Late on this hot Friday afternoon, Thomas Seltzer, 47, is working at his desk in the office of his publishing company, Thomas Seltzer, Inc.
Signature of Thomas Seltzer
Suddenly, there is noise outside the door and in walks John Sumner, 45, head of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice (NYSSV). Accompanying him is an officer of the West Side Police Court with a search warrant. They seize almost 800 copies—and also books from other publishers stored in Seltzer’s own locked desk—of three books: the novella Casanova’s Homecoming by the Austrian author Arthur Schnitzler, 60; A Young Girl’s Diary, by an anonymous author, with a foreword by noted psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, 66: and Women in Love, a novel by one of Seltzer’s star authors, Englishman D. H. Lawrence, 36. Lawrence’s most recent best seller, Aaron’s Rod, is there in plain sight, but Sumner ignores it.
Women in Love, U. S. edition
Unfortunately, there are lots of copies of Women in Love in the office because Lawrence’s novel has not done as well as Seltzer expected.
Sumner informs the publisher that he is being charged under the New York State Penal Code for “the publication and sale of obscene literature.” Sumner says he will have a police patrol car come by and haul away the books. Seltzer decides he will rent a truck to take them to the police station instead, so the books themselves will not appear to be criminals under arrest.
West Side Police Court
Sumner is Executive Secretary of the NYSSV, which is empowered by the city to search and seize any materials the Society deems obscene. But Sumner is just a private citizen, so he issues Seltzer a receipt for the books in the name of the New York District Attorney.
The NYSSV confiscates copies of the Young Girl’s Diary from Brentano’s bookstore and also arrests a clerk at a local circulating library for lending out that book to “diverse persons.”
Seltzer knows that he will need to consult his attorney before he takes any action, but his instinct is to fight these charges and to fight them quite publicly. This is going to be a big financial blow to his three-year-old publishing company, but his wife Adele, 46, a partner in his business, will support his decision. She is an even bigger fan of Lawrence than Seltzer is.
“Such Friends”: 100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”: The Literary 1920s. Volumes I and II covering 1920 and 1921 are available as signed copies at Riverstone Books in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA, and also in print and e-book formats on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. For more information, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Later in the year I will be talking about the centenary of the publication of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes at the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie-Mellon University.
If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.
Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is also available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in both print and e-book versions.