'Sealed books to the multitude': Henry Vizetelly, radical reading, and the expansion of obscenity.

Activity: Academic talk or presentation typesInvited talk


UCL Scandinavian Studies/University of Oslo conference on the public sphere and freedom of expression in Britain and the Nordic Countries between 1815 and 1900. Part of the 'UiO:Norden project Offentlighet og ytringsfrihet i Norden, 1815-1900' ['The Public Sphere and Freedom of Expression in the Nordic Countries, 1815-1900'] project of the Department of Public and International Law at the Faculty of Law, University of Oslo, in collaboration with the Faculty of Humanities and the Faculty of Theology, the National Library of Norway and the Storting Archives.

This paper will draw upon the memoir of the publisher, journalist, and wood-engraver Henry Vizetelly (1820-1894) to discuss a range of censorship mechanisms that targeted the reading material of working-class and radical readers, such as the persecution of radical booksellers in the 1830s, the 'taxes on knowledge', and the use of obscenity law in the 1880s to intimidate publishers of cheap translations of European literature. The focus of the paper will be Vizetelly's convictions for obscene libel in 1888 and 1889 for publishing the works of Émile Zola in translation, and the importance of that prosecution for the history of the censorship of English literature.
Period7 Jun 2018
Held atUCL
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • censorship
  • obscenity
  • legal history
  • publishing history
  • Henry Vizetelly
  • taxes on knowledge
  • radical bookselling
  • nineteenth-century literature