Barney Rosset

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.

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.

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.

Sallie Bingham is a writer, teacher, feminist activist, and philanthropist.

She is best known for her family memoir, Passion and Prejudice published by Knopf in 1989. Her most recent work is titled The Blue Box: Three Lives In Letters, published by Sarabande Books in 2014.

Her forthcoming book, tentatively titled Doris Duke: The Invention of the New Woman will be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, most likely in 2016. More on the book and Doris Duke can be found in Sallie's blog.

Sallie's complete biography is available here.


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