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Description de l’éditeur
In Dirt for Art’s Sake, Elisabeth Ladenson recounts the most visible of modern obscenity trials involving scandalous books and their authors. What, she asks, do these often-colorful legal histories have to tell us about the works themselves and about a changing cultural climate that first treated them as filth and later celebrated them as masterpieces?
Ladenson’s narrative starts with Madame Bovary (Flaubert was tried in France in 1857) and finishes with Fanny Hill (written in the eighteenth century, put on trial in the United States in 1966); she considers, along the way, Les Fleurs du Mal, Ulysses, The Well of Loneliness, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Tropic of Cancer, Lolita, and the works of the Marquis de Sade. Over the course of roughly a century, Ladenson finds, two ideas that had been circulating in the form of avant-garde heresy gradually became accepted as truisms, and eventually as grounds for legal defense. The first is captured in the formula “art for art’s sake"-the notion that a work of art exists in a realm independent of conventional morality. The second is realism, vilified by its critics as “dirt for dirt’s sake.” In Ladenson’s view, the truth of the matter is closer to -dirt for art’s sake-"the idea that the work of art may legitimately include the representation of all aspects of life, including the unpleasant and the sordid.
Ladenson also considers cinematic adaptations of these novels, among them Vincente Minnelli’s Madame Bovary, Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita and the 1997 remake directed by Adrian Lyne, and various attempts to translate de Sade’s works and life into film, which faced similar censorship travails. Written with a keen awareness of ongoing debates about free speech, Dirt for Art’s Sake traces the legal and social acceptance of controversial works with critical acumen and delightful wit.
A professor of French and comparative literature, Ladenson (Proust's Lesbianism) sets out to answer the question, "How does an 'obscene' book become a 'classic?' " with this spry but exhaustive look at the history and culture surrounding the modern world's most controversial literature. Ladenson touches on numerous "dirty" books, using a handful of landmark titles as jumping-off points for a wide-ranging survey: Madame Bovary, Les Fleurs du Mal, The Well of Loneliness, Ulysses, Lady Chatterley's Lover, Tropic of Cancer and Lolita. Using court records, novelists' letters, newspaper reviews and other books on the subject, Ladenson constructs a vivid composite of society's shifting relationship with such polarizing subjects as adultery, homosexuality and pedophilia-including the suppression thereof as well as the appetite therefor. Tracing the evolution of "obscenity" from the 1850s to the late 20th century, Ladenson outlines the debates over "art for art's sake," as well as the province of realism, illustrating the rocky process of acceptance for the twin concepts and the literature they provoked. Witty, well-written and relevant, including fascinating details from the lives of writers, court cases as recent as the 1960s and as far-flung as Japan, and attempts to reinvent controversial works for contemporary audiences (such as two film versions of Lolita), this highly readable study should make scholars and book junkies as happy as pigs in lit.