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Word Crimes

Blasphemy, Culture, and Literature in Nineteenth-Century England

In 1883 the editor of a penny newspaper stood trial three times for the "obsolete" crime of blasphemy. The editor was G. W. Foote, the paper was the Freethinker, and the trial was the defining event of the decade. Foote’s "martyrdom" completed blasphemy’s nineteenth-century transformation from a religious offense to a class and cultural crime.

From extensive archival and literary research, Joss Marsh reconstructs a unified and particular account of blasphemy in Victorian England. Rewriting English history from the bottom up, she tells the forgotten stories of more than two hundred working-class "blasphemers," like Foote, whose stubborn refusal to silence their "hooligan" voices helped secure our rights to speak and write freely today. The new standards of criminality used to judge their "word crimes" rewrote the terms of literary judgment, demoting the Bible to literary masterpiece and raising Literature as the primary standard of Victorian cultural value.

362 pages | 22 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 1998

Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Ch. 1: Blasphemy, 1817-30
1: "You know me now, the Arch Blasphemer": The Three Trials of William Hone
2: Three Epilogues
3: Carlile, the Volunteers, and the Age of Reason Struggle
Ch. 2: Trials of the 1840s
1: "Knowledge is Power," or, the Cheap Press as Blasphemy
2: The Moxon Case and the Growth of the Poet’s Income
3: Jacob Holyoake and other "Priests" of the Oracle
Ch. 3: England, 1883
1: The "Celebrated Case" of G. W. Foote and the Freethinker
2: Two Codas
Ch. 4: Literature and Dogma
1: "Bibliolatry" and "Bible-Smashing"
2: The Heretic Trope of the Book
3: Literary Law and the Authority of Literature
4: When "Literary Difference" Became a "Criminal Offence"
Ch. 5: Words, Words, Words
1: Mr. Foote’s Trial for Obscenity
2: Victorian Euphemism and the Fear of Language
3: The Systematization of Silence
4: Jacob Holyoake, "Master of Sentences"
5: The Victorian Crisis of Language
Ch. 6: Hardy’s Crime
1: Committing Literary Blasphemy
2: "Get It Done and Let Them Howl"
3: Hardy the Degenerate, Pooley the Obscure
4: Modern Words, Modern Crimes
Abbreviations and Archival Collections

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