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The 1857 Obscene Publications Act: debate, definition and dissemination, 1857-1868

The 1857 Obscene Publications Act: debate, definition and dissemination, 1857-1868
The 1857 Obscene Publications Act: debate, definition and dissemination, 1857-1868
The 1857 Obscene Publications Act was designed to herald a new era of literary censorship within British publishing, addressing an increasing tension between widening access to literature and moral quality control. Yet despite the initial rush of prosecutions in the first eleven years of the Act’s passing, it never quite achieved the success that its supporters had originally predicted. While the Act was successful in targeting and prosecuting publishers of pornography, it wasn’t until after 1868, when the Act was amended following the Regina v. Hicklin case and a legal definition of obscenity was officially decided upon, that the Obscene Publications Act could reach its full potential.
Drawing on archive material from the law courts, the Houses of Parliament, and sources detailing public reaction, this thesis aims to investigate the debates caused by the Obscene Publications Act surrounding the nature of obscenity, and thus to explore the evolving relationship between the law and morality in mid-nineteenth-century England. By examining the first eleven years following the passing of the Act in 1857 until its amendment in 1868, this thesis analyses the debates surrounding the passing of the legislation and how the initial prosecutions of publishers highlighted its inherent flaws. It will specifically focus on the complex problems which developed in defining obscenity within literature and the arts, issues which were not initially the Act’s main focus. This thesis also considers how the lack of clear definition within the Act led to the legislation being appropriated for various different social, legal, religious and political agendas during this period, eventually resulting in its amendment in 1868 and a clearer definition of obscenity which was to have far-reaching consequences for literature for the next century.
Pryor, Natalie
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Pryor, Natalie
b0fcda53-ec37-4130-baec-be3eec618b2f
Hammond, Elizabeth
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Mcdermid, Jane
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Dow, Gillian
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Pryor, Natalie (2014) The 1857 Obscene Publications Act: debate, definition and dissemination, 1857-1868. University of Southampton, Faculty of Humanities, Masters Thesis, 176pp.

Record type: Thesis (Masters)

Abstract

The 1857 Obscene Publications Act was designed to herald a new era of literary censorship within British publishing, addressing an increasing tension between widening access to literature and moral quality control. Yet despite the initial rush of prosecutions in the first eleven years of the Act’s passing, it never quite achieved the success that its supporters had originally predicted. While the Act was successful in targeting and prosecuting publishers of pornography, it wasn’t until after 1868, when the Act was amended following the Regina v. Hicklin case and a legal definition of obscenity was officially decided upon, that the Obscene Publications Act could reach its full potential.
Drawing on archive material from the law courts, the Houses of Parliament, and sources detailing public reaction, this thesis aims to investigate the debates caused by the Obscene Publications Act surrounding the nature of obscenity, and thus to explore the evolving relationship between the law and morality in mid-nineteenth-century England. By examining the first eleven years following the passing of the Act in 1857 until its amendment in 1868, this thesis analyses the debates surrounding the passing of the legislation and how the initial prosecutions of publishers highlighted its inherent flaws. It will specifically focus on the complex problems which developed in defining obscenity within literature and the arts, issues which were not initially the Act’s main focus. This thesis also considers how the lack of clear definition within the Act led to the legislation being appropriated for various different social, legal, religious and political agendas during this period, eventually resulting in its amendment in 1868 and a clearer definition of obscenity which was to have far-reaching consequences for literature for the next century.

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More information

Published date: May 2014
Organisations: University of Southampton, English

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 371694
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/371694
PURE UUID: 55cfa5c5-9915-4008-8766-f89a46bc472b

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Date deposited: 02 Mar 2015 13:20
Last modified: 17 Jul 2017 21:47

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Contributors

Author: Natalie Pryor
Thesis advisor: Elizabeth Hammond
Thesis advisor: Jane Mcdermid
Thesis advisor: Gillian Dow

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