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The Library World Volume 11 Issue 5

New Library World

ISSN: 0307-4803

Article publication date: 1 November 1908



AFTER the trenchant paper by Mr. A. O. Jennings, read at the Brighton meeting of the Library Association, and the very embarrassing resolution which was carried as a result, one can only approach the subject of the commonplace in fiction with fear and diffidence. It is generally considered a bold and dangerous thing to fly in the face of corporate opinion as expressed in solemn public resolutions, and when the weighty minds of librarianship have declared that novels must only be chosen on account of their literary, educational or moral qualities, one is almost reduced to a state of mental imbecility in trying to fathom the meaning and limits of such an astounding injunction. To begin with, every novel or tale, even if but a shilling Sunday‐school story of the Candle lighted by the Lord type is educational, inasmuch as something, however little, may be learnt from it. If, therefore, the word “educational” is taken to mean teaching, it will be found impossible to exclude any kind of fiction, because even the meanest novel can teach readers something they never knew before. The novels of Emma Jane Worboise and Mrs. Henry Wood would no doubt be banned as unliterary and uneducational by those apostles of the higher culture who would fain compel the British washerwoman to read Meredith instead of Rosa Carey, but to thousands of readers such books are both informing and recreative. A Scots or Irish reader unacquainted with life in English cathedral cities and the general religious life of England would find a mine of suggestive information in the novels of Worboise, Wood, Oliphant and many others. In similar fashion the stories of Annie Swan, the Findlaters, Miss Keddie, Miss Heddle, etc., are educational in every sense for the information they convey to English or American readers about Scots country, college, church and humble life. Yet these useful tales, because lacking in the elusive and mysterious quality of being highly “literary,” would not be allowed in a Public Library managed by a committee which had adopted the Brighton resolution, and felt able to “smell out” a high‐class literary, educational and moral novel on the spot. The “moral” novel is difficult to define, but one may assume it will be one which ends with a marriage or a death rather than with a birth ! There have been so many obstetrical novels published recently, in which doubtful parentage plays a chief part, that sexual morality has come to be recognized as the only kind of “moral” factor to be regarded by the modern fiction censor. Objection does not seem to be directed against novels which describe, and indirectly teach, financial immorality, or which libel public institutions—like municipal libraries, for example. There is nothing immoral, apparently, about spreading untruths about religious organizations or political and social ideals, but a novel which in any way suggests the employment of a midwife before certain ceremonial formalities have been executed at once becomes immoral in the eyes of every self‐elected censor. And it is extraordinary how opinion differs in regard to what constitutes an immoral or improper novel. From my own experience I quote two examples. One reader objected to Morrison's Tales of Mean Streets on the ground that the frequent use of the word “bloody” made it immoral and unfit for circulation. Another reader, of somewhat narrow views, who had not read a great deal, was absolutely horrified that such a painfully indecent book as Adam Bede should be provided out of the public rates for the destruction of the morals of youths and maidens!


(1908), "The Library World Volume 11 Issue 5", New Library World, Vol. 11 No. 5, pp. 156-200.




Copyright © 1908, MCB UP Limited

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