Sex and the single Edwardian girl: Sex and censorship in the Edwardian novel

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Abstract / Description of output

The old adage ‘sex sells’ was evidently true for Edwardian publishers. When the publisher Desmond Flower (1907-1997) produced his list of bestselling titles for the years between 1830 and 1930, the Edwardian decade’s eighteen representatives included a disproportionate number of often controversial novels in which sex and its consequences played a central part. 1 These included Victoria Cross’s Anna Lombard (1901), Lucas Malet’s The History of Sir Richard Calmady (1901), Frank Danby’s Baccarat (1904), Robert Hichens’ The Garden of Allah (1904), W. J. Locke’s The Morals of Marcus Ordeyne (1905), Elinor Glyn’s Three Weeks (1907), H. de Vere Stacpoole’s The Blue Lagoon (1908) and Florence Barclay’s The Rosary (1909). While the decadent nineties introduced readers to what we might consider modern sexual topics, especially via the New Woman novel and its corresponding forms, the Edwardian decade built upon and developed these themes. As this chapter will confirm, it is certainly not the case that the Oscar Wilde trials brought about a return to standards of mid-Victorian reticence in the publishing industry; John Lane, the publisher of The Yellow Book, was premature in stating after the trials in 1896 that ‘the sex novel was played out’. 2 Edwardian writers were almost bound to keep faith with fiction of this type, not simply because of its potential for financial profit, but because contemporary theoretical writing on the topic provided plentiful new angles for discussion. Among the most conspicuous figures in this field were Havelock Ellis (1859-1939), whose works published during the decade included several volumes in his Studies in the Psychology of Sex series, including Analysis of the Sexual Impulse, Love and Pain, The Sexual Impulse in Women (1903), Sexual Selection in Man (1905) and Sex in Relation to Society (1910); Edward Carpenter, whose pioneering work on homosexuality influenced Edwardian writers such as E. M. Forster, Forrest Reid and Fr. Rolfe; and Friedrich Nietzsche, several of whose works were translated into English for the first time during the Edwardian decade, including Beyond Good and Evil (in 1907), The Birth of Tragedy (in 1909) and The Will to Power (1910). Against this background, as Peter Keating has noted, the ‘sex novel’ (or ‘sex problem 224novel’) was a category term ‘used indiscriminately and applied by hostile critics to almost any novel which contained a sexual element’. 3 What critics were actually alluding to when employing this term, Keating further suggests, was the period’s preoccupation with ‘questions of sexual psychology once the constraints of Victorianism had been cast away’. 4 While it is inadvisable to take on trust Keating’s black and white reading of the transition between these eras, the mark made by the new trends in sexual psychology were certainly evident in the work of numerous Edwardian writers.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEdwardian Culture
Subtitle of host publicationBeyond the Garden Party
EditorsNaomi Carle, Samuel Shaw, Sarah Shaw
Place of PublicationNew York; Abingdon
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9781351378468, 9781315146843
ISBN (Print)9781138506329
Publication statusPublished - 28 Nov 2017

Publication series

NameAmong the Victorians and Modernists


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