Summary

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Memoirs of Hecate County is a collection of five short stories and a novella dealing with well-to-do New York suburban life. One of Edmund Wilson’s few attempts at fiction, the book was not a critical success, as were his earlier works of literary criticism. Its novella, “The Princess with the Golden Hair,” intimately describes sexual intercourse during two love affairs conducted by its male protagonist. These erotic passages provoked attack.

The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice instigated prosecution of Wilson’s publisher, Doubleday and Company, for publishing obscene material under the New York Penal Code. Without presenting a full written opinion, the court found the book obscene and unprotected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in People v. Doubleday (1947). After Doubleday appealed the ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the absence of Justice Frankfurter, ruled four to four that the book was obscene, thus sustaining the lower court’s ruling.