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Summer 2012, 42:4, pages 375-396

A Rhetoric of Pornography:  Private Style and Public Policy in “The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon”

Abstract: In 1885, William Stead, editor of the Pall Mall Gazette, printed an expose´ of child prostitution in London, ‘‘The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon.’’ This incendiary article helped pass the Criminal Law Amendment bill, but also garnered accusations of pornography against the ‘‘Maiden Tribute.’’ Using Stead’s four-part article as a case study, I develop a rhetorical understanding of pornography to account for the dynamic political energy and outrage generated by this text. I argue that the pornography of the ‘‘Maiden Tribute’’ managed to create a particular ignorance, one in which sexuality was isolated from material economic realities. Ultimately, Stead’s mission proved politically deleterious to the very women he professed to help.

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