A Dirty, Filthy Book

A Dirty, Filthy Book

Sex, Scandal, and One Woman’s Fight in the Victorian Trial of the Century


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Sex and Scandal in the Victorian 'trial of the century'

June, 1877: the petite 29-year-old Annie Besant stands motionless before the 75-year-old Judge towering over her in the Palace of Westminster. Lord Chief Justice Cockburn is presiding over the scandalous 'trial of the century' where Annie Besant and her confidante Charles Bradlaugh have been charged with the unforgiveable crime of publishing and selling a guide to birth control. Charged with obscenity, she argued -- controversially and outrageously, for the time -- that it was a woman's right to be able to choose to have children. The riveting trial over freedom of speech and the rights of women captivated the British public, caused outrage across the grey Victorian establishment and helped transform Annie Besant into one of the most famous women in the Empire.

Drawing on unpublished archives, private papers and court-room transcripts, and an incredible cast of characters including Queen Victoria, George Bernard Shaw, Charles Darwin, and JS Mill, A Dirty, Filthy Book tells a gripping story of double standards that will horrify and delight in equal measure. At its heart is one of the most fascinating women of Victorian society, a little-known pioneer who single-handedly refused to accept the role that the establishment assigned her. Annie's trial lit the flame of social change, free speech and women's rights that is still burning around the world almost 150 years later.

©2024 Michael Meyer (P)2024 Penguin Audio


  • Makes the case for Annie Besant as a truly eminent Victorian, as brilliant and fearless as she was beautiful . . . [A] witty and entertaining account
    The Times, Book of the Week

About the author

Michael Meyer

Michael Meyer is a critically-acclaimed author and journalist who has written for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, and many other outlets. A Fulbright scholar, Guggenheim fellow, Berlin Prize and Whiting Award winner, Meyer has also received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Cullman Center, MacDowell, and the University of Oxford's Centre for Life-Writing. He is a Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, where he teaches nonfiction writing.
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