Once upon a time, 1857 was “the year.” It was the year of Lord Campbell's Obscene Publications Act and the same year that Madame Bovary went on trial in Paris. As years go, it was more prominent than most, its events significant enough to allow historians of pornography a place from which to look back at Edmund Curll and the origins of the legal controversy over obscene literature and, at the same time, forward to the famous trials of The Well of Loneliness, Ulysses, and Lady Chatterley's Lover, what we now consider that last, embarrassing hiccup of Victorian moralism. Dragged into prominence by Walter Kendrick's The Secret Museum, 1857 had other virtues as well. It anchored a legal history that made it easier to understand why the word “pornography,” a mid-nineteenth-century neologism, might be significant and how it was that the debates about “pornography” had become...

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