Although the title does not reveal it, Gary’s book employs a biographical approach to the study of how people who embraced modernism challenged the legal gender norms established in the Victorian Age and given potent legal effect through the Comstock Act and similar state legislation. Comstockery was paternalistic in every sense of the word, utilizing the concept of obscenity to protect the moral order of society by regulating sexuality. The legal standard that was used most often to decide obscenity cases was the Hicklin rule, which required only that an object have the potential to corrupt the most susceptible people to be ruled obscene. In the hands of magistrates, customs officials, and postal officials, its use was capricious and extensive.

As a cultural historian speaking to legal scholars, political scientists, and legal historians, Gary chronicles the “changes and conflicts around sex and morality in American culture in a booming, ever-expanding...

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