Department of History

Obscene Reading in Britain and France c1900-1960

Project summary

If the readers of popular fiction in the twentieth century were, in the words of literary critic Q. D. Leavis, 'an unknown public,' then how much more opaque were the readers of obscene literature in all its forms?

Obscene reading formed a huge part of the market in books and magazines in this period.

Most histories of obscenity concentrate on the struggle for free speech on the part of a few famous writers - Emile Zola, James Joyce, or D. H. Lawrence, but very few aim to map out the nature of this market in its mundane, everyday operations, to examine who read what, and in what context. 

Sub-projects include examining the attempts to ban obscene French literature in interwar Britain, and to examine how the British and French governments collaborated and differed in their attempts to do this.

Worn orange book cover for Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence


Who's involved

Harry Cocks

Project schedule

January 2019 – September 2021  


The British Academy

Leverhulme Trust



Department of History

University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

Contact details