There are a myriad of reasons why books end up being banned, some of which may be justified while others are just plain frivolous. However, it is also true that times change and what was once seen as offensive might actually be quite tame by modern standards. Quite often the act of banning books has quite the opposite effect, as it draws the curiosity of people who might otherwise have not been interested in these books at all. Thankfully, the act of banning books is not as common as it used to be and the internet has also made it much easier to find banned books that might have been unobtainable otherwise. In fact, there are a couple of books that were once banned, but which are not available as free eBooks. For anyone interested in seeing what the fuss was all about, here are just a few examples of these previously banned books.
by James Joyce
Ulysses, the work of author James Joyce, was first serialized in a literary magazine called “The Little Review” between 1918 and 1920. All was well until the magazine published the infamous “Nausicaa” chapter, which contains a scene where one of the characters masturbates. This resulted in an obscenity trial where the magazine was declared to be obscene and Ulysses banned in the US. The story was published as a novel in 1922, but due to the ban it wasn’t available in America and the United States Post Office Department went as far as burning copies of the book. It wasn’t until 1934 that the book was available freely in America, while Ireland had to wait until the 1960s to get their hands on the novel.
by John Reed
John Reed, who was an American journalist, wrote Ten Days That Shook The World about the October Revolution that took place in Russia. The book was published two years after the event in 1917 and was based on Reed’s firsthand experience. Reed was reporting on the Russian Revolution for a magazine called “The Masses,” but it was forced out of publication by the United States federal government due to their policy against the war. Reed’s notes and materials were also seized by customs officials when he returned to the United States, resulting in him having to wait seven months before being able to get everything back. He then immediately wrote the book in a matter of a few weeks. Not everyone was impressed with the book, including Stalin, who promptly banned it in Russia. It was only after Stalin’s death that the ban on Reed’s book was lifted in Russia.
The philosopher Voltaire first published his French satire, Candid, ou l’Optimisme, in 1759, with English translations quickly following in its wake. In addition to a fast moving plot, Candide is also known for the sarcastic tone in which it was written, despite containing lots of references to real historical happenings. Voltaire also didn’t shy away from controversy with his writing, which might explain why the publication of Candide was quite secretive. Nevertheless, the book still ended up being widely banned for charges ranging from religious blasphemy to intellectual hostility and political sedation. It even ended up on the Roman Catholic Church’s prohibited books list, none of which prevented it from becoming a best seller.
by Walt Whitman
Leaves of Grass by the American poet, Walt Whitman, was first published in 1855, but continued to re-write the poetry collection right up until the time of his death in 1892. What set Whitman apart from other poets of his time is the fact that he didn’t shy away from explicit sexual imagery. Due to this, it wasn’t long before Leaves of Grass was deemed to be obscene literature by many. However, Whitman didn’t want to hear anything about the proposed censorship of his work, which resulted in it being banned in many places, such as Boston and by retailers, such as Wanamaker’s. Of course, attempting to ban the book only made it more popular and it quickly sold out in many places.
by Robert Keable
Simon Called Peter, the work of author Robert Keable, was first published in 1921 and quickly became a best seller. The public couldn’t get enough of the tale, which featured the affair between a priest and a nurse during wartime France. Keable courted controversy by featuring plenty of religious and sexual content in his book, but this didn’t prevent the book from selling hundreds and thousands of copies. Numerous attempts were made to ban the book and charges were even brought against the owner of a Boston rental library as well as the owner of a bookshop simply for selling the book.