A Dirty, Filthy Book: Sex, Scandal, and One Woman’s Fight in the Victorian Trial of the Century
8 February 2024
W H Allen
By Michael Meyer
London, 1877. A petite young woman stands before an all-male jury, about to risk everything. She takes a breath, and opens her defence.
Annie Besant and her confidant Charles Bradlaugh are on trial for the sordid crime of publishing and selling a birth control pamphlet. Remarkably – forty-five years before the first woman will be admitted to the English bar – Annie is defending herself. Before Britain’s highest judge she declares it is a woman’s right to choose when, and if, to have children. At a time when women were legally and socially subservient to men, Annie’s defiant voice was a sensation. The riveting trial scandalised newspapers, captivated the British public and sparked a debate over morals, censorship and sex.
Drawing on unpublished archives, private papers and courtroom transcripts – and featuring an incredible cast including Queen Victoria, George Bernard Shaw and London itself – A Dirty, Filthy Book tells the gripping story of a forgotten pioneer who refused to accept the role the Establishment assigned to her. Instead, she chose to resist.