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  • Published: 6 February 2024
  • ISBN: 9780753559932
  • Imprint: WH Allen
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 400
  • RRP: $36.99

A Dirty, Filthy Book

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

An empowering and gripping story of a pioneer of women's rights written by a critically-acclaimed writer and historian, for fans of Hallie Rubenhold, Hermione Lee and prize-winning Victorian histories.

London, 1877. A petite young woman stands before an all-male jury, about to risk everything. She takes a breath, and opens her defence.

Annie Besant and her confidant Charles Bradlaugh are on trial for the sordid crime of publishing and selling a birth control pamphlet. Remarkably – forty-five years before the first woman will be admitted to the English bar – Annie is defending herself. Before Britain’s highest judge she declares it is a woman’s right to choose when, and if, to have children. At a time when women were legally and socially subservient to men, Annie’s defiant voice was a sensation. The riveting trial scandalised newspapers, captivated the British public and sparked a debate over morals, censorship and sex.

Drawing on unpublished archives, private papers and courtroom transcripts – and featuring an incredible cast including Queen Victoria, George Bernard Shaw and London itself – A Dirty, Filthy Book tells the gripping story of a forgotten pioneer who refused to accept the role the Establishment assigned to her. Instead, she chose to resist.

  • Published: 6 February 2024
  • ISBN: 9780753559932
  • Imprint: WH Allen
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 400
  • RRP: $36.99

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.

Praise for A Dirty, Filthy Book

Michael Meyer has mined the rich seams of history and woven together a fascinating and gripping narrative. Beautifully told, it has echoes for today. I don’t know how he does it

Adam Hochschild, author of KING LEOPOLD'S GHOST

Hugely entertaining, told with verve and humour, with a riveting court trial at its heart. A terrific study of the Victorian controversy and criminalisation of contraception and the dire consequences for women of confusing medicine with morals. At last, Annie Besant has found a champion equal to the task of doing justice to her crusading life and the significance of her achievements. Victorian patriarchy denied Besant her rightful place in political history: Michael Meyer has reinstated her, in all her glorious complexity, as the pioneering feminist changemaker in Britain's history of morals, censorship and sex

Rachel Holmes, author of SYLVIA PANKHURST and ELEANOR MARX

Annie Besant was a freethinker and a half – an indomitable woman who challenged many of the discriminatory views of her day and put all her energies into social change. A great read

Prof. Helen Pankhurst CBE, Women’s Rights Campaigner

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

At a time when reproductive rights are being rolled back globally, as well as worryingly close to home, [Besant's] story needs retelling until its message is set in stone


Drawn from newspaper accounts, court records, and Besant's own memoir, Meyer's depiction of Besant fighting for reproductive rights, almost 150 years ago, is truly marvellous . . . Meyer succeeds admirably in his efforts to bring to light the story of a truly remarkable and courageous woman

Kate Lister, Daily Telegraph

Meyer interweaves Besant's multifaceted life into an engaging prose, full of intriguing details

BBC History Magazine

Michael Meyer deserves hearty congratulations for returning a remarkable woman to centre stage, where she belongs

Jane Robinson, Times Literary Supplement

Splendidly researched . . . A superbly written model for those who aspire to write significant but accessible history . . . The book fizzes along

Bob Forder, The Freethinker