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Monday, October 03, 2005

Lesbian fears over banned books

BBC NEWS

Government censors in the 1930s feared that banning books about lesbianism would prompt interest in the subject, National Archive records show.

They were concerned that suppressing certain books could lead to women "getting to know" about such practices and "defeat the object" of censorship.

The issue prompted the circulation of numerous memos among civil servants.
The newly released documents are available for the public to view at the National Archives in Kew, London.

Concerns were raised after a member of the public wrote to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in 1935 to complain about a health book for women entitled The Single Woman And Her Emotional Problems.

Home Office papers reveal that the book dealt with the emotional "frustration" faced by many women living in a Britain with a shortage of men following World War I.

The book, civil servants concluded, suggested that "for some women satisfaction may be obtained either by masturbation or by lesbianism".

It prompted Mary Kidd, of St Leonards, East Sussex, to write angrily to the DPP, saying "it is a dreadful book and a most pernicious one".

In a memo to the Home Office, E H Tindal Atkinson of the DPP department, wrote: "The writer, while not openly advocating the practices mentioned on those pages, is certainly adopting a very charitable attitude towards matters which ordinarily call for condemnation."

Papers suggest Whitehall was concerned about how best to deal with the book because it did not want a repeat of the publicity surrounding the banning of Well Of Loneliness - a novel which touched on lesbianism - in the 1920s.

The documents show that J F Henderson of the Home Office wrote: "It is notorious that the prosecution of the Well Of Loneliness resulted in infinitely greater publicity about lesbianism than if there had been no prosecution.

'Unnatural practices'

"And if the object of suppression is to prevent women getting to know that these practices exist and adopting them, then I think there is no doubt whatever that the object would be defeated by prosecution and its attendant publicity."

The memos were among a bundle of documents on government decision-making in the 1930s concerning whether certain literature should be branded "indecent" and suppressed.
Other documents released contain examples of pamphlets from foreign publishing companies advertising literature for mail order on a range of subjects including flagellation and other "unnatural practices".

Many of the adverts, which were seized by police in the 1930s, contain illustrations for books with such names as A Girl And A Thousand Gobs and Strange Marriage.

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