Lewd and scandalous books

Monash University is a child of the Sixties. The University Library began with progressive policies on collection development, just as the University established itself in opposition to the stuffy respectability of Australia's sandstone universities by teaching modern American literature alongside Latin, Law and Medicine.

One telling reminder of the Library's idealistic youth is the run of Playboy magazine held in the Rare Books Collection. The Library subscribed to Playboy and placed it on the open shelves. Now, partly disfigured, it survives here because Monash Library established a Rare Books Collection which happens to protect this relic of Menzies-era libertinism alongside the more respectable curiosa in the pre-1800 Swift Collection.

Fifty years later the Rare Books Collection at Monash houses many of such relics, and although the erotic material is dominated by an important collection of twentieth-century items — especially pulp fiction — it also has an impressive collection of eighteenth-century material. It is this lesser-known material that I have mined for the present exhibition.

With the exception of John Cleland's Fanny Hill, many of the books I have chosen are likely to be unfamiliar and, although the topics, are familiar — the sex-scandals and vices of the rich and famous — these works are likely to have lost their sting in a world where the public figures are no longer known and when a few keystrokes can unleash a flood of pornographic images. It is almost inevitable, then, that many of the 'Lewd and Scandalous' books of the eighteenth century will seem tame and restrained, even quaint and cute, to our eyes.

This exhibition contains literary and visual material that was restricted or suppressed and circulated for more than two centuries in small numbers, in privately printed and clandestine editions. Liberal as we undoubtedly are today, much of it still has the power shock. Even the most worldly among us would hesitate to quote the purple passages of Catullus, Rochester or Wilkes in public and nobody would place an unexpurgated edition of the works of these authors on the shelves of a high-school library.

Patrick Spedding, School of English, Communications and Performance Studies

Opening of the exhibition

The Lewd and Scandalous Books exhibition was  held in conjunction with the 2010 Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand Conference, To deprave and corrupt: forbidden, hidden and censored books. The exhibition was opened on Wednesday 14 July 2010 by the curator, Dr Patrick Spedding, of the School of English, Communications and Performance Studies, Faculty of Arts, Monash University.

The exhibition could be seen  from  14 July - 30 September 2010 at the Rare Books Exhibition space, Level 1, ISB wing, Sir Louis Matheson Library, Clayton campus, Monash University.