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Novels and censorship

20 September 2013

September 19th, 1913.

[During the summer of 1913, subscription libraries had sought to restrict the circulation of new novels by Hall Caine, The Woman Thou Gavest Me; W. B. Maxwell, The Devil's Garden; and Compton Mackenzie, Sinister Street. Maxwell wrote to The Times to complain, and sparked a debate.]

WHEN a publisher of the eminence of Mr John Murray comes forward [in The Times] to defend the literary censorship of the circulating libraries their case assumes a new aspect. It has actually been affirmed that they have exerted the censorship for the purpose of avoiding the overloading of their shelves, and that they do not come with clean hands into the present controversy. Mr Murray refutes that charge as a calumny, and maintains their action has been based on a full sense of responsibility to their clients, who, they have reason to know, rely upon the libraries not to issue books which should not find their way into respectable and sober households. This responsibility, Mr Murray remarks, is enforced by the protests of many of their subscribers. In such cases the only course open to the libraries is to trust to their own judgment and experience. There is, of course, no fixed standard by which the moral tendency of a given book can be judged, but the manager of any library can without difficulty arrive at a fairly accurate estimate of its fitness or unfitness for admission to the family circle of his subscribers. We regard as senseless the outcry that has been raised against the librarians for acting, as they clearly have acted, within their rights. The fact that a book is published and on the market does not compel a bookseller or a book-circulator to stock it. That is entirely his own affair. He is not primarily concerned with author and publisher, but with a particular public for which he happens to cater, and it seems to us that he ought to be left to manage his own business in his own way.

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