Interwar and post-war American erotica

598 Seventh Ave., circa late 1960s. This was originally the Liberty Book Shop, later named Forsythe Books.
Photo courtesy Guy Gonzales, New York City.
Sourced here.

After cleaning up my American erotica and American exploitation pages, I stumbled upon this quote from, on which Jay Gertzman himself comments with a link to American Fetish – a forthcoming book by Robert V. Bienvenu II, Ph.D.

There was a certain odd gap in my research. I had plenty of material on the Victorian era: Munby and Cullwick, Sacher-Masoch, Krafft-Ebing and My Secret Life, just to name a few things. After WWII there’s Willie, Stanton and Bilbrew, the biker/leatherman culture, L’Histoire de O, the Profumo scandal and so on.

But what happened in kink in the Interwar period? There’s the Weimar Republic of Germany, as documented by Mel Gordon’s [correction mine] Voluptuous Panic. I also want to work in William Charles Moulton and his creation, Wonder Woman. And what else?

Furthermore, what happened in America all those years before the 40s? Why was the US apparently so vanilla compared to Europe?

Jay A. Gertzman’s Bookleggers and Smuthounds: The trade in erotica, 1920-1940 (University of Pennsylvania, 2002) helps a lot. It covers a strange era in US history when Americans grappled with the issue of what is permissible in print, which Europeans had dealt with generations before. The main axis of conflict is between immigrant pornographer and “pariah capitalist” Samuel Roth, and John Saxon Sumner, the more polite and reflective successor to the great American censor, Anthony Comstock.

Gertzman’s divides the erotic book trade into five categories: gallantiana, sex pulps (set in the here and now), erotology and sexology, “bibles” and “readers” (cheap paperbacks), and classical and modern books “judged to be rankly indecent.” (Pg. 61)

Gallantiana, a term coined by Gershon Legman, is “those marginal elements of unexpurgated literature such as jest-books and balladry, works on (and against) women and love, facetious treatises in prose and in verse, and the hinterland of scatologica.” (Pg.62) This included Beardsley’s Under the Hill, Venus in Furs and other works that had, or tried to have, a certain upper-class grace. —Peter Tupper via


2 thoughts on “Interwar and post-war American erotica

  1. jahsonic

    You are most welcome. Thank you for your text. I am currently reading Philippe Jullian’s Dreamers of Decadence (1969) and Mario Praz’s Romantic Agony (1930) The first does for the visual arts which the second does for literature. These books along with Foucault can strengthen your history of perversion in the 19th century.


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