In the 1880s, few people could afford to buy books – novels cost the equivalent of a week’s rent for the average middle-class family. Instead many people rented books from a ‘circulating library’ – such as Mudie’s Lending Library (established 1852).
To protect the sensibilities of their customers, library owners refused to stock books they considered immoral. When A Modern Lover and A Mummer’s Wife, the first two novels of the young writer George Moore (1852–1933), were excluded from Mudie’s shelves – said to be after a complaint from ‘two ladies in the country’ – Moore was enraged.
After writing a scathing article in the Pall Mall Gazette in 1884, he produced this pamphlet, a sharp critique of the circulating libraries’ brand of censorship, in which he complains bitterly about the injustice of commercial interests dictating matters of taste. Publicity helped Moore’s books sell despite the ban, but moral limits versus artistic merit remained a contentious issue.
- Article by:
- Matthew Taunton
- Reading and print culture
In the 19th century, more people were reading more publications than ever before. Dr Matthew Taunton explains how technological, social and educational change made this possible.