1916 August 20

Cincinnati Vice Commission Attacks Dreiser’s “The Genius”


On the basis of a complaint by the Cincinnati Vice Commission, U.S. postal officials on this day temporarily banned from the mails the novel The Genius by the American writer Theodore Dreiser. John Sumner, head of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, assisted in the effort and declared that 70 pages of the novel were “objectionable” and that most were “lewd.” Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the incident is that the entire postal service would block the circulation of a book on the mere complaint of one private group.

Two other novels by Dreiser were banned at some point: Sister Carrie (New York City, 1900) and An American Tragedy (Boston, 1927). The Genius and An American Tragedy were burned by the Nazis in Germany in 1933 because of their portrayal of “low love affairs.”

For more about the Comstock Act, which barred obscene materials from the mails, see March 3, 1873. And for more about John Sumner, who succeeded Anthony Comstock as head of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, see October 3, 1915.

Read the novel: Theodore Dreiser, The Genius (1915)

Learn more about Dreiser: Richard R Lingeman, Theodore Dreiser, 2 vols (1986, 1990)

And more about Dreiser here.

Learn more: Leigh Ann Wheeler, Against Obscenity: Reform and the Politics of Womanhood in America, 1873-1935 (2007)

And more about Dreiser’s novels at Good Reads here.

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