Banned Books Week gives us a good excuse to contemplate past and current cencorship with 10 gems – all banned at some time and place – from our catalogue.
Let’s start with Areopagitica, a small pamphlet written by John Milton opposing the censorship laws in the UK at the time – and promptly banned by their application to the text.
Censorship is not a new phenomenon. The epic poem Jerusalem Delivered, describing the first crusade, written in 1581 by Torquato Tasso, was banned for undermining the rule of the French kings.
Governments still don’t like to be criticised. The Social Contract, Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s thoughts about political justice is banned today in Iran.
You can’t please everyone at the same time. Adam Smith’s book on economy The Wealth of Nations was banned in the UK and France for criticising mercantilism and in communist countries for being too capitalist in its views.
Voltaire’s satire on religion and philosophy, Candide was widely banned, for example by Geneva and Paris, and was put on the Church index of forbidden books as well. We also have this book in the original French and in a German translation.
The Catholic Church was always keen on protecting her sheep, and many author’s complete oevre made it onto the index. Emile Zola is only one of them, and his book L’Assommoir about the conditions of the working class in Paris.
Jack London’s Call of the Wild about a freedom seeking dog was deemed too radical for Italy and Yugoslavia in 1929 and it was subsequently burned by the Nazis. We have this book in a Dutch translation as well.
South Africa banned Black Beauty by Anna Sewell – because of the contents advocating animal welfare? No, because of the word “Black” in the title…
Somewhat better to understand is the 1821 US ban on grounds of obscenity of John Cleland’s Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, published in 1748. The ban was lifted only in 1966.
Probably the worst type of censorship is self-censorship by authors and publishers. The – at first anonymously published – pamphlet 1601 by Mark Twain was deemed unprintable until the 1960s. Times have changed though and we have produced a dramatic reading of it.
Enjoy – and: Free Speech for everyone!