(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

My Secret Life’s eleven volumes contain approximately forty-two hundred pages of an anonymous Victorian Englishman’s sexual memoirs, including extensive descriptions of his sexual escapades with more than a thousand women. The author provides elaborate accounts of how he procured women and details about what they did together, including his tastes for flagellation and group sex. His discussions of the broader vice industry in London and throughout Europe create a rich history of sexual life in Victorian England.

An edition of this book was banned in New York because of pressure from the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice in the early 1930’s. It was reprinted by Grove Press in 1966, but not without incident. Arthur Dobson, an often-prosecuted British bookseller and publisher, sold 250 copies of the Grove edition in England, but when authorities threatened to raid his shop, Grove rescinded Dobson’s distribution rights. Dobson published his own paperback edition combining the first two volumes, but before selling any copies, he was arrested and charged with violating the Obscene Publications Act of 1959. At the ensuing trial, his lawyer unsuccessfully argued that the book should be immune from censorship because of its historical value. Dobson’s guilty verdict established the precedent that “historical importance” does not justify producing or distributing obscene works.