Reading list

Mad, bad and dangerous to read

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Uncle Tom's Cabin tells the story of a slave who finds himself in the position of being sold by an owner whose loyalty he thought he had secured.

Banned in the southern states over its abolitionist message, it nonetheless became a best-seller in the 19th century and was adapted for stage and film several times.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of A Clockwork Orange was notoriously targeted by the censor's office,with the director himself pulling it from cinemas in dismay at public protests.

After the release of the film brought the work to wider public attention, the novel itself was also the target of censorship over its language, with the book being pulled from libraries and schools in Colorado, Massachusetts and Alabama. Anthony Burgess himself dimissed A Clockwork Orange later in life over his regret that the film had, in his view, glorified sex and violence and misinterpreted the book.

Ulysses by James Joyce

A lawsuit brought against this modernist masterpiece in New York addressed the question of whether obscene language in a work of literature was enough to override the author's constitutional right to freedom of expression. In the US the judge presiding over the case ruled in Joyce's favour, offering a defence of free speech in the process.

The book didn't fare so well in the UK, with Sir Archibald Bodkin, the Director of Public Prosecutions and a man with decidedly Victorian sensibilities, deeming it a 'filthy book' and preventing its import from Paris.

Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin

Attempts to ban James Baldwin's first novel over its 'recurring themes of rape, masturbation, violence, and degrading treatment of women' completely missed the beating heart of this book. This semi-autobiographical novel takes us back to Baldwin's childhood in Harlem with an abusive stepfather. The language in Go Tell It On The Mountain captures Baldwin's church upbringing, with its biblical, almost evangelical, tone and rhythm. Bans succeeded in New York and Virginia, but that hasn't stopped Baldwin being inextricably tied to Harlem culture.


Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Graphic novels are often challenged for the risks they take, none more so than Marjane Satrapi's story of growing up in a Westernised Iranian middle class and leaving for Europe after the Iranian Revolution. As well as the film adaptation being banned in Iran, Persepolis was the second most challenged book in American public libraries in 2015, and remains banned below 8th grade by the Chicago public schools system.

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

Remarque's experiences on the Western Front in WWI inspired this story of the physical and emotional toll of war and the detachment faced by soldiers after such an intense and bloody conflict. It was one of many books publicly burned under the Nazis, in this instance for its criticism of a military path that Hitler's government knew they would be taking before long. The author fled Germany after his citizenship was revoked and became a US citizen, eventually returning to Europe after WWII and spending the rest of his life in Switzerland.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

Written in the 1940s during some of the darkest times under Stalin, The Master and Margarita depicts the devil rising from hell to spread havoc and discord in Moscow. A severely redacted and altered version of the novel somehow made it past the censors' desks, but unaltered versions made their way around Russian literary society via illegal pamphlets.

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

In one of the most notorious publishing events of modern times, a short passage in Rushdie's The Satanic Verses resulted in public book burnings in the UK and calls for the author's death. Rushdie went into hiding, surrounded by constant security for some time. The novel remains subject to bans in several countries including Iran, India, Singapore, Tanzania and Kuwait.

The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall

The Sunday Express' James Douglas, notable for his campaigns against women's suffrage, argued that this tale of female love was more damaging to readers than a vial of posion, saying that 'poison kills the body, but moral poison kills the soul.' The Well of Loneliness eventually ended up in court in 1928 in a case against the Home Office over its alleged obscenity. Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster published open letters documenting the potential cultural effect of the suppression of literature, and, in a farcical legal process, the book was ruled upon by jurors who were prevented from reading any part of the work by the Director of Public Prosecutions. The book was finally published without legal challenge in 1949.

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