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EROTIC STORIES AND PUBLIC DECENCY: NEWSPAPER REPORTING OF DIVORCE PROCEEDINGS IN ENGLAND

  • GAIL SAVAGE (a1)

Abstract

The passage of the 1926 Judicial Proceedings (Regulation of Reports) Act prohibited the detailed reporting of divorce cases in newspapers. The voluminous press coverage of divorce cases commanded a large readership, but this very popularity had provoked anxiety about how such stories affected public morality. An overview of the range of opinion about this issue from the passage of the 1857 Divorce Act until the First World War will provide a context for an account of the steps by which the law underwent revision during the 1920s. The analysis will show both how the meaning of the public ridicule of sexual transgression changed over time and the ways in which the logically necessary but inherently unstable relationship between the erotic and public decency provided an impetus for such changes in meaning. The 1926 legislation represented one effort on the part of the state to control and to regulate that relationship. It did so, not so much to protect the individual's privacy from public scrutiny and so extend the scope of the individual's freedom of personal conduct, but in order to preserve the public decorum crucial for the maintenance of hierarchies of class, gender, and age.

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My thanks to Walter Arnstein for his helpful reading of an earlier version of this essay.

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EROTIC STORIES AND PUBLIC DECENCY: NEWSPAPER REPORTING OF DIVORCE PROCEEDINGS IN ENGLAND

  • GAIL SAVAGE (a1)

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