Obscene intentions and corrupting effects

The Review of English Studies was founded in 1925 to publish literary-historical research in all areas of English literature and the English language from the earliest period to the present. From the outset, RES has welcomed scholarship and criticism arising from newly discovered sources or advancing fresh interpretation of known material. Successive editors have built on this tradition while responding to innovations in the discipline and reinforcing the journal’s role as a forum for the best new research. The 1868 decision in R. v Hicklin created a formula for evaluating obscene works that British and American courts would use for nearly a century. Chief Justice Alexander Cockburn, in a succinct phrase that numerous courts would quote, explained that “the test of obscenity is … whether the tendency of the matter charged as obscenity is to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences, and into whose hands a publication of this sort may fall.” Hicklin is often taken as inaugurating a new era in obscenity law, shifting attention away from the author’s intentions, and towards a vague and subjective evaluation of the work’s effects. In fact, obscenity law had always been concerned with effect rather […]

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