A Commentary (Sept 1928)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

[ 473 A Commentary The Criterion: A Literary Review, 8 (Sept 1928) 1-6 Of British Freedom As we go to press, in the dull month of August, we have the reports of the suppression – or rather, the “withdrawal from circulation” – of Miss Rad­ clyffe Hall’s novel, The Well of Loneliness. Several journals, especially The New Statesman, have spoken forcibly and well about this case; and we have only one or two points to mention which may be overlooked.1 The novel in question was favourably, or at least tolerantly reviewed by The Times Literary Supplement, The Morning Post, The Daily Herald and other papers of the same standing, including several Scottish and provincial .2 It was, we think, rather more favourably reviewed than it deserved. But there the matter would probably have stopped, with a modest sale and some success of approval, but for the prompt action of the editor of the Sunday Express. This gentleman found the book to be a menace to morality; and instead of bringing it privately to the notice of the Home Office, gave it a generous advertisement by public denunciation in his own columns.3 And so the publisher sent a copy to the Home Secretary, who asked that the book be withdrawn from circulation.4 Now there are several questions that are relevant; and one at least, that is likely to be asked, which is not relevant. It is not quite relevant to ask whetherthebookisa“workofart,”onthegroundthat“worksofart”should not be censored. No one knows whether the book that he wants to write is going to be a “work of art” or not; and if we were told in advance that our book would be tolerated if contemporary criticism considered it to be a work of art, and that it would be suppressed if it was not a work of art, we should not feel encouraged to write at all. If there is to be any discrimination , otherwise censorship, then the intention of the author should count for more than his success. We have read Miss Radclyffe Hall’s book. Its literary merit is not so great as the author hoped it might be. She is passionately sincere; she is obviously a cultivated person with literary standards and ambitions; and has tried to write something which should be both a literary masterpiece and a monument of special pleading for the social status of the sexual invert. She does not succeed either as writer or as pleader, and 1928 474 ] for the same reason: that she has no sense of humour. The book is not in the least pornographic. But it is long, it is dull, it is solemn, and it is not well written. We dislike the book, not because of the subject discussed, but because of its humourlessness, its hysteria, and the philosophy which seems to underlie it. There is the mistaken belief in what is sometimes called “the right to happiness.” It is one thing to adopt an attitude of Christian tolerance, or of civilized indifference, towards the invert; and it is another thing to deny that the imperfect is imperfect. The person crippled from birth, the person afflicted with a painful chronic disease, or dissolute offspring, or inherited financial difficulties is to be commiserated, but he does not clamour for the “right” to be healthy or fortunate or affluent. There is a good deal of romantic slop about Miss Radclyffe Hall’s attitude, which is made all the more tiresome by a streak of febrile Catholicism. And, finally, her subject is neither so important nor so interesting as she thinks. But all this has nothing to do with the Sunday Express. What is disquieting about the affair is the solemn hysteria on both sides, a solemn hysteria which, as Mr. Clive Bell would say, is uncivilized .5 But whereas Miss Hall’s hysteria is an aberration from civilization, that of the Sunday Express is a degradation of civilization, and is much the more alarming of the two. It is indeed distressing to find that The Morning Post, The Times, The Daily Herald and other reputable papers are negligent shepherds of public morals, and that our security against vice and perversion depends upon the Sunday Express. There, as Matthew Arnold would say, is sweetness for you! there is light!6 Censorship by What Authority? We are not, in this instance, immediately concerned with the question whether there should be a censorship or not. We should like however to draw a...


pdf