NSS to host talk with author of ‘Dirty, Filthy Book’

Posted: Wed, 21st Feb 2024

Author Michael Meyer to discuss new book on leading NSS figure Annie Besant at free online event.

NSS to host talk with author of ‘Dirty, Filthy Book’

The National Secular Society will hold a talk with the author of a new book on the life of one of the NSS's leading figures: Annie Besant.

Besant was vice president of the NSS during its earliest years in the 19th century. One of her most celebrated victories was winning a court case over the right to publish a birth control manual entitled The Fruits of Philosophy. Besant and Charles Bradlaugh, the founder of the NSS, were put on trial for obscenity for publishing the manual in 1877.

A Dirty, Filthy Book: Sex, Scandal and One Woman's Fight in the Victorian Trial of the Century, by critically acclaimed author and journalist Michael Meyer, was published this month. The book takes its name from the prosecutor's description of The Fruits of Philosophy as a "dirty, filthy book" during the trial of Besant and Bradlaugh.

In addition to recounting the trial, Meyer's book also tells the story of Besant's life, the landscape of Victorian England in which she campaigned, and how she championed the causes of women rights, free speech, and secularism.

A Dirty, Filthy Book has been widely praised, including in The Times and The Guardian.

At the NSS's free event, which will be held online on April 10th, Meyer will explain why Besant's life and work was so exceptional in the context of Victorian England, and why her trial was such a pivotal moment in the history of British civil liberties.

Meyer will be joined by NSS council member and historian Bob Forder, who will give further accounts of Besant's activities in the NSS.

Audience members will have the opportunity to have their questions answered during a Q&A session at the end of the talk.

NSS head of campaigns Megan Manson said: "This is a remarkable book about a remarkable person: one of our leading figures, Annie Besant.

"Meyer's vivid and engaging account of Besant's life and her extraordinary fight for free speech, women's rights and reproductive freedom reminds us that these rights are hard-won and require constant defence. They are still key issues for the NSS even today, 150 years later.

"We look forward to discussing this, and more, with Meyer himself. And we hope as many supporters as possible can join in."

A Dirty, Filthy Book: Sex, Scandal and One Woman's Fight in the Victorian Trial of the Century, is available from all major booksellers.

FREE EVENT | Sex, Scandal and Secularism: Annie Besant and the National Secular Society

Wednesday April 10th, 7pm – 8pm | Online, via Zoom

Tags: Free speech, Reproductive rights, Women