Last Exit to Brooklyn

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

The Work

When Grove Press published Last Exit to Brooklyn in 1964, the firm encountered relatively few censorship efforts, despite the book’s violence, graphic sexual activities, and vulgar language. An effort was made in Massachusetts to get an injunction against the book, but the state attorney general directed the local district attorney to dismiss the charges. In Connecticut, however, a district court issued a temporary injunction prohibiting the sale and distribution of the book, which it ruled obscene and pornographic. A similar injunction was granted in British Columbia, Canada.

In Great Britain, however, Selby’s book encountered more serious problems. Although the British government did not officially rule the book obscene, Sir Cyril Black, a Conservative member of Parliament, took it to court. A London magistrate then ruled that the book, taken as a whole, would tend to “deprave and corrupt” readers. This ruling applied only to the magistrate’s own Marlborough Street area; however, Selby’s problems were compounded when a later jury trial, in 1967, found that his book violated Britain’s Obscene Publications Act of 1959. American publishers who had planned to publish books in Great Britain either postponed their plans or edited their books to avoid similar censorship problems. In August, 1968, Selby’s case was taken to a British appeals court, which reversed the lower court’s decision on a technicality.

The Last Exit to Brooklyn case was almost as important and controversial as an earlier case involving D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. A 1988 film adaptation of Selby’s book by Neue Constantin Film Productions was graphic but encountered no censorship problems.


Gontarski, S. E. “Last Exit to Brooklyn: An Interview with Hubert Selby.” The Review of Contemporary Fiction 10, no. 3 (Fall, 1990): 5. A frank interview with the author about his first novel.

Hicks, Chris. “Turkey!” Deseret News (October 5, 1990): 1. An unfavorable review of the 1989 movie version of Last Exit to Brooklyn; an interesting perspective on the novel.

Selby, Herbert, Jr. “Examining the Disease: An Interview with Hubert Selby, Jr.” Interview by Allan Vorda. The Literary Review 35, no. 2 (Winter, 1992): 288. Selby explains the themes that he explores in his novels.