Subversive middlebrow: The campaigns to ban Kathleen Winsor’sin the US and Canada

2016-03-11T15:41:23Z (GMT) by Lise Jaillant
In 1944, Macmillan launched Kathleen Winsor’s racy first novel Forever Amber with an advertising budget of nearly $27,000. Forever Amber can be seen as an example of “the feminine middlebrow novel” (Humble), a kind of commercial fiction largely written and consumed by middle-class women. The immense success of both the novel and the $6,375,000 movie adaptation met with active resistance from conservative groups in the US and in Canada. In 1946, Winsor’s novel went on trial in Boston for obscenity. Moreover, the appeals to boycott movie theatres that played Forever Amber triggered similar campaigns in Canada. The Catholic press in Quebec endorsed the boycotts, and the Toronto politician David A. Balfour demanded a ban on “salacious literature.” Drawing on extensive archival research in the Macmillan collection at the New York Public Library and the Annie Laurie Williams papers at Columbia University Library, this article shows that a “middlebrow” bestseller such as Forever Amber played an important role in the fight against censorship in the US and in Canada. Yet the cultural impact of Forever Amber has been largely neglected, in part because scholars have focused on controversial “highbrow” fiction such as Ulysses and Lady Chatterley’s Lover.