During the '30s: Assessing literary intent
The most important obscenity ruling of the decade (and perhaps the early 20th century) was laid down in U.S. District Court in New York by Judge John M. Woosley on December 6, 1933 . Newspapers followed the trial closely. The book in question, again James Joyce's Ulysses, underwent many tribulations on its way to an American publication. Sylvia Beach published the completed novel in Paris in 1922 after the Little Review publication was halted. Joyce sued an American for publishing edited parts of the novel after the 1921 obscenity ruling, but found he did not have an American copyright since the work had been declared obscene.
Headed by Bennett Cerf, Random House, Inc., was determined to publish the entire book on American soil. To do so, the company arranged to have a copy seized at Customs, thereby invoking a challenge to the ban against an import of obscene literature, which was enforced by the Section 1305 of the Tariff Act of 1930. As defined by the court, “obscene” meant “tending to stir the sex impulses or to lead to sexually impure and lustful thoughts.” Judge Woosley laid out his ruling in fittingly eloquent prose, declaring “in Ulysses, in spite of its unusual frankness, I do not detect anywhere the leer of the sensualist. I hold, therefore, that it is not pornographic.” ( United States vs. One Book Entitled Ulysses). Woosley went on to state:
The victory emphasized to a vast audience a few new standards by which books could be judged:
These standards were adopted by publishers as guidelines for future publication. Some, like the whole vs. parts argument, were validated in earlier cases such as 1933's People v. Viking Press, which featured the ruling of City Magistrate Benjamin Greenspan on Erkine Caldwell's God's Little Acre, brought up on complaint by one John Sumner. Greenspan observed that “the court must find that the tendency of the book as a whole, and indeed its main purpose, is to excite lustful desire and what has been rather fancifully called ‘impure imaginations'” (Sova 65-66). Woosley's ruling enforced this on a grander scale. Courts took into consideration the intent or literary merit of a book, which is perhaps why Jim Tully's Ladies in the Parlor met with censor and not success in 1935.
In part due to the Woosley ruling, the 1930s saw an easing of censorship in books due to so-called obscenity. Other media, however, did not fare quite as well. Under pressure, Hollywood adopted the famous Movie Code in 1935.