Sex and Violence on the Bookstalls
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 17 Mar 1960, p. 253-261
Edinborough, Arnold, Speaker
Media Type
Item Type
A brief survey, by the speaker, of three obscene books demonstrating that such books could be found at Toronto bookstalls, that they are cheap, and that there is a choice. The small percentage of such books. A review of what is on the bookstalls, and some figures to show what people are reading. Some suggestions as to how the issue of "sex and violence on the bookstalls" can be dealt with by parents, teachers, librarians, and others. Who should be deciding on censorship.
Date of Original
17 Mar 1960
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The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
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Full Text
An Address by ARNOLD EDINBOROUGH Editor, Saturday Night
Thursday, March 17th, 1960
CHAIRMAN: The President, Mr. Harold R. Lawson.

MR. LAWSON: Our subject today is salaciousness in literature. All I know about salaciousness is that various women's committees and other self-appointed censors are against it. The nub of the problem, I fancy, and this would be true of painting as well as literature, is how to distinguish real art from obscenity. One thing I have noticed from personal experience is that it has become almost impossible to pick out a good detective story from among the paperbacks. Agatha Christie's murders could all be committed in anyone's living room without offending good taste or propriety, but it is hard to find one now without a cover that suggests to one's family and friends that the contents deal exclusively with lust and seduction.

The fact that we consider this subject on St. Patrick's Day is purely a coincidence. However, it moved me to look up St. Patrick in my encyclopaedia where the note on him was brief and succinct. I quote: "St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland is said to have been born in Scotland. His zeal prompted him to cross the channel for the conversion of the pagan Irish. Various miracles are attributed to him, particularly the expulsion of all venomous creatures from Ireland." There may be some truth in this.

Our speaker, I am happy to say, was born in neither Ireland nor Scotland, but in England. He was educated at Cambridge and lectured there for a while. In 1947 he came to Canada, I would assume as an almost beardless youth, to become Assistant Professor of English at Queen's. In 1954 he was appointed Editor of the Kingston Whig-Standard, and in November, 1958, he joined Saturday Night in the same capacity. He serves on the National Board of the Canadian Welfare Council and on the Board of Directors of the John Howard Society, and is a Governor of the Dominion Drama Festival.

The title of his address is "Sex and Violence on the Bookstalls".

It is a pleasure to present Mr. Arnold Edinborough.

MR. EDINBOROUGH: I am not an expert on dirty books. Such a standing could only come from more enthusiasm for them than I have and from more time spent on them than I care to afford. But knowing I was going to address this august body today I picked up three obscene books on Monday to prove, 1., that it can be done on the Toronto bookstalls; 2., that it can be done cheaply (the total cost was $1.05); 3., that there is a choice (there were at least four other titles that would have proved my point just as well); and 4., that I am, at least on these three books, an expert.

The first was called MANHUNT, which advertises itself as "The world's most popular crime-fiction magazine". I did not read it all. I read the first four stories. In the first, a man picks up a New York whore, tricks her into thinking he is a detective, extorts fifty dollars protection money from her, then is put in jail for passing the dud $10.00 bills in which she paid him off. The story ends: "Damn, it was getting so you couldn't trust anybody any more."

In the second, a man boasts of having just killed his wife by sticking a fish-scaling knife in her belly; his bar companions applaud him, saying that they wished they had the courage to do the same. He so enjoys the sudden popularity that he suddenly walks out, goes home and does stick a knife into his wife's belly and she does, as one of the group has said, squawk like a chicken when it happens.

In the third, a man who has had the back of his head shot off retains enough consciousness by an effort of will to find the two men who have shot him (he is a diamond smuggler) and shoot them dead in a pool-hall.

In the fourth, a half-witted woman shoots her lover's head off because (a) he won't let her finish high school, and (b) because he won't marry her.

A brief look at the rest of the stories includes six really heavy beatings, four heads shot off, one strangling, and several other messy ends including one knifing.

The definition of obscenity as incorporated in the amended Criminal Code reads thus: "For the purposes of this act, any publication a dominant characteristic of which is the undue exploitation of sex, or of sex and any one of the following subjects, namely crime, horror, cruelty and violence, shall be deemed to be obscene." Clearly MANHUNT exploits crime, horror, cruelty and violence.

The second was a pocket book entitled: WARPED. I will not bore you with the development of the story except to say that it concerns a crooked boxer who is bought by an oversexed woman, two gamblers who muscle in on the property and a clean boxer who finally wins but only after: 1. The chief gambler has been stabbed in the throat with a paper knife. 1. His henchman is arrested after first raping, then throttling, the oversexed woman. 3. A Lesbian striptease artist who was shared by the oversexed woman and her sister has been shot. Elsewhere there have been two beatings, one sadistic scene where a woman is simultaneously raped by one man and belt--beaten by another, and a variety of Lesbian activities. Clearly, WARPED, as its title shows, exploits sex as well as violence and cruelty, and its blurb is explicit on this question: Feminine Frenzy--"Wild, wanton, slave to sensation--that was redheaded Diana, whose burning body drew men the way flame draws moths. But each new lover only fanned higher the terrible passions which tormented her, and which, unless slaked, would some day consume her. Then she met the lush and lovely dancer, Fern Mar, a girl as bewitching as she was depraved. It was in Fern's arms that Diana, at last, found her equal in the arts of love ... It was then that young Gwen, betrayed by the urges of her glorious flesh, fled from the disgrace of an unwholesome campus weekend. She took refuge with Diana, the sister she hardly knew. Gwen's hope was to find comfort in her sister's love--but instead found it in the embraces of her sister's twisted lover...!"

The third book, entitled MIMI, not only has Lesbianism, it also has a homosexual relationship fully worked out in the story, and a man who is kept by a night-club owner for the express purpose of whipping both himself and his girl. Further, the main story concerns a woman, paralyzed from the waist down, who persuades a night-club singer to have a baby by her husband which the night-club singer agrees to do. Adultery, sadism, masochism, Lesbianism, voyeurism, homosexuality and attempted abortion are all described in MIMI--equally clearly an obscene book.

Now, these two novels, and a dozen others like them, this detective fiction magazine and maybe half a dozen like it can be found anywhere on the bookstalls of this city or of this province at any time. But we should not judge from this that our bookshelves are flooded with such filth--they are not. The percentage of obscene titles is, at a generous guess, less than one per cent, especially if we rely on the old common-law definition of obscenity as that which "tends to deprive or corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences and into whose hands it may fall." This, the definition which Lord Chief Justice Cockburn first propounded in 1868 still gives, I think, a fuller meaning to what the new Criminal Code amendment calls "undue exploitation". In other words, obscene books, ones punishable by law as such, are those which exploit sex, particularly deviate forms of sex, such as Lesbianism, homosexuality, sadism, voyeurism, and masochism, to the point where it depraves the young and/or curious, into making illicit experiments. Of these, as I say, there are very few amongst the total number of books offered to the public.

What, then, is on the bookstalls? First: there are newspapers. None of these exploit sex, except in conventional advertising which now relies on pictures of pretty women to sell anything. (You can apparently get the car, the girl and the money all on the same easy terms.) Editorially, there may be some fairly detailed evidence about crime; and in the comics there may be a little shooting here and there. But the newspapers generally must be given a clean bill of health.

Second, we have the "quality" magazines. These are aimed directly at the stomach, the eye, the imagination or the intellect. There will be pages of recipes and fashions for the women--the latter modelled by females so starved as to be sexless and whose hungry look is probably even more sharp because of the calorific riot of the recipe and home making pages. There will be designs for new gardens, new kitchens or new furniture, and some innocuous fiction about clean-limbed men and well-scrubbed women having a small heart tremor on their suburban patios. There will be news-magazines and news picture magazines and a few, but very few, magazines trying to comment on the news, to give reports in depth on current social, business or political trends and trying to make some sensible pattern out of affairs for those who would prefer to be challenged rather than chivvied, who would prefer to be provoked into thought rather than to be pushed into togetherness.

Third, we have movie magazines, hi-fi sheets, TV guides and other such technical or specialized publications as Popular Mechanics, Hot Rodder, Field and Stream, etc.

Fourthly, and in a minority, we have the slick men's magazines, a product of the last four years only, which have bared the female bosom for their photographs and printed the results in living colour. Playboy, Dude, Nugget, Escapade, and Hi-Lilo they are called, and they concentrate on being sophisticated--that is, rather salacious--and designed to aid the daydreams of the young-man-about-town or in college. I suppose they exploit sex, but it is such a healthy, cheerleader, ski-weekend kind of sex that I think they would scarcely qualify as obscene even under Mr. Fulton's new term "undue exploitation". For sex in itself is not obscene and showing off pretty girls is surely not anything undue. As Senator Roebuck said in the debate last August: "Whether sex comes in small doses or big doses, sex is not obscene. Sex is perfectly clean and around it clusters the highest ideals and the purest sentiments. I do not care whether the whole book is full of it or just one page, sex is perfectly all right." This needed to be said by the Senator since the MPs in the Commons were somewhat preoccupied with this aspect of the bookstalls. This may have been because they had been lobbied by women's groups who, seeing the brashness of Playboy had seized on it without looking at the really obscene books standing near it and which I have already mentioned. Such women's lobbies I fear, for I often think that it is jealousy as much as immorality which spurs them on.

Fifthly, and most importantly, there is a large group of men's and women's pulp magazines. This group is so large that it takes up almost half the display, for example, on Toronto Union Station's bookstalls.

Let me deal with the women's pulps first. They are all the "Confessions" type, all purporting to be true stories about people in dire circumstances. There is always a story of a wife who cheats her husband; there is always a real tear-jerker about giving up a baby desperately wanted but financially unprovided for; (my favourite such story was one last August in True Confessions entitled "Dirt Poor and Desperate, We Traded our Baby for a Tractor"); there is always a gang story (the current issue of Uncensored Confessions has a typical one called "I Dont Want To Die" elaborated in the subtitle thus: "Even my love for Denny couldn't protect him from the fury of a teen gang"); and there is nearly always an ex-convict story or an account of what goes on inside prison walls (particularly girls' prisons). The emphasis is on hard luck, hard times and hard living. All the stories are about what the prayer book calls "miserable sinners" and all pay handsomely for the follies they commit. There is in this group a sentimentality, which is nauseating and a kind of eye-for-eye morality, which Moses himself would applaud. They do not tend to deprave or corrupt-on the contrary, they show the evil, the suffering and the despair which corruption and depravity bring in the bleakest possible light.

The men's pulps, on the other hand, are aimed at showing how a virile, red-blooded, physically-fit man can endure almost anything. In Male, Stag, Climax, Saga or any of a score of other such publications, man is shown every month being crushed by South American pythons, eaten alive by African vampire bats, mauled by Alaskan bears and being slashed by Australian sharks. He also faces torture in German concentration camps, Russian prison camps and Arab slave-traders' dows. The epic gun battles in the American West are lovingly retold, and the American marines take every atoll in the Pacific with their bare hands and leather necks. Generals are exposed, politicians are scorned and authority is shown to be stupid.

The whole motivation of the pulp magazine thus becomes clear. It is not exploiting sex, nor piling horror on horror nor dealing with crime or violence for the sake of it ... In other words, the pulps are not obscene. They are merely offering a violently-coloured, two-dimensional world into which their readers can escape. It is interesting to note that the woman who reads them wants to see people in a worse situation than her own, so that, though she has problems, they are nothing compared with the problems of the poor wretches in the magazine; the man wants to read of violent, virile creatures in a world he never sees but which, he can kid himself, he could get into if he really tried.

Before you pooh-pooh these simple-minded readers, I would like to give you some figures to show how many of these simple-minded readers exist. True Story sells more copies per month at Canadian bookstands than any other magazine with the exception of Reader's Digest and TV Guide. Between them, True Story, True Romance, True Experience and True Love sell 480,000 copies, in Canada alone, every month. Secret Romance sells 97,000, True Confessions 110,000, Modern Romance 70,000, Secrets 40,000 and nine other titles a total of 182,000. Well over one million copies of these confession magazines are sold in Canada every month, 75% of them in single copy sales at local retailers.

The men buy 158,000 copies of True and 100,000 copies of Stag each month and Saga, Sport, Climax and two others sell together over 145,0000 copies. In all, men's pulp magazines sell more than 600,000 copies per month. (By contrast--Playboy sells only 56,000 and Escapade less than half that.)

In other words, about one out of every five adults in Canada buys one of these pulp magazines a month. And we can say, therefore, that one in two reads them. And this shows where our problem lies--not in legislation but in education. The national shame is not that such trash is on sale, but that so much of it is sold.

What then must we do?

(a) For children: First, we must see that reading is given increased emphasis in the schools; see that they read with intelligence and not just skill. Second, that libraries are more intelligently used than they are now. Librarians must constantly be spurring the youngsters on, not holding them back to their school, limited-vocabulary, happy text-books. Third, that great literature in its original form is constantly thrust on those of high school age. If they are interested in sex (which they are) let them read about it in Shakespeare, in Defoe, in Pepys, in Somerset Maughan and in D. H. Lawrence. Let them read what great minds have thought about it--not mean and furtive ones.

(b) For Parents: Let all parents impose a strict censorship themselves and see what their children are reading.. Let them also look at the bookshelves and discuss what is on them with the retailer. He does not want trouble and often he just does not know what is on the stands which are serviced entirely by the wholesaler, who again is no censor and merely accepts from the publisher. Let all parents also discuss sex and crime with their children, and together with the churches, try to get the world to make a little more sense than it perhaps does at the moment.

That parents do not think that such censorship is part of their job was shown when the Attorney General's Committee on Salacious Literature sent out questionnaires to 4,500 home and school council members right across this province. The questionnaires started: 1. During the past year, did you see a publication (magazine, book, comic, periodical, etc) on display, which was offensive to you? 2. During the past year, did you see any publication, available for and in your opinion dangerous to children? and 3. Have you seen any such offensive publication in the hands of your children? What was the result of this? `From the middle of January, 1958, the time of distribution, until the middle of April, 1958, out of 4,500 questionnaires distributed, 236 were returned." Was there ever such an example of parental responsibilities being shirked? Yet, education and parental supervision alone can deal with such trash.

It will not, of course, do away with the really obscene for which there are always publishers and always buyers. What is more, such obscene books are getting more common. A list of just one brand of pocket books includes the following titles: Shack Baby, Footloose Fraulein, Call Her Wanton, Dolls and Dues, Trailer Tramp, Sinful Virgin, Gang Girl, Teaser, Hill Hoyden, Suburban Wife, Gutter Gang, The Private Pleasures of Mary Linton. That they are deliberately intended to excite and titillate is shown by one new series--Kozy Books--which with such titles as Tormented Passions and Sins of Flesh invites the reader to Cozy up with the Kozy Book.

Gentlemen, I am a magazine editor. As such I hold the freedom of the press dear. But license is not the same as liberty. I am not prepared for Saturday Night to share the newsstands with filth. These books should be banished. They need not be prosecuted, for such cases must always bring unwelcome publicity, but should be sent to the Attorney General. He will refer them to a committee of experts soon to be set up who will then confer with the wholesalers and ask them to be withdrawn from sale. Wholesalers have said they are only too glad to co-operate.

But the push must come from you, from the public. In a free society we must discipline ourselves, to keep our freedom, we must educate those who come after us. By education we may reduce the trash; by enlightened action we can 'banish the filth. But we must remember that if the undue exploitation of sex, or of sex, crime, violence, and cruelty is to be removed from our bookstalls, it is not the Minister of Justice who should do it, nor the customs authorities, nor the police--it is not even the well-meaning women's groups or zealous churchmen's leagues who should do it. We should do it. Not only should do it, but must do it, if we are to retain our democratic self-respect.

THANKS OF THE MEETING were expressed by Mr. J. B. McGeachy.

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Sex and Violence on the Bookstalls

A brief survey, by the speaker, of three obscene books demonstrating that such books could be found at Toronto bookstalls, that they are cheap, and that there is a choice. The small percentage of such books. A review of what is on the bookstalls, and some figures to show what people are reading. Some suggestions as to how the issue of "sex and violence on the bookstalls" can be dealt with by parents, teachers, librarians, and others. Who should be deciding on censorship.