Friday, 28 November 2014


The influence of the modern novel upon the morals of a very large proportion of the world's population to-day is a subject to which, sooner or later, the very serious attention of more than one Government must be given. It is an influence now almost wholly mischievous, principally from the growing tendency of modern writers of fiction to prostitute their talents to the gratification of a morbid appetite for grossness and sensationalism engendered by the unrestricted publication of wretched trash of the "shilling shocker" variety. This evolutionary depravity, as it might be called, of the popular novel has reduced the power for good once possessed by writers of fiction to an almost imperceptible quantity, whilst the flooding of the libraries and homes of the world with trashy writings in which unclean suggestion seems to struggle for popularity with stupidly impossible adventure and a bold and nasty inversion of moral thought and idea, has further weakened that power till it has practically disappeared. From being an honored and useful branch of literature—valuable for its capacity for historical or moral teaching, or in its purely recreative sense—the novel has become a serious social pest. Let the works of that prince of storytellers, Scott, be compared with the staff that the great publishing houses of to-day are crowding upon the world's literary market and some idea will be gained of the tremendous deterioration that has taken place. Twenty years ago our schoolboys had the essential qualities of Anglo Saxons early and strongly developed by the works of such writers as Scott, Defoe, Marryatt, Cooper, Verne and other instructive entertainers of both youth and adult. To-day the morality of our juvenile population is poisoned immaturely by the nasty impurities of the cheap "novelette" or the no less mischievous extravagances of boy heroism found in tales of the "Deadwood" order. M. Leon Daudet, son of the great novelist, sees in the deterioration of the modern work of fiction and in the insatiable appetite for vicious sensationalism that it has crested a fruitful cause of national trouble. He considers that the morbid appetite for romance created by such rubbishy tales as fill the paper covers of penny novelettes is directly responsible for most of the unhappiness, the dissatisfaction and the consequent crime existent in the world today. He thinks that the sale of all fiction whatsoever to women and children should be prohibited, just as the sale of strong drink, tobacco, opium, or other narcotic poisons is prohibited in certain places and in certain circumstances to-day. And to a very great extent M. Daudet is right. His estimate of the existence of the great social disease to which he directs attention is beyond all question correct, and his diagnosis of the evil no loss sound. But the remedy he proposes is not a sufficient one. It would not be found possible to prevent the sale of a certain class of literature to a certain class of people. No statute framed with that object could adequately provide against evasion. What is required to properly meet the case is the absolute prohibition of the "nasty" novel, whoever the author. The publication of all literature deemed capable of exercising a contaminating influence should be prohibited, and where that was not possible, its importation should be put a stop to. The Government of the Australian Commonwealth could purge its entire territory of undesirable literature in a few weeks, if it desired to do so, and could thereafter keep out, without difficulty, the whole mass of depraved and wretched fiction with which the minds of the people, juvenile and grown up, are now being poisoned.
 Unless the legislators of the federation are willing to fail in a vital point of their public duty, they will see to it that at least some such protection against wholesale poisoning as is provided for the bodies of the people whom they represent is forthcoming to save their minds from embasement and corruption. The one provision is wise. The other is necessary. As a child, or man, is taught and nourished, so will he live. It is precisely the same with a nation. Give a people food for mind and body that is pure and healthful and without taint, and their lives and actions will reflect the wisdom of the proscription. Feed them on adulterated and poisonous meats, cram them with the moral rottenness with which the popular fiction of this age fairly reeks, and the fruits are quickly seen in crowded hospitals, and prisons thronged with malefactors of all ages and degrees. If it is important that humanity should be protected against physical poisoning, principally temporary in effect, how immeasurably more so is it that there should be some effective provision made against the wholesale and permanent poisoning of the mind that is effected amongst old and young by the cancerous and corrupt influences of the depraved modern "novel" or "novelette." Surely, a Government that takes pains to secure the one form of protection will not neglect to provide the other, and more necessary, safeguard ? There is no semblance of a reason why bad and dangerous literature should not be prohibited and excluded by any wise Government. The fact that no such restriction has ever yet been seriously attempted does not in the slightest affect the question. We know that it is necessary—that our gaols are being filled with all manner and all classes of criminals, that our records of violent crime are reaching huge proportions, and that a very considerable amount of all this added evil can be directly traced to the depraving influence of trashy and dangerous literature principally upon the younger and the female portion of our population. And knowing this, we will be more criminally negligent in failing to provide a remedy for the disease than we could be in neglecting proper precautions for the prevention of infection by black plague, or small-pox, or any other fatal and dreaded scourge of the flesh. The deadly influence of the modern "novel," and the "novelette," and the "Deadwood" horror is sapping our national vitality, poisoning the healthy minds of our young people, and inducing on all hands a depraved and overmastering desire for unhealthy sensationalism and a growing dissatisfaction with surrounding conditions that, if left unchecked, will yet work more havoc amongst us than ten black plagues could ever do. Public morality, and public safety demand that this influence should be counter acted. No thing could be more easy, as far as Australia is concerned, for ample powers for the complete exclusion from our shores of all literature deemed undesirable have been placed within the reach of our federal legislators. All who wish this great young country and its people well will join in the fervent hope that the next session of our Commonwealth Parliament will see those powers resorted to.
Bairnsdale Advertiser 25 Nov 1902

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