James Joyce. Henry Miller. D. H. Lawrence. John Cleland. Vladimir Nabokov.
Books that went on trial. Books that were “filthy.”
I don’t understand the judgment, frankly. No one forces anyone to pick up Tropic of Cancer. Someone MIGHT force you to read Ulysses but only if you’re working toward an advanced degree in Irish literature. As for Lady Chatterly’s Lover? All I remember of it is a Yorkshire workman describing to an upper class woman the functions of her anatomy, “Here tha shits, here tha pisses…”
My dad had most of this “filth” on his bookshelves. 18th century filth like Fanny Hill which, I just learned, has the distinction of being the novel banned for the longest time. Well, the novel was a new form (hence the word ‘novel’) in the 18th century so it would have been difficult to ban one before they started being written. There was Henry Miller filth, Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. There were other more contemporary dubious works such as The Carpetbaggers. There was also Lolita.
For a while these books were stashed in my dad’s sock drawer in our house in Nebraska. He also kept caramels there. I’m sure it was bait. My mom had very narrow and conventional ideas about sexuality. My dad said openly he didn’t want me to grow up like that.
As I grew older, and we moved to Colorado, and they built a house, my dad’s bookshelf was in the basement (where he couldn’t even go since he was in a wheelchair) the “sock drawer” books were on a shelf at my eye level. I knew they were “filthy” because my mom had said so.
I didn’t read Henry Miller until I was in my late 20s, and I liked his books very much. I liked the style in which they were written, I liked the world Miller was exploring, I liked the fact that he entered that world comparatively late in life. By then I’d had sexual experiences of my own and I knew what it was, basically a blind drive mixed with emotion, idealism, yearning, hope and fear. I was involved with a man whose sexuality was complicated. Henry Miller’s books were friends, not filth.
Yesterday I spent some time with my wonderful neighbor who’s now reading one of the non-Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling. I asked her if it were good and she said, “The part I’m in now has a lot of rough language, but that’s all right. The character would use that kind of talk. I don’t like it, but it couldn’t be any other way.”
And there, folks, is any reasonable person’s stance on literary “filth.”
As for this post, I don’t know. The first thing I thought when I saw the word “filthy” was my mom hitting my hand, knocking my little child finger out of my nose saying, “That’s a dirty, filthy, habit.” She was right, of course. It’s the most common cause of sinus infections in children.