Im always writing columns about what people should
be reading, so I thought Id do something different and
write about books that people say should not be read. We take
freedom for granted.
Recently, during one of my assignments for a Principals of
Library course, I happened to come across an interesting online
site about banned books. The site is [email protected]
It doesnt hit every book that has ever been banned,
but it does hit the highlights of banned books. The list includes
the book chosen by Modern Library as the best novel of the
20th century: Ulysses by James Joyce. The US banned it from
coming into the country in 1918. The ban was not lifted until
Harvard University found its shipment of Voltaires Candide
confiscated by US Customs in 1930. But book-banning dates
back far longer than this. Aristotle had banned books. His
anti-war writing entitled Lysistrata was banned many times
in the ancient world and in 1967, Greecethen controlled
by a military juntadecided it was a dangerous work.
Books are usually banned for religious, social, political
and sexual content. Objectionable language is also a common
reason given for banning books; so its not surprising
that the sexual content of John Clelands famous titillating
novel entitled Fanny Hill would have been banned many times
since its first publication in 1749.
Peace-loving poet Walt Whitman had his famous collection of
poetry Leaves of Grass banned in Boston because of explicit
Remember Robinson Crusoe? Author Daniel Defoe should have
stuck to poor men marooned on the island of Tobago because
his novel Moll Flanders was banned until the US Supreme Court
finally cleared it from obscenity charges in 1966.
The US mail service got into the banning act with the Comstock
Law of 1873 that made it a federal offence to mail lewd,
indecent, filthy, or obscene
materials through the US postal service. This facilitated
banning charges for some time.
The Comstock Laws are not really enforced any more but they
are still on the books just waiting to be enforced again.
The Telecommunications Reform Bill of 1996 referred back to
the Comstock Laws and applied some of them to computer networks.
Jack Londons Call of the Wild was banned in Yugoslavia
and Italy in 1929 because it was deemed too radical.
I guess the story of a wolf is kind of radical.
We all know how the South African apartheid government banned
books that threatened them politically. The white South African
government banned its own writers, but the ban also included
Mary Shelleys novel Frankenstein, which was conjured
up during a fireside chat in Switzerland with her poet husband
Percy Bysshe Shelley and other writers who went along on the
trip. Frankenstein was banned for being indecent, objectionable,
Animal stories have also incurred the wrath of censors. Censors
banned Anna Sewells novel Black Beauty, a benign story
about a horse.
D H Lawrence, who made a career of writing books that explored
sexuality, found himself embroiled in censorship when his
racy novel Lady Chatterleys Lover hit the book stands.
Both the UK and the US banned sales and the ban wasnt
lifted until the 1960s. Lady Chatterleys Lover became
one of the great, all-time underground books.
Of course, there have always been those people looking out
for what is inappropriate for students to read in school.
Banned booklists outside of this site include Alice Walkers
The Colour Purple, banned for questionable content, sex and
vulgar language. Maya Angelous novel I Know Why the
Cage Bird Sings was banned because of sex and rape.
One of the best all-time cases included in the University
of Pennsylvania site comes from a case in 1996, when a high
school in New England banned Shakespeares Twelfth Night
because of its prohibition of alternative lifestyle
instruction act. The play has a woman who disguises
herself as a boy and thats a no-no in New England.
The site also says an illustrated edition of Little Red Riding
Hood was banned in two California school districts in 1989
because Little Reds basket had a bottle of wine in it.
Afro-Americans have also jumped on the banning bandwagon.
Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer have been constant targets,
even in Mark Twains lifetime, for what has been deemed
Margaret Mitchells epic novel of the American Civil
War, the modern classic entitled Gone with the Wind, was banned
in some places that objected to Scarlet OHaras
lack of morality.
Shakespeares The Merchant of Venice was banned from
classrooms in Midland, Michigan in 1980, because of its portrayal
of the Jewish character Shylock.
The Bible and the Quran have had their fair share of
being banned in schools in the US and Russia. What does that
The history of banned books is fascinating because it tells
a lot about a societys fears of the time. What is equally
interesting is how good literature always manages to resurface
and beat the rap. That is simply testimony to the creative
and independent spirit that connects us all as readers.