Anthony Comstock : biography
Anthony Comstock (March 7, 1844 – September 21, 1915) was a United States Postal Inspector and politician dedicated to ideas of Victorian morality.
- Frauds Exposed (1880)
- Traps for the Young (1883)
- Gambling Outrages (1887)
- Morals Versus Art (1887)
He wrote numerous magazine articles relating to similar subjects.
References in fiction and culture
- Comstock is one of many prominent New Yorkers of his time that appear in the historical fiction novel The Alienist, by Caleb Carr.
- The protagonist of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel The Beautiful and Damned is named for Comstock by his own reformist grandfather. “Emulating the magnificent efforts of Anthony Comstock, after whom his grandson was named, he leveled a varied assortment of uppercuts and body-blows at liquor, literature, vice, art, patent medicines, and Sunday theatres."
- James Branch Cabell was prosecuted on obscenity charges relating to his novel Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice after lobbying by the Society. Cabell retaliated with a chapbook entitled The Judging of Jurgen (later inserted into subsequent reprints of the novel), in which the title character is consigned to oblivion for being "obscene, lewd, lascivious and indecent" in a trial presided over by a dung beetle who swears "by Saint Anthony".
- Anthony Comstock is one of the four "point of view" characters in Marge Piercy’s novel Sex Wars. Piercy explores Comstock’s personal history and mindset as he goes from clerk to active "vice" suppressor.
- Comstock makes a cameo (rescued from a burning building) in Jack Finney’s novel Time and Again.
- He is portrayed by Rod Steiger in the 1995 made for TV film Choices of the Heart: The Margaret Sanger Story.
- The main antagonist of the 2013 video game BioShock Infinite was named Zachary Hale Comstock, the religious totalitarian ruler of the early 1900s flying city of Columbia. Known as "the Prophet," he leads a perfectionist driven society ridden with racism and propaganda, often portraying American-like patriotic symbols and Christianesque religious references. The aspect of Comstockery involving the broad censorship of society is a defining aspect of BioShock Infinite’s antagonist Comstock, appearing to bring reference to the historical figure Anthony Comstock.
Comstock was born in New Canaan, Connecticut. As a young man, he enlisted and fought for the Union in the American Civil War from 1863 to 1865 in Company H, 17th Connecticut Infantry. He served without incident, but objected to the profanity used by his fellow soldiers.. Afterwards he became an active worker in the Young Men’s Christian Association in New York City.
In 1873, Comstock created the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, an institution dedicated to supervising the morality of the public. Later that year, Comstock successfully influenced the United States Congress to pass the Comstock Law, which made illegal the delivery or transportation of "obscene, lewd, or lascivious" material as well as any methods of, or information pertaining to, birth control and venereal disease. George Bernard Shaw used the term "comstockery", meaning "censorship because of perceived obscenity or immorality", after Comstock alerted the New York City police to the content of Shaw’s play Mrs. Warren’s Profession. Shaw remarked that "Comstockery is the world’s standing joke at the expense of the United States. Europe likes to hear of such things. It confirms the deep-seated conviction of the Old World that America is a provincial place, a second-rate country-town civilization after all." Comstock thought of Shaw as an "Irish smut dealer.". The term ‘comstockery’ was actually first coined in an editorial in The New York Times in 1895..