Member Publications

Subscribe via Email

To submit items for Of Victorian Interest or Member Publications, please email

Better Left Unsaid: Victorian Novels, Hays Code Films, and the Benefits of Censorship

By Nora Gilbert
Better Left Unsaid is in the unseemly position of defending censorship from the central liberal allegations that are traditionally leveled against it. Taking two genres generally presumed to have been stymied by the censor's knife—the Victorian novel and classical Hollywood film—this book reveals the varied ways in which censorship, for all its blustery self-righteousness, can actually be "good" for sex, politics, feminism, and art. 
As much as Victorianism is equated with such cultural impulses as repression and prudery, few scholars have explored the Victorian novel as a specifically censored commodity—thanks, in large part, to the indirectness and intangibility of England's literary censorship process. This indirection stands in sharp contrast to the explicit, detailed formality of Hollywood's infamous Production Code of 1930. In comparing these two versions of censorship, Nora Gilbert explores the paradoxical effects of prohibitive practices. Rather than being ruined by censorship, she argues, Victorian novels and Hays Code films were stirred and stimulated by the very forces meant to restrain them.
"Turning the tables on inherited notions of oppression and freedom, Nora Gilbert shows how writers and filmmakers worked within frames of control that in their collusion the market economy and public opinion had drawn around them. Through her meticulous comparisons of Victorian novels and Hays Code Hollywood, Gilbert studies visual and verbal slippage, inference, irony and, no less, the pleasure of perversion. Informative and a delight to read, Better Left Unsaid sparkles with wit and invention."—Tom Conley, Harvard University
"An engaging, consistently shrewd, and bracingly irreverent study of how the Victorian novel and classical Hollywood film devised ingenious and morally productive strategies to evade the constraints intended to control them."—Maria DiBattista, Princeton University

"Gilbert's book is a work of many charms and considerable significance, demonstrating a sure understanding of the productive side of censorship, and providing a persuasive demonstration that Victorian novels and Hollywood films belong in the same conversation."—Ned Schantz, McGill University

ISBN:  9780804784207

Purchase from Stanford or Amazon.

Tagged as: