“Everyone is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people’s idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone says anything back that is an outrage” –Winston Churchill
“There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them” –Joseph Brodsky
This past week was Banned Books Week. (For more info, check out the ALA’s official site). I always enjoy this week–not because I think banning books is a good idea (!), but because most of my life has been so white-bread boring that I enjoy feeling a bit subversive just for reading a book. 🙂 In preparing this post, I spent a fascinating hour or so scanning lists of banned books on the Internet. Here are a few from around the Regency period:
Candide, Voltaire–In 1930, US Customs seized a shipment of Harvard-bound copies claiming obscenity. Two Harvard profs mounted a spirited defense of the work, and Customs later admitted a different edition
Fanny Hill, John Cleland–written in 1749, this tale of a prostitute was known for its frank sexual descriptions and its parodies of books like Moll Flanders. It wasn’t cleared from US obscenity charges until 1966.
And speaking of Moll Flanders–Defoe’s novel was banned from the US Mail under the Comstock Law of 1873 (the same law that banned the dissemination of birth control devices and information)
Rousseau’s Confessions–seized by US Customs in 1924 as being “injurious to public morality”
And a few I just got a laugh from:
Ibsen’s A Doll’s House–in 1983 members of the Alabama State Textbook Committee called to ban this play because it “propagates feminist views”
These geniuses also tried to ban Diary of Anne Frank (also in 1983) for being “a real downer”
Vasilisa the Beautiful: Russian Fairy Tales was challenged in Mena, Arkansas in 1990 because it contains “violence, voodoo, and cannibalism” (the perfect story, IMO!)
D.T. Suzuki’s Zen Buddhism: Select Writings, challenged in Canton, Michigan in 1987–“this book details the teachings of the religion of Buddhism in such a way that the reader could very likely embrace its teachings and choose this as his religion.” Because, of course, the last thing we need in this world is a bunch of peaceful Buddhists meditating all over the place.
What are some of your favorite “dangerous” books?