A third novel was also explicitly censored in the late twenties, one that may well be "the most suppressed novel ever published in England" ('JAMES" 716): Norah Cordner James's Sleeveless Errand. The reasons offered for the novel's state censorship are, as we shall see, well recited but poorly documented speculation.
The suppression of Sleeveless Errand in particular documents the parallel operations of both institutional arbiters of cultural expression, state and critic, and their concomitant discourses of agreement, allowance, and value.
If, as Christian Metz writes, "[a]ll we ever know of censorship are its failures," then the suppression of Sleeveless Errand, the novel's apparent lack of influence, and our resulting ignorance of James and her work not only signals but reveals the modality of British censorship's success (Imaginary 255).
(4) On 20 February 1929, at 6:00 p.m., police began their successful seizure of 517 copies of Sleeveless Errand "on the ground that the novel was of an obscene character" ("Seized"): first, according to Scholartis Press publisher Eric Partridge, they confiscated the stock "of the two biggest exporting booksellers," and then at 8:00 p.m., "two plain-clothes men" appeared at Partridge's flat and demanded that he escort them to the press's office, whereupon "[t]hey removed all of the copies from 30 Museum Street and noted the name of every bookseller to whom the book had been delivered" (First 25).
While a transcript of the novel's prosecution survives, the actual Home Office file for the Sleeveless Errand action has been either lost or destroyed (Marshik, British 118), so the historical record of the state's intent and implementation depends mainly on the contemporary press accounts and recollections of those involved.
(6) Thus ended the only British edition of James's Sleeveless Errand.
In actuality, one of Sleeveless Errand's most significant critical evaluations took place before the novel's printing.
The absence of Sleeveless Errand as a readable text, especially for reviewers, as the state made a particular effort to confiscate those often-complimentary copies, created an unusual situation for the early stages of the novel's reception.
Aspects of the American reception of Sleeveless Errand suggest this arbitrariness on the part of those few post-publication British reviewers.
If the three edited words that constitute the difference between the American and British editions of Sleeveless Errand marked the 9 10 9 10 border between legitimacy and obscenity, then the post-publication trajectory of the novel could be a matter of expurgation rather than suppression.
The Mercury's reaction against Sleeveless Errand suggests the dynamic Bourdieu delineates where censorship "is the structure of the field itself which governs expression by governing both access to expression and the form of expression, and not some legal proceeding which has been specially adapted to designate and repress the transgression of a kind of linguistic code" ("Censorship" 138).
However, the Home office, under the 1857 obscene Publications Act, has to perform "when a request for advice was received or a complaint was made," and this was the case with both The Well of Loneliness and Sleeveless Errand: both of these complaints came from the critical book-reviewing establishment (Joyson-Hicks 15).
Star chambers do suggest a more centralized and hierarchical mechanism of manifest censorship in the case of Sleeveless Errand than that which has been mapped hence far, and there are, at this point, suggestions that the book's suppression was motivated by more conspiratorial, state-sanctioned motivations.
(309-310) And the journal feared that the Sleeveless Errand suppression boded poorly for the nation's future: "That is life to-day in Texas, where they, indeed snoop to conquer; will it be life in England to-morrow?" (309).
British censorship not only relied on indirect mechanisms to maintain the regulation of cultural discourse; it also enacted, almost self-reflexively in the case of Sleeveless Errand, those prohibitions on the indirect mechanisms themselves.