Sleeveless Errand. To the Editor of The New Statesman
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[ 593 Sleeveless Errand 1 To the Editor of The New Statesman The New Statesman, 32 (23 Mar 1929) 757 Sir: Like Mr. Edward Garnett, whose letter in your issue of March 16th I read with much interest, I was disturbed by the attitude which you adopted towards the Sleeveless Errand case; and I am not reassured by your reply to Mr. Garnett.2 I have not read the book, but your comments upon it seem to me contradictory. You say, what no one denies, that “the police must retain thepowertoprohibitthegeneralpublicationofprurientandpornographic pictures or writings which have no artistic value.”3 How this remark applies to Miss James’s book is not clear; for you say later that two-thirds of the book “contain a very moving and admirably related tale to which no possible objection could be taken,” and you “deny confidently that the book could possibly do any harm to anyone.”4 If the magistrate had thought as you do, that the book could do no harm, how could he have applied the statute under which it was condemned?5 If the book could do no harm, then surely all defence or palliation of its suppression falls to the ground. Furthermore, your counsel is that “pending the happy day when police supervision is altogether abolished, we think it the business of authors to avoid writing in such a way as positively to invite police interference.”6 Moses might thus have replied to the Lord: “Pending the happy day when Pharaoh will see the reasonableness of abolishing all restrictions on the freedom of movement of the children of Israel, I think it the business of my people to avoid acting in such a way as positively to invite the despatch of six hundred chariots.” If authors act with such sweet reasonableness, the happy day is still less likely to arrive, and the bondage will endure for ever. I congratulate you upon your composition of liberalism and prudence. I am far from believing that all pieces of fiction written by enthusiastic and earnest young women are “works of art.” This obscure phrase merely confuses the issue, though doubtless the belief that a suppressed book is a work of art wins it many supporters. And the question is not what “the most broadminded of magistrates” should do when the book is arraigned before him: the point is that it should not be brought before him; the fault is not with Pilate.7 There is a commonsense knowledge by inspection of 1929 594 ] pornographic literature of the underworld sort, which is adequate. There is another type of pornographic literature, of which I have seen specimens, and which is always written in such a way as to avoid the possibility of police action. Miss James’s book, I am sure from your own testimony, is not pornographic. Yours, etc., 24, Russell Square, W. C. 1 T. S. Eliot March 19th. Notes 1. Sleeveless Errand, the first novel by Norah C. James (1901-79), was published by Eric Partridge at the Scholartis Press in Feb 1929, depicting a milieu of hard-drinking, looseliving young Londoners and the suicide of a female protagonist whose use of profanity (especially “bloody”) became the grounds for seizing and condemning the book, of which all but a few copies were destroyed. Snapped up by Jack Kahane for the Obelisk Press in Paris later the same year, it soon became a best seller in England. James, an employee of publisher Jonathan Cape when the book was published, went on to author over fifty novels on modern romance. 2. Edward Garnett, who served as literary adviser to Jonathan Cape, had urged Cape to publish James’s novel, but Cape declined, having recently lost his defense of Radclyffe Hall’s censored novel Well of Loneliness in the previous year. TSE discussed the Hall case in his Criterion “Commentary” of Sept 1928 (3.473) and in a letter to the Nation and Athenaeum (3.489). On 9 Mar, The New Statesman printed an editorial comment about the suppression and confiscation of Sleeveless Errand, advising publishers to avoid “fifth-rate literature of the sort which sells only on account of its tickling sensuality” (686). Garnett criticized the judicial proceedings as a “farce” and defended James’s novel in his letter of 16 Mar: “As a literary critic and publisher’s reader of forty years’ experience, not only do I deny that there are prurient or pornographic pictures in the book, but I assert that it is...


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