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Dirt for Art's Sake

Books on Trial from "Madame Bovary" to "Lolita"

by Elisabeth Ladenson

Publication Year: 2007

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.

Published by: Cornell University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-9


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pp. ix-x

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Preface: Red Hot Chili Peppers

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pp. xi-xxii

In the spring of 2001, as I was beginning work on this book, a strange thing happened. I was at Berkeley, on leave from the University of Virginia on a visiting appointment, and I had seemingly endless problems getting my e-mail account to function properly. When I finally resolved the difficulty, I wrote a message to a friend and colleague describing my electronic travails. ...

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pp. xxiii-xxiv

Embarking on a project of this scope I needed help, and I am pleased to report that a number of intelligent and qualified people have been generous enough to read and comment on parts of this book and thereby reduce my chances of making a fool of myself in public. ...

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Prologue: History Repeats Itself

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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. ...

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Chapter One: Gustave Flaubert: Emma Bovary Goes to Hollywood

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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 ...

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Chapter Two: Charles Baudelaire: Florist of Evil

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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, ...

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Chapter Three: James Joyce: Leopold Bloom’s Trip to the Outhouse

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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. ...

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Chapter Four: Radclyffe Hall: The Well of Prussic Acid

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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. ...

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Chapter Five: D. H. Lawrence: Sexual Intercourse Begins

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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, ...

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Chapter Six: Henry Miller: A Gob of Spit in the Face of Art

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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, ...

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Chapter Seven: Vladimir Nabokov: Lolitigation

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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. ...

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Epilogue: The Return of the Repressed

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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. ...


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pp. 237-256


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pp. 257-262


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pp. 263-272

E-ISBN-13: 9780801460371
E-ISBN-10: 0801460379
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801474101
Print-ISBN-10: 0801474108

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2007

Edition: 1