Paperback Pornography: Mass Market Novels and Censorship in Post-War America

By Speer, Lisa K. | Journal of American & Comparative Cultures, Fall 2001 | Go to article overview

Paperback Pornography: Mass Market Novels and Censorship in Post-War America


Speer, Lisa K., Journal of American & Comparative Cultures


The year 1952 was an historical one in the history of American book publishing. A special committee of the U. S. House of Representatives (the Gathings Committee) formed for the express purpose of investigating the influence of paperback books on American society. Never before or since in the history of the book in the United States has a specific format been singled out for this degree of scrutiny; but perhaps never before had one been seen as a serious threat to public morality. The House investigation followed in the wake of diverse and vocal censorship efforts designed to counter the perceived threat of paperback novels, with their suggestive cover art and titillating stories.

At any other time in modern American history, protests against paperbacks might not have gained sufficient momentum to expand beyond localized censorship efforts. In the volatile political and social climate of post-War America, however, threats to the established order were taken with unprecedented seriousness. In little more than a century, paperback novels had gone from a democratizing element in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, providing reading material to anyone who could afford their nominal price, to a subversive influence in the mid-twentieth century, for much the same reason.

While several histories of American book publishing have commented on this era of censorship, none have actually examined the texts investigated by the Gathings Committee. This article will explore censorship activities of the early 1950s, with particular emphasis on the Gathings Committee investigation, and will look closely at several of the texts cited in the committee's report. Despite provocative cover art, this author suggests that the texts ultimately reinforced rather than challenged traditional notions of sexual propriety.

The mass-market paperback novel, introduced in the United States in the late 1930s, was not an original concept in publishing. The first American paperbound books were printed over a century earlier (Schreuders 31). Technological innovations facilitated the production of inexpensive books. Improvements in paper production, typesetting and printing methods coincided with the popular education movement of the 1820s and 1830s. One provided the means and the other a motive for the production and distribution of inexpensive reading material for the masses, thus ushering in the "First Paperback Revolution" in America. By the end of the Civil War, over four million paperback reprints had been sold in the United States. Their success ultimately might have undermined the regular book publishing industry, had not changes in copyright law in 1891 curbed the paperback reprint business (Between the Covers 68).

For the next four decades, the paperbound publishing industry in the United States was defunct. In the late 1920s, the country's economic crisis fostered a resurgence of interest in inexpensive printing practices and once again led to experimentation with paperbound publishing. The first effort that produced sustained success came in 1939, when Robert DeGraff launched the publication of his Pocket Books, beginning the second paperback revolution in America. What made the Pocket Book so unique and successful was more than its portable pocket size, its low price (twenty-five cents), or its range of quality fiction titles. Pocket Books used distribution methods unlike those of regular hardcover publishers. DeGraff, who had worked in the newspaper industry, saw potential there to reach a much broader audience than through traditional book outlets. Pocket Books sold on newsstands, in drug and department stores, in cigar stores, and other places where newspapers and magazines sold. In Columbus, Ohio, for example, there were six outlets where people could shop for hardcover books. Consumers could purchase Pocket Books, however, at over 218 locations around the city. While DeGraff was not the first publisher to use newspaper distribution channels to sell books, he was by far the most successful (History 68). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Paperback Pornography: Mass Market Novels and Censorship in Post-War America
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.