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The Sexual Geographies of Reading in Post-war London

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This article examines the way in which the spaces, practices and pleasures of reading books became inscribed within a heteronormative geographical imaginary in Britain after the end of the Second World War. The active state provision of cultural welfare positioned London's public branch libraries as key loci of knowledge and information, with their own attendant logics of reading, spatiality and time. However the growing visibility of paperbacks across the city during the 1950s rendered these logics increasingly problematic, until the threatened Penguin publication of D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover finally pushed them into crisis. As seen from an analysis of the ensuing trial, the dominant understanding of the relationships between reading, knowledge and space was only preserved by reformulating them within a profoundly heteronormative geography. The second part of this article examines the extent to which the practices of queer men challenged this construction, in particular focusing on the defacement of public library books by Kenneth Halliwell and his lover, John (later 'Joe') Orton. It concludes by questioning the limits of Frank Mort's recently proposed analytical framework for pursuing historical geographical research.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: December 1, 2002

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