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The Trials of Portnoy

Patrick Mullins

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Scribe Publications
02 June 2020
History; Ethical issues: censorship; Freedom of information & freedom of speech; Publishing industry; Freedom of information law
Fifty years after the event, here is the first full account of an audacious publishing decision that - with the help of booksellers and readers around the country - forced the end of literary censorship in Australia.

For more than seventy years, a succession of politicians, judges, and government officials in Australia worked in the shadows to enforce one of the most pervasive and conservative regimes of censorship in the world. The goal was simple- to keep Australia free of the moral contamination of impure literature. Under the censorship regime, books that might damage the morals of the Australian public were banned, seized, and burned; bookstores were raided; publishers were fined; and writers were charged and even jailed. But in the 1970s, that all changed.

In 1970, in great secrecy and at considerable risk, Penguin Books Australia resolved to publish Portnoy's Complaint - Philip Roth's frank, funny, and profane bestseller about a boy hung up about his mother and his penis. In doing so, Penguin spurred a direct confrontation with the censorship authorities, which culminated in criminal charges, police raids, and an unprecedented series of court trials across the country.

Sweeping from the cabinet room to the courtroom, The Trials of Portnoy draws on archival records and new interviews to show how Penguin and a band of writers, booksellers, academics, and lawyers determinedly sought for Australians the freedom to read what they wished - and how, in defeating the forces arrayed before them, they reshaped Australian literature and culture forever.

'Mullins's compelling account of these last days of the old censorship regime skilfully draws on a rich range of sources, including interviews with many of the key figures involved. He gives an insight not just into how the system operated and the politics involved, but also into a significant cultural moment in Australia.' -Amanda Laugesen, Inside Story 'The Trials of Portnoy is full of the juice and drama and hilarity of the courtroom ... Patrick Mullins has written an utterly diverting account of a bit of ancient Australian literary history ... S uperb.' -Peter Craven, The Saturday Paper 'An illuminating tale about book censorship in Australia ... Publishers and bookstores are the heroes in this ... entertaining account of a 'hard-won' battle.' -Kirkus Reviews
By:   Patrick Mullins
Imprint:   Scribe Publications
Country of Publication:   Australia
Dimensions:   Height: 232mm,  Width: 154mm,  Spine: 25mm
Weight:   466g
ISBN:   9781925849448
ISBN 10:   1925849449
Pages:   352
Publication Date:   02 June 2020
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Reviews for The Trials of Portnoy

Praise for Tiberius with a Telephone This is, as others have remarked, biography at its best: diligently researched, with detail nowhere else examined, and a demonstration of fine judgement concerning the crucial interplay between personal disposition, role demands, and historical context. --James Walter, Australian Book Review A welcome addition to prime ministerial biography...An engaging and informative read. --Troy Bramston, The Australian This is the most detailed investigation and explanation of what happened...Completing a biography of this scope is an enormous undertaking, and Patrick Mullins does it with considerable skill...Mullins conveys the turmoil, the atmosphere of crisis, the bickering and the bloodletting that marked this extraordinary period of Australian political history. --David Solomon, Inside Story


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