“Bookleggers and Smuthounds: The Trade in Erotica, 1920-1940Ó

Jay A. Gertzman (Gr’72)
$35.00 cloth; 424 pages; 53 illustrations

Between the two world wars, at a time when both sexual repression and sexual curiosity were commonplace, the erotic literature trade flourished in America. The market was large and contested, encompassing not just what might today be considered pornographic material but also sexually explicit fiction of authors such as James Joyce, Theodore Dreiser, and D.H. Lawrence; mail-order manuals; pulp romances; and “dirty little comics.Ó

“Bookleggers and SmuthoundsÓ recaptures this significant chapter in American publishing history, offering captivating portrayals of the “pariah capitalistsÓ who shaped the erotica industry, and of the individuals, organizations and government agencies who sought to control them.

Among the most compelling personalities we meet are the notorious publisher Samuel Roth, “the Prometheus of the Unprintable,Ó and his nemesis, John Sumner, head of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, a man as aggressive in his pursuit of pornographers as in his quest for a morally united Ñ and ethnically homogeneous Ñ America.

This first examination of the trade in erotica during the 1920s and ’30s provides a basis for understanding the evolution of both obscenity law and sexual explicitness in literature, and raises important issues about the relationship between moral control, idealism and the marketplace in ways that continue to resonate today.

Publishers Weekly called the book “an absorbing account of an often overlooked corner of American publishing history. Only by understanding the quintessentially American history of this business can we understand the eroticized culture we inhabit today.Ó AB Trade Reviews called it a “careful study of the shifting cultural climate,Ó and “a major work of scholarship.Ó

Ñ University of Pennsylvania Press

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Originally published on September 2, 1999