Reviews

“Werbel, a distinguished art historian, is especially qualified to analyse American visual culture. She gives a richly detailed, deeply researched and lavishly illustrated account of Comstock’s career and legacy.” Elaine Showalter, The Times Literary Supplement

Lust on Trial has its fun side, documenting the long-forgotten netherworld of post–Civil War erotica, both artistic and literary . . . . Unearthing this history is an amazing feat of pop-cultural scholarship.” Anthony Mostrom, Los Angeles Review of Books

“With every one of these captivating stories, Werbel recreates the highly erotic visual culture of the mid-to-late nineteenth century. . . . The seamless link Werbel provides between the nation’s early anti-obscenity battles and current debates over the separation of church and state, rights to privacy, and civil liberties makes Lust on Trial a work more relevant now than ever. As Amy Werbel’s titillating manuscript reveals, Comstock put lust on trial… and lust prevailed.”  Marcela Micucci,  Gotham Center for New York History

“Making good use of recent monographic studies of mass media and the history of sexuality, the author, an associate professor of the history of art at the Fashion Institute of Technology, places the architect and chief executor of U.S. anti-obscenity law in a thick social and cultural context. Scott McLemee, Inside Higher Education

“Based on an impressive amount of research into both primary and secondary sources, Werbel’s writing possesses a scholarly formality, but also accessibility, elegance, and wit . . . fascinating, page-turning.” Publisher’s Weekly

“Werbel . . . offers a richly detailed examination of Comstock’s life and mission, which she presents as a cautionary tale for our own time, when evangelical Christianity seeks to impose its values on the nation . . . An incisive history of the futility of censorship.”  Kirkus Reviews

“Werbel’s art history lens draws particular attention to the visual material Comstock found unacceptable, including dozens of illustrative examples. VERDICT A thoughtful new addition to the literature on Comstock and 19th-century sexual mores.” – Library Journal

“Amy Werbel’s Lust on Trial offers a brilliant analysis of the life and times of Anthony Comstock, the fiercely religious moralist who led the national campaign to rid the United States of sexual expression from 1873 until his death in 1915. As Werbel powerfully demonstrates, Comstock’s efforts to persuade the nation that such expression “corrupts the mind . . . and damns the soul” perilously threatened our nation’s separation of church and state. This lesson in how religious fanaticism can destroy our freedom is now more important than ever.”  Geoffrey R. Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago, and author of Sex and the Constitution: Sex, Religion and Law from America’s Origins to the Twenty-First Centuryand Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime: From the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism.

“Amy Werbel probably now knows more about Anthony Comstock than anyone alive today. (And oh, how deliciously unpleasant some of that knowledge is!) There’s a sense of discovery that keeps this narrative moving.”  Susan Jacoby, author of Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion, The Age of American Unreason and Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism

 

“In this vibrant history, Amy Werbel explores the legal and cultural battles surrounding the censorship of “obscene” materials in late nineteenth and early twentieth century New York. Lust on Trial not only mines the history of censorship and repression in a modernizing America, but also sheds light on its legacy for current debates.”  Nadine Strossen, author of HATE: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship and immediate past president, American Civil Liberties Union (1991–2008)

“In this meticulously researched study, Amy Werbel traces the rise—and eventual decline—of the figure whose name became synonymous with censorship in nineteenth-century America. She delineates how Anthony Comstock’s policing of erotic imagery touched on diverse areas of the nation’s civic life, from religion, politics, and the law to art and popular culture. In so doing, she illuminates the distinctive commingling of prudishness and prurience that shapes the American cultural imagination to this day.”  Michael Lobel, Hunter College, author ofJohn Sloan: Drawing on Illustration