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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 2, No. 4 March 29, 1939



"The Decameron" has been banned. The smut-hounds have found another quarry. Boccaccio, the high-minded and classic Boccaccio, has after six centuries been found out by an Auckland policeman.

"The constable, who was a member of the London Book Club, selected "The Decameron" at random from the shelves of the library in Auckland on October 14. The book was composed of 100 so-called stories, most of which were of a very filthy nature . . .we claim it could only have a very immoral and Mischievous tendency on readers."

—"Evening Post." 25/2/39.

And so one more scalp is hanging on the puritans interminable belt. The grey ones, as D. H. Lawrence would call them, have gained a further victory. Now as never before, will young New Zealand find the flowery paths of purity and virtue much easier to tread. That "The Decameron" of all books should have fallen is incredible unless it is realised just how diseased our moral sanctions are. St. Paul long ago asserted—"To the pure all things are pure." Perhaps it was true enough once—before the regime of puritanism and cant that surrounds us. As things stand today, "To the impure all things are impure," would seem to be a more just summing-up.

Whatever is contrary to established manners and customs is always said to be immoral. An immoral act is not necessarily a sinful one; on the contrary every attitude, every opinion is by definition immoral if it diverges from the customary standard. The banning of "The Decameron" is more a comment on our own furtive and sneaking outlook on sex than a judgment on the achievement of Boccaccio. For ours is an age of pulp magazines and film close-ups—everything contributing to the all-pervasive conspiracy of silence and deceit. In the words of D. H. Lawrence:

"The whole question of pornography seems to me a question of secrecy. Without secrecy there would be no pornography. But secrecy and modesty are two utterly different things. Secrecy has always had an element of fear in it, amounting very often to hate. Modesty is gentle and reserved. Today, modesty is thrown to the winds, even in the presence of the grey guardians. But secrecy is hugged, being a vice in itself and the attitude of the grey ones is: 'Dear young ladies, you may abandon all modesty, so long as you hug your dirty little secret.' "

Without ceasing, the protest is raised, "what if such books get into the hands of the young?" At all costs the taboos imposed in youth must be maintained. An intelligent sex education—which was never more necessary and which is surely every child's right—is the one thing which is assiduously avoided. The most elementary facts are universally taboo. At present intelligence and decency are overwhelmed in a welter of stupidity; stupidity concerning sex education, marriage, morals, religion. Puritanism is begotten of stupidity; stupidity begets puritanism; the thing works in a vicious circle. The banning of a book like "The Decamcron" is in these circumstances not entirely unnatural. The genuinely pornographical—the pulp magazine, the yellow-back—is never questioned; it recognises the taboo, it is never out-spoken. It is the fresh, healthy naturalness of the Italian story-teller that is attacked. Whatever happens, the truth must not be let out, the taboo must be maintained. Perhaps their next victim will be Cellini, perhaps Shakespeare, who knows?