A look at publisher Samuel Roth’s banned books
Last week, the Rare Book & Manuscript Library’s exhibit on infamous publisher, writer, and alleged “pirate” Samuel Roth, “Published as Provocateur,” opened. Roth, who attended Columbia for a brief time before dropping out, is known for his later work publishing “banned books” in the United States. Here’s a look at some of books that Roth left his mark on:
The Perfumed Garden and Kama Sutra
In 1923, Roth was arrested for sending a $35 edition of “The Perfumed Garden,” an Arabic love manual, through the U.S. mail. Apparently, Roth’s literary libido violated the Comstock Act, which called for the suppression of obscene materials. So that’s like the 20th century version of sexting, right?
Later, Roth published his own editions of “The Perfumed Garden,” as well as the Sanskrit sex manual Kama Sutra.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover
After D.H. Lawrence’s death in 1930, William Faro, Inc. published the unauthorized “Samuel Roth” edition of Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” in New York. Roth was known for leaving his personal mark on the books he published and would often sign copies of them. Talk about ego…
Roth’s unauthorized publishing of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” in the U.S. led to an international protest in 1927. Even Albert Einstein joined in the fun and signed Joyce’s document of protest. Although Joyce accused Roth of being a “pirate,” Joyce actually had no rights over the publishing of his work in the U.S., and Roth was able to take advantage of that. At Columbia, we call that good business sense.
My Sister and I
Roth published this most likely fraudulent work by Nietzsche, which tells the story of his, umm…questionable relations with his sister. Better than with his daughter. Too soon?
While these works may seem tame by today’s standards (except for Nietzsche’s maybe-true account of sisterly relations), Roth was taking pretty big chances publishing these back in his day. Without pioneering publishers like him, we might never have had “50 Shades of Grey.” Oh, sweet Christian Grey’s eyes!
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