History of Legal Definitions of Literature (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
Since the beginning of the law’s interest in literature, court cases that have established the legal definition of obscenity have involved written works about which the definition of “literature” has been strenuously debated. The first case in an English-speaking country in which obscenity law was used to restrain the publication of a written work that many critics defined as serious and significant literature occurred in 1868, when a court in England convicted a respected publisher for the publication of a translation of French naturalist Émile Zola’s novel Germinal (1885). The case made clear the danger of the so-called Hicklin test (based on the Obscene Publications Act of 1857 and set out by Chief Justice Cockburn), which allowed law enforcement agencies to prevent the publication of a book if its tendency was “to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences” regardless of whether the work in question had any literary or artistic merit. The problem this test created for writers and publishers was that it had the tendency to reduce the subject matter of permissible literature to a child’s level.
Forbidding the publication of any written work that might conceivably influence a child badly was the law of the land in Great Britain and the United States until it was challenged in 1933 by another novel that many critics had praised as a work of serious literature—James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922)....
(The entire section is 1167 words.)
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