arts

Collection of 'obscene' books on display at Oxford University

Updated 7th November 2018
Title page of The Joy of Sex: A Gourmet Guide to Lovemaking (London, 1974) by Alex Comfort, with illustrations by Chris Foss. This best-selling manual taught men and women how to enjoy a happy and varied sex life. It contains a broad menu of heterosexual options, illustrated in graphic images.
Credit: Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford/ChrisFossArt.com
Collection of 'obscene' books on display at Oxford University
Written by Rob Picheta, CNN
What do Madonna, Oscar Wilde and the comedy group Monty Python have in common? They've all been deemed obscene by librarians at the University of Oxford.
But a restricted collection of thousands of sexually explicit books, which has spent 136 years hidden away within the university's largest library, is now seeing the light of day.
Oxford's Bodleian Library is putting on display some of those works that had previously been deemed too "immoral" to be viewed by students.
They include Madonna's risqué 1992 coffee table book "Sex," the bestselling 1974 manual "The Joy of Sex," (pictured at top) and a Monty Python book that featured a nude posterior on its cover.
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Also featured is an early example of pornography written in Latin in the 17th century, and the celebrated novel "The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde, who spent two years in prison for engaging in homosexual acts.
The title page of "The Love Books of Ovid," a series of erotic poems, featuring illustrations by Jean de Bosschère that libranians deemed too obscene for general viewing.
The title page of "The Love Books of Ovid," a series of erotic poems, featuring illustrations by Jean de Bosschère that libranians deemed too obscene for general viewing. Credit: Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford/Courtesy Alain Bilot
"Many people would never guess that a major academic university library like the Bodleian holds one of the world's most extensive collections of works deemed 'obscene,'" said Jennifer Ingleheart, a professor of Latin at the University of Durham in northeastern England, who is curating the exhibition.
A signed copy of D.H. Lawrence's novel "Lady Chatterley's Lover," which featured sexual descriptions and prompted a much-publicized obscenity trial in Britain in 1960, is included in the collection, as is the light-hearted "Pop-Up Kama Sutra" book and works featuring phallic symbolism.
"Phallic Objects & Remains," published in 1889, is included in the collection.
"Phallic Objects & Remains," published in 1889, is included in the collection. Credit: Bodleian Libraries, University of Oxford
Students at Oxford, the world's oldest university, had previously needed a letter of approval from a tutor if they wished to read one of the books.
Ingleheart hopes the exhibition, which opens for eight weeks from November 15, will explore "how ideas about sexuality and suitable reading material have changed over time."