Better Left Unsaid: Victorian Novels, Hays Code Films, and the Benefits of Censorship

Better Left Unsaid: Victorian Novels, Hays Code Films, and the Benefits of Censorship

Better Left Unsaid: Victorian Novels, Hays Code Films, and the Benefits of Censorship

Better Left Unsaid: Victorian Novels, Hays Code Films, and the Benefits of Censorship

Synopsis

Better Left Unsaid is in the unseemly position of defending censorship from the central allegations that are traditionally leveled against it. Taking two genres generally presumed to have been stymied by the censor's knife-the Victorian novel and classical Hollywood film-this book reveals the varied ways in which censorship, for all its blustery self-righteousness, can actually be good for sex, politics, feminism, and art.

As much as Victorianism is equated with such cultural impulses as repression and prudery, few scholars have explored the Victorian novel as a "censored" commodity-thanks, in large part, to the indirectness and intangibility of England's literary censorship process. This indirection stands in sharp contrast to the explicit, detailed formality of Hollywood's infamous Production Code of 1930. In comparing these two versions of censorship, Nora Gilbert explores the paradoxical effects of prohibitive practices. Rather than being ruined by censorship, Victorian novels and Hays Code films were stirred and stimulated by the very forces meant to restrain them.

Excerpt

The book that follows is in the unseemly position of defending censorship from the central liberal allegations that are traditionally leveled against it: censorship leads to fewer and duller representations of human sexuality; censorship squelches political protest; censorship domesticates and disempowers women; censorship destroys art. The problem with this insistently destructive formulation is that it gives the censor both too much and too little credit—too much because it assumes that the censor is shrewdly omnipotent, controlling and restricting the artist’s every move, too little because it assumes that the goals of the censor are necessarily at odds with the goals of the artist. The censor that I will be describing in this study is at times more fallible, at times more broad-minded than the phantom enemy of free expression so often evoked by the anticensorship cause. And the artist that I will be describing knows it. Less in contest than in collaboration, the censor and the artist of my account work together to create an allusive, subtextual style of storytelling that is, in many ways, precisely the style best suited to telling tales of sexually and socially subversive desire. To demonstrate this, I will focus my attention on the role that censorship played in the shaping of two narrative art forms that are often critiqued for their seeming acquiescence to the pressures of propriety: the mainstream Victorian novel and Production Code–era Hollywood film.

Although these genres are linked by neither time nor place nor medium, it is my contention that they were governed in very similar manners . . .

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