An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser received a rather interesting trial in Boston, in 1930. In the case Commonwealth v. Freide, the judge ordered that the book could not be read in its entirety, so the only passages allowed in court were the passages objected to by the prosecution. In other words, only the dirty parts.
The book itself was a fictionalized account of the Chester Gillette murder case, which occurred in 1906. A sort of 20’s version of In Cold Blood . It examined the manner in which a man’s life and his actions are determined by such factors as his background, personality and environment. Basically, it attempts to show society as a snare for the unwary and the unprepared.
The real irony in the case was the fact that, just across the Charles, in Cambridge, the book was required reading for a Harvard English class.
Donald Freide, the publisher, paid a $300 fine. The sales of the book skyrocketed nationwide and worldwide. Nothing like a really stupid judge for publicity, is there?
Originally Published in AB Bookman’s Weekly