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Law, Literature, and Libel: Victorian Censorship of 'Dirth Filthy' Books on Birth Control

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Abstract:

While the actual practice of contraception was not illegal in nineteenth-century Britain, it was dangerous to advocate birth control in print. The threat of being charged with obscenity and immorality, whether in a legal indictment, in a literary review, or in the court of public opinion, kept many writers from openly addressing this important cultural issue. In this paper, I focus on three women advocates for birth control who refused to be silenced: Annie Besant, Jane Hume Clapperton and Marie Stopes.

In 1877, Annie Besant published a tract on birth control and was arrested and charged with obscene libel. She served as her own attorney in a widely-publicized trial, which ironically for the prosecution, resulted in moving the taboo subject of birth control from the publications of the radicals to the headlines of the mainstream press. Jane Hume Clapperton made the case for birth control in a different forum a novel when she published Margaret Dunmore: or, A Socialist Home in 1888. This was the first novel in England explicitly to advocate for the use of artificial birth control. In the early twentieth century, Marie Stopes continued to publicize this controversial topic in her runaway bestsellers Married Love (1918) and Wise Parenthood (1918). Stopes also sued a vocal opponent of birth control for libeling her and made the hitherto utopian idea of widespread access to contraception a reality when she opened the first birth control clinic in Britain in 1921.

In this paper, I analyze the narrative advocacy of these women in the fields of law and literature, as well as the various approaches that were taken to censor their work.
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Name: The Law and Society Association
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http://www.lawandsociety.org


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MLA Citation:

Brandser, Kristin. "Law, Literature, and Libel: Victorian Censorship of 'Dirth Filthy' Books on Birth Control" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The Law and Society Association, Renaissance Hotel, Chicago, Illinois, May 27, 2004 <Not Available>. 2009-05-26 <http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p117005_index.html>

APA Citation:

Brandser, K. , 2004-05-27 "Law, Literature, and Libel: Victorian Censorship of 'Dirth Filthy' Books on Birth Control" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The Law and Society Association, Renaissance Hotel, Chicago, Illinois <Not Available>. 2009-05-26 from http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p117005_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Review Method: Peer Reviewed
Abstract: While the actual practice of contraception was not illegal in nineteenth-century Britain, it was dangerous to advocate birth control in print. The threat of being charged with obscenity and immorality, whether in a legal indictment, in a literary review, or in the court of public opinion, kept many writers from openly addressing this important cultural issue. In this paper, I focus on three women advocates for birth control who refused to be silenced: Annie Besant, Jane Hume Clapperton and Marie Stopes.

In 1877, Annie Besant published a tract on birth control and was arrested and charged with obscene libel. She served as her own attorney in a widely-publicized trial, which ironically for the prosecution, resulted in moving the taboo subject of birth control from the publications of the radicals to the headlines of the mainstream press. Jane Hume Clapperton made the case for birth control in a different forum a novel when she published Margaret Dunmore: or, A Socialist Home in 1888. This was the first novel in England explicitly to advocate for the use of artificial birth control. In the early twentieth century, Marie Stopes continued to publicize this controversial topic in her runaway bestsellers Married Love (1918) and Wise Parenthood (1918). Stopes also sued a vocal opponent of birth control for libeling her and made the hitherto utopian idea of widespread access to contraception a reality when she opened the first birth control clinic in Britain in 1921.

In this paper, I analyze the narrative advocacy of these women in the fields of law and literature, as well as the various approaches that were taken to censor their work.

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Similar Titles:
Producing the Legality of Work: The Local State and the Control of Labor in Mid-Victorian England.

Beyond Pregnancy--Males, Infertility, Birth Control, and Breastfeeding: Judicial Determination of Statutory Intent

Controlling Human Weeds and Liberating Womankind: Margaret Sanger's Framing Strategy in the Birth Control Movement


 
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