Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Censorship. How Far Have We Come since FOREVER AMBER?

Back in mid 20th Century, erotica and erotic romance was hidden in dark bookshops off the main thoroughfare. You wouldn't want to be seen going into one. Interesting to compare the reception the book - Forever Amber got when it was published in 1944 with those published today without an eyebrow raised. It was definitely mild by today's standards.

While many reviewers "praised the story for its relevance, comparing Amber's fortitude during the plague and fire to that of the women who held hearth and home together through the blitzes of World War II", others condemned it for its blatant sexual references. Fourteen U.S. states banned the book as pornography. The first was Massachusetts, whose attorney general cited 70 references to sexual intercourse, 39 illegitimate pregnancies, 7 abortions, and "10 descriptions of women undressing in front of men" as reasons for banning the novel. Winsor denied that her book was particularly daring, and said that she had no interest in explicit scenes. "I wrote only two sexy passages," Winsor remarked, "and my publishers took both of them out. They put in ellipsis instead. In those days, you know, you could solve everything with an ellipsis."

Despite, or perhaps because of its banning, Winsor's Forever Amber was the best-selling US novel of the 1940s. It sold over 100,000 copies in its first week of release, and went on to sell over three million copies. Amber became a popular girl's name.

The Catholic Church condemned the book for indecency, which no doubt added to its popularity. One critic went so far as to number each of the passages to which he objected. The film was finally completed after substantial changes to the script were made, toning down some of the book's most objectionable passages in order to appease Catholic media critics. The film was too long, repetitious and dull and suffers from its inability to detail the eroticism of the story due to 1940s censorship. The Motion Picture Production Code was the set of industry censorship guidelines which governed the production of the vast majority of United States motion pictures released by major studios from 1930 to 1968. It was originally popularly known as the Hays Code, after its creator, Will H. Hays.

A 21st Century movie would not suffer the same problems, but it would now have to tantalize a far more sophisticated audience.

Erotic novels also suffer the same problem, and maybe why they are delving more and more into subjects that were not too long ago, taboo. One might ask where do we go from here?

Sources: Wiki and Rotten Tomatoes


Freda Lightfoot said...

Forever Amber was one of my favourite books as a teenager. I think you've done great justice to it with this post. Excellent! Made me want to read it again.

margaret blake said...

I loved this book too, like Freda I read it as a teenager, but before that I was aware of it. There used to be an English Sunday paper called The Sunday Pictorial and they serialised it. I remember my parents hiding the paper from me, but I found it and vowed to one day read this scandalous book.

Excellent on the return of Charles Stuart a must read for anyone interested in this era.

Thanks for the post Maggi.

margaret blake said...

I didn;t like Linda Darnell as Amnber or Cornel Wilde as Bruce, but George Sanders made a smooth Charles the second. I didn't mind the film, saw it again recently, but it was nothing to do with the book. I remember as a kid being scared of the old woman in the Plague House though.