This week is Banned Book Week (September 26-October 1, 2016), a week in which many libraries, teachers, readers, and their many allies celebrate the freedom to read and the many books which have historically (and still) face challenges and bans by a variety of people, organizations, or even whole countries. The ALA Banned Book website explains that “[a] challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group. A banning is the removal of those materials.”

Taking a tour through our British and American literature books, we’ve put together a slide show of 10 banned classics you’ll find on our shelves, along with an explanation of what has made each of them the topic of so much controversy and attention. Some books were banned or challenged in a specific place, during a specific time, and/or for a specific reason. Dates in the gallery indicate the year our edition was published. A number in parentheses indicates year the book was first published.

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  • Ulysses by James Joyce. First published in serial format between 1918 and 1920, first published as a single volume in 1922. Ours is number 222 of the first 1000 printed. Ulysses was not only banned for obscenity, it was actually burned in some countries, including the U.S. (1918), Ireland (1922), Canada (1922), and England (1923). It was banned outright in England in 1929; not officially, but unofficially banned following an obscenity trial in the U.S. in 1921; never officially banned in Ireland, but never easily available. In 1934, it was available freely for the first time in the U.S.
  • An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser. Banned in Boston, MA, in 1927, following several censorship efforts for alleged obscenity, and a subsequent trial.
  • The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Challenged at a religious college in South Carolina in 1987 due to both language and sexual references.
  • The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway. Banned in Boston, MA, in 1930, in Ireland in 1953, and in Riverside and San Jose, CA, in 1960 because of it language and use of profanity, and its central focus on sex, promiscuity and the overall decadence of its characters. It was also burned by the Nazis in Germany in 1933, possibly for the decadence of its characters and/or for its realistic depictions of war.
  • Lady Chatterley’s Lover, by D.H. Lawrence. Banned for obscenity by U.S. Customs (1929), in Ireland (1932), Poland (1932), Australia (1959), Japan (1959), India (1959), and Canada (1960-1962). In addition, it was banned by the Chinese government in 1987.
  • A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway. The novel appeared in a June 1929 issue of Scribner’s Magazine, resulting a ban of the magazine in Boston, MA, that year. The novel was banned in Italy in 1929 for its depictions of war actions (specifically those taken by Italian forces); in Ireland in 1939; and, like many of Hemingway’s works, was burned by Nazis in 1933. It was later challenged by school districts in Texas (1974) and in New York (1980) for its discussions and depictions of sex.
  • As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner. Banned in a school district in Kentucky (1986) for profanity and language (eventually overturned due to pressure from the ACLU and negative publicity). Challenged in school districts in Kentucky (1987) and Maryland (1991) for language, dialect, and obscenity. Banned temporarily by a school district in Kentucky (1994) for profanity and questions about the existence of God.
  • Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell. Banned in Anaheim, CA, high school (1978) and an Illinois school district (1984) for use of racial slurs.
  • Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh. In 2005, an Alabama Representative proposed legislation limiting the use of public money to purchase books that “recognize or promote homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle” and proposed removing any such books from school, public, and university library shelves.
  • Rabbit, Run, by John Updike. Banned in Ireland (1962-1967) for obscenity, indecency, and promiscuity. Restricted to students with parental permission in a Maine school district (1976). Removed from a Wyoming school district reading list in 1986.

Not every book is challenged or banned for the same reason, but even with these 10 examples, you can certainly see some themes. You can read more about other challenged or banned classics, as well other kinds of challenged or banned books and the reasons behind them online. But, as always, the decision about what to read is in your hands.

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3 thoughts on “Challenging and Banning Literary Classics

  1. You may wish to add Joel Chandler Harris’ works originally released as “Uncle Remus” periodical stories and eventually made into Disney’s “Song of the South.” Try buying that film. Unfortunately the fires of censorship continue to burn bright.

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