Response to “Gilded-Age Consensus, Repressive Campaigns, and Gradual Liberalization:The Shifting Rhythms of Book Censorship”

In this chapter by Boyer, he is discussing the sort of cultural censorship that occurs without the need for laws. The morals and beliefs of the people often affects the literature we get more than people think about. What really stood out to me, is when discussing the changes that happened in the 1870’s and 80’s, a lot of the censorship was a result of women becoming increasingly literate. This had a significant affect on what was published:

“Racy books and bawdy tales once savored by gentlemen in their libraries were now deemed inappropriate for pious middle-class men and women, not to mention their children.”

pg. 277

Obscenity and Why it Mattered

The legal definition of obscenity was determined in the 1868 case of Queen v. Hicklen, and is as follows:

“The test of obscenity is this, whether the tendency of the matter charged as obscenity is to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences, and into whose hands a publication of this sort may fall.”

pg. 282

This covered a wide variety of topics, such as crime and sexual content. In 1885, Massachusetts made it illegal to sell any obscene literature to minors. Many news stands in the area were prosecuted. It is interesting that this issues comes back to parents (mostly mothers) wanting to censor their children. The culture of feminine values at the time really pressured women to put virtue and protecting their children above anything else. Hence why their interest into the world of literature sparked such a significant change. The genteel code was in place for fifty plus years, quietly controlling the type of print mostly minors had access to.

Women since then have constantly tried to break this stereotype, but it often times still exists. This type of female fragility that suggests we are too pure, and must be protected from obscene literature like children is something feminist activists like Charlotte Perkins Gilman fought against at the time and now.

How This Applies to Our Research

While we do not know that name of the complainant in our censorship case against Ellen Hopkins, we do know that she was the mother of a student. This happened in 2009, not the 1800’s, so it is interesting how the role of mothers has not changed in that regard.

In her Request for Reconsideration, the complainant includes three and a half pages of quotes she deems inappropriate (which relates to obscenity) and ends her list by saying “This is not a complete list of age inappropriate content in this book. . . just a small portion.” The type of time and energy it takes to research this material, shows an intense amount of care into the type of content her child is consuming. She did not only want her child not to read the books, she wanted to restrict access from all kids at the school.

Overall, I think the things discussed in this chapter are just an interesting parallel to the possible motives the mother in our case might have had.