Barney Rosset

in Essays

BarneyRosset Barney Rosset

Photo from The New York Times

BARNEY ROSSET died a few days ago and The New York Times ran a long obit­u­ary on February 23, cel­e­brat­ing his role in free­ing the U.S. read­ing pub­lic from censorship.

He was the pub­lisher, with his Grove Press, of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn, among many oth­ers, in the 1960’s—a few years after one of my first short sto­ries, “Winter Term,” caused a tem­pest in a teapot when it was pub­lished in the Harvard Advocate and then in Mademoiselle.

Rosset’s career reminds me of one of my long­stand­ing ques­tions about the role of women writ­ers in the U.S. then and now: did the with­er­ing of cen­sor­ship for books by Miller and Lawrence—as well as Che Guevera and Malcolm X—have any effect on the women who wrote “scan­dalously” dur­ing the same period?

I’m think­ing par­tic­u­larly of Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying and Rosemary Danielle’s Sleeping With Soldiers, both read widely, and widely criticized.

It seems that men are allowed to deal in “those matters”—sex, especially—more eas­ily, even auto­mat­i­cally, than women; a curi­ous dis­em­pow­er­ing which I think makes us a lit­tle timid, even today.

Miller and Lawrence can’t really be paired here; Miller wrote from a typ­i­cal “bad boy’ point of view, objec­ti­fy­ing women to the point or real obscen­ity (if it is defined as treat­ing human beings as vehi­cles for use) while Lawrence is sub­tle and human (not humane) in his under­stand­ing of women’s total emo­tional selves, inde­pen­dent of the wishes and def­i­n­i­tions of men.

But the ques­tions remains about the lack of access women writ­ers may still have to the mate­r­ial that has auto­mat­i­cally passed into the hands of men; and it seems fit­ting that Rosset suf­fered a moment of dis­com­fort, if not self-doubt, when a “fem­i­nist activist”—nameless in The New York Times—led an attempt to union­ize the work­ers at Grove Press in the 1970’s. Rosset called the police, and that was the end of that.

But it is not the end of the question.

View all of Sallie's online writing in her archives.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add your own }

john hancock February 29, 2012 at 5:19 am

That’s right!

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