Dirty Jokes and Bawdy Songs: The Uncensored Life of Gershon Legman

Susan G. Davis

Research output: Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook


Born into a poor Jewish family, folklorist Gershon Legman (1917-99) made an independent career for himself in the study of erotic literature and obscene folklore. The book is the first full biography of this major figure in twentieth-century folklore study. Drawing on unprecedented research in Legman’s papers, the author traces his working and personal life from the 1930s American landscape of underground publishing, through midcentury sex research, through to his recovery and publication, in the 1960 and 1970s, of suppressed and censored folklore texts. Gershon Legman expanded the study of folklore in a series of authoritative works on topics ranging from limericks, folk songs, and jokes to the history of erotica publishing. Legman’s work prefigured the history of sexuality and the body, while he used the language of folklore to create a romantic outsider’s vision of American culture freed from repression. The book places Legman in the censorship battles of his times, connecting him to other important thinkers on sex and to the expansion of folklore as an academic discipline in the twentieth century. As it weighs the effect of Legman’s long exile in France, the book describes the twentieth century’s narrowing intellectual space for marginal, contrarian thinkers.
Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherUniversity of Illinois Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780252051456
ISBN (Print)9780252042614
StatePublished - Oct 2019


  • Gershon Legman
  • folklore of sex
  • obscene folklore
  • erotic literature
  • social criticism
  • censorship
  • folklore


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