December 6

1933




"...so now there you are like it or lump it he thinks nothing can happen without him knowing he hadnt an idea about my mother till we were engaged otherwise hed never have got me so cheap as he did he was 10 times worse himself anyhow begging me to give him a tiny bit cut off my drawers that was the evening coming along Kenilworth square he kissed me in the eye of my glove and I had to take it off asking me questions is it permitted to enquire the shape of my bedroom so I let him keep it as if I forgot it to think of me when I saw him slip it into his pocket of course hes mad on the subject of drawers thats plain to be seen always skeezing at those brazenfaced things on the bicycles with their skirts blowing up to their navels even when Milly and I were out with him at the open air fete that one in the cream muslin standing right against the sun so he could see every atom she had on when he saw me from behind following in the rain I saw him before he saw me however standing at the corner of the Harolds cross road with a new raincoat on him with the muffler in the Zingari colours to show off his complexion and the brown hat looking slyboots as usual what was he doing there where hed no business they can go and get whatever they like from anything at all with a skirt on it and were not to ask any questions but they want to know where were you where are you going I could feel him coming along skulking after me his eyes on my neck he had been keeping away from the house he felt it was getting too warm for him so I halfturned and stopped then he pestered me to say yes till I took off my glove slowly watching him he said my openwork sleeves were too cold for the rain anything for an excuse to put his hand near me drawers drawers the whole blessed time till I promised to give him the pair off my doll to carry about in his waistcoat pocket..."

James Joyce's obsession with women's underwear (he allegedly kept a pair of doll's underwear in his trouser pockets and liked to put two fingers through them and walk them across the table as a joke), is only one reason why his "Ulysses" was banned in America, until today that is, December 6th 1933, when the ban was finally lifted.

The list of other great works of literature banned at some time in the United States of Constitutionally Guaranteed Free Speech is not itself illegal to reprint here, though I will no doubt be challenged, like Tony Morrison's "Beloved" on innumerable occasions, like F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" (at the Baptist College in South Carolina in 1925), like Alan Ginsberg's "Howl" in 1956. None of these challenges were upheld however, so they are banned from my list of actually and formally banned books, which runs as follows:

Mark Twain's "Huckleberry Finn" first received the Roman thumbs-down in Concord, MA in 1885; it was described as "trash" and "suitable only for the slums".

Dee Brown's "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" was banned by a school district official in Wisconsin in 1974 on the grounds that it might be polemical, that polemical may equal controversial, and that controversial is not something that we want in our schools (as this is a blog about personal history, can I note that I once played Chief Red Cloud in a school production of Arthur Kopit's play "Indians", which was based on Brown's book, much acclaimed in Britain as a work of considerable historical and sociological importance; but please don't tell that to the man in Wisconsin).

Jack London's "The Call of the Wild," achieved almost universal conflagration, finding itself banned in Italy and Yugoslavia, burned in bonfires in Nazi Germany, and prohibited at home in the USA.

Joseph Heller's "Catch-22" was subjected to literary Macarthyism by a school board in Strongsville, OH in 1972. Kurt Vonnegut's "Cat's Cradle" was suggested in its place, but this too was rejected. A 1976 District Court ruling (Minarcini v. Strongsville) overturned the ban.

J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" has been removed from classrooms and school libraries so often it would require another list. Reasons for the ban have included "unacceptable""obscene""blasphemous""negative""foul""filthy", and "undermines morality". Completely phoney, if you want my opinion. The truth is, "people never notice anything."

Ernest Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls" never even made it to the banning stage, having been printed overseas, and declared non-mailable by the U.S. Post Office. Two other Hemingway works also achieved the Index, though not in America; "A Farewell to Arms" and "Across the River and Into the Trees" in Ireland, South Africa, Germany and Italy.

Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With the Wind" is a particularly interesting case, because the reasons for its banning were precisely identical to those given in the citation when it won the Pulitzer Prize, its realism in portraying post-bellum life in the southern states.

John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" achieved a different sort of distinction, not being banned generally in the USA, but only in one place; which happened to be the very place, Kern County, California, where the book is set. Profanity and sexual references were the complaints, though surely "East of Eden" should then have qualified as well.

Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" was withdrawn after the parent of a student in an AP English class in Savannah, GA complained about its sex, violence and profanity. The ban was imposed, but quickly overturned. Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" did for the 1953 National Book Award for Fiction what "Gone With The Wind" had done for the Pulitzer, though only locally, in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Washington state.

Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" enjoys a special place in this list, being banned in places where no other books had managed to be banned before, on the Star Ship Enterprise of our voyage into the black holes of intellectual space. In his case it was an unlikely quartet of Yugoslavia, East Germany, South Korea (South, not North!) and Boston (at least they didn't throw it into the harbour).

Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" joined the elite at the hands of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, who bullied booksellers in New York, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania into advising their patrons not to buy the "filthy" book.

Herman Melville's "Moby-Dick; or The Whale" seems a fair case for banning by the anti-whaling lobby and other animal rights groups, and one can even imagine, at a pinch, the estate of Robert Lowell being secretly delighted if it were banned, thereby encouraging people to think Lowell and not Melville when anyone mentioned Nantucket. But what actually got the book thrown out of school was quite simply "community values". No one knows what community values are, but they go alongside the equally meaningless "blasphemy" as the two major causes of prohibition across world literature.

Stephen Crane's "The Red Badge of Courage" was voted off Big Literary Brother, by the agents of a rather smaller-minded and anti-literary Big Brother, in 1986, which was more than 110 years after its publication; Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter" took rather less - two years - and lasted longer; in many parts of the USA it is still banned today, generally for being "pornographic and obscene", though whether this is a branch of "community values" or of "blasphemy" or both, remains unclear.

Have you noticed how many of these books are not about sex or religion, but about the position of Black and Native peoples in America (and how come neither of those two descriptions have evaded banning?)? More than a century after the law was passed abolishing slavery, and they still haven't started implementing it properly (Americans still have reservations about how to deal with the Native peoples)! Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" is obviously on this list (though no one, save only the author, who was over-ruled posthumously, has thought to ban the sequel); and Harriet Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin" would sit there beside it, but unfortunately the rules of banning require them to be segregated. 

A third category involves books expurgated, or Bowdlerised, of which the two I would like to mention, if you will allow me, are Ray Bradbury's "Fahrenheit 451" - ironic because it is a book about the banning and burning of books; even more ironic in that the Venado Middle school in Irvine, CA did not actually ban it, but simply employed an expurgated version of the text, which presumably astute middle school students were able to get around by finding their own unexpurgated copy of the book in the town library - and Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire", which was subjected to a prudent Director's Cut in the film version... did you hear that Stella, they left half our story on the cutting room floor.

What do all of the works listed here have in common, besides their subjection to the stupidity and bigotry of the narrow-minded? Answer: every one of them is now regarded as a classic of American Literature, expected knowledge of anyone who considers themselves cultured, sophisticated and intellectually open-minded; but then, those who advocate banning do not aspire to those achievements anyway.


My thanks and congratulations to the organisers of the 2014 Banned Books Week, not just for making the event happen, but for allowing me, unchallenged and unexpurgated (and unknown to themselves), both to construct my own (very slightly air-brushed but not actually Bowdlerised) version of their list, and to use one of their illustrations (top right). May I suggest that, next year, they provide us with a festival of banned music, banned paintings, banned scientific papers, banned journalists and cartoonists, banned opposition politicians; and perhaps they would also consider using my rewrite of Heinrich Heine's famous remark about banning and burning, that "where they begin by banning books, they will end by smashing statues and burning flags".



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