UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Sins between the pages : the pornographic book trade in London, 1870-1900 O'Hearn, Justin


This dissertation examines the trade in pornographic texts in London during the late Victorian period. It argues that not only are these texts underrepresented in scholarship, but also that they provide vital historical documentation on the evolution of sexual thought and were among the first to acknowledge the link between sexuality and identity. This dissertation establishes a narrative of the publishers, writers, and consumers involved in the pornographic book trade and their material connection to the study and history of sexuality; the basis of this history is extensive archival work and research informed as much by what information was available in archives and, sometimes more importantly, by what was missing. In detailing the history of pornographic books and how the trade functioned in the metropolis of London—and Britain more generally—this dissertation focuses on a new intellectual movement, closely aligned to sexology but without medical pretense, that prefigured contemporary understandings of sexuality. Certain publishers took greater risks with the material they published in response to expanding readerships that created a world of fantasy that was increasingly introspective. This dissertation argues that late Victorian pornographic books reflected and, in some cases, magnified the interior sexual lives of readers. The content of the pornographic texts in this study progressively presented readers with sexualities that were increasingly connected with self-identity rather than simply series of acts. Collector cultures grew alongside this evolution in pornographic books and, as a result, created niche markets for books as aesthetic objects as well as for their specialized content. This dissertation makes new and original critical interventions in important areas of book history and print culture studies. The examination of the pornographic book trade during that latter part of the nineteenth century argues that exploitation and adaptation or earlier literary sex book traditions resulted in new presentations and understandings of the impact clandestine books could have on sex. This dissertation is the first significant scholarship on the 1899 novel Des Grieux and also the first to positively identify publisher William Lazenby.

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