubert and Baudelaire had been charged one hundred years earlier. His crime was the publication of four novels by the Marquis de Sade, three of which had originally been published in the 1790s. One of the more unexpected turns taken by the history we have been considering is that as that history was drawing to a close, as became all but inevitable after the...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 237-256)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 257-262)
  16. Index
    (pp. 263-272)