Victorian Pornography and the Laws of Genre



The term ‘pornography’ is in many ways characteristically Victorian in that the prolific, generative, and public debates on how to identify, isolate, and contain sexuality are all hallmarks of the production of Victorian sexuality more widely conceived. Not only did the Victorians consolidate ‘pornography’ as a genre category, but the approaches they developed for delineating the category have proved tenacious. Even though the 20th century sees the primary medium for pornography shift from print to film, the legal definitions of pornography that were laid out with respect to print in the 19th century continue to structure the regulation and understanding of 20th-century pornographic film. Books and articles published on 19th-century pornography over the course of the last decade have laid out strong arguments for the fact that pornography does not demarcate a discernibly unique set of textual features. Pornography has acted as a constituent part of how the Victorian period negotiated not only ‘sexuality’ as such, but also phenomena as diverse as expert culture, radical politics, science, race, and psychology.