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Alec Craig, Censorship and the Literary Marketplace: A Bookman’s Struggles

Citation: Espley, Richard (2016) Alec Craig, Censorship and the Literary Marketplace: A Bookman’s Struggles. In: The Book World: Selling and Distributing British Literature, 1900-1940. Library of the Written Word (49). Brill, Leiden, pp. 134-149. ISBN 9789004315860


Creative Commons: Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0

Alec Craig (1897-1973) was a passionate, widely published campaigner for freedom from literary censorship. His pioneering analytical history of the subject in 1937 attracted a foreword from E.M. Forster and quickly became a standard work, while he was also a prominent figure in bodies such as PEN and the British Sexological Society. He issued an inflexible call to free literature “from all shackles legal, economic and social” (Craig, 1937, p. 108), and included in this demand pre-publication amendments by cautious publishers, the pricing of works beyond the reach of most consumers, and the absence of controversial works in libraries. However, rather than campaigning for unfettered freedom for its own sake, he insisted that both censorship and pornography were symptoms of the fundamental lack of “rational sex education” and “social conditions which will obviate sex frustration” (1937, p. 155). This chapter will reassess Craig’s radical and now forgotten prescription for social and literary culture, formed in a moment of cultural optimism arguably dissipated by the Second World War. Drawing on Craig’s own archive and that of his publisher, it will explore how his reputation and works fell victim to the forces he resisted, finding poignant illustration in the fate of his library of rare editions of censored books, psychological and legal works; left to the public, it was divided and dispersed, much of it sequestered and never added to public catalogues. Ultimately, a marginalised Craig becomes a case study of the polymorphous power of censorship to limit and distort the creation and dissemination of literary culture.

Creators: Espley, Richard ( and
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Subjects: Culture, Language & Literature
Divisions: Senate House Library
  • 23 August 2013 (accepted)
  • 10 June 2016 (published)


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