Censorship is a tricky subject. For some, censorship serves as an important tool in preventing dangerous ideas from reaching the impressionable or those who have the power to put them to use. For others, the banning of books is equivalent to burning them. Some would say that book in itself could be an indication of literary genius, and that it’s very possible that banning serves no purpose other than denying the masses freedom of information or making the novel itself all that more enticing for those that desire to read it. But, whether you’re for it or against it, it’s a fact that some of the modern world’s most celebrated literature, works like Ulysses or The Catcher in the Rye, have been banned somewhere, at some point in their history. With that, here are some of the world’s most famous books that have been (or still are) banned across the world.
- The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger
Today, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye remains the favourite coming-of-age novel of many people around the globe. Taught in hundreds of schools and a beloved novel by a countless amount of adults and young people alike for its classic perspective on what it feels like to grow up, The Catcher in the Rye is usually fondly remembered by readers for its expression of the complex feelings of disillusionment and aimlessness felt by adolescents everywhere. But, this was not a view shared by The Censorship of Publications Board in the Republic of Ireland, who banned the novel in 1951 for its obscene content which include profanity, sexual scenes and blasphemy. The book has since been unbanned, as most books banned by the Board are after a period of about twelve years.
- The Country Girls – Edna O’Brien
Books may be banned in the Republic of Ireland for two reasons: 1. Indecent or obscene content or 2. advocating the procurement of abortion or miscarriage, or the use of any method, treatment or appliance for the purpose of procuring an abortion (surprise, surprise). The Country Girls by Edna O’Brien was published in London in 1960 and was almost immediately banned in Ireland for its indecent content. The novel tells the story of two fourteen year-old girls, Cait and Baba, and their planned escape from convent school. The novel portrays an intimate relationship between Cait, the tragically innocent protagonist, and a Mr.Gentleman and deals with subjects such as sexuality and the complicated transition from girlhood to womanhood.
- Brave New World – Aldous Huxley.
Published in 1932, Brave New World follows the one of the novel’s main characters, Bernard Marx, through his dystopian world in which advancements in science and technology have created an eerily utopian society. Brave New World was banned in Ireland in the year of its publication for being anti-religion and its criticism of the traditional family, as well as some (gasp!) strong language . As with The Catcher in the Rye, the novel was later unbanned after a significant period.
- The Raped Little Runaway – Jean Martin
The Raped Little Runaway, written by Jean Martin made headlines as the first book to be banned for obscenity in Ireland in over eighteen years. The book was banned after a unanimous vote by all five members of The Censorship of Publications Board on the grounds that the novel featured several descriptions of rape of a child. All child pornopgraphy is illegal in Ireland, however fictional it may be. Board chairman Shane McCarthy said in his statement: “The collective view of the board was that it was a vile publication as it contained graphic descriptions of the rape of a minor.” The Raped Little Runaway seems near impossible to find even outside of Ireland. The novel shows up no results on Amazon and even the novel’s alleged publishers, STAR Publications turns up with questionable results when searched, perhaps for good reason.
Banning books is, in a way, a fascinating process. It is a curious thing that books such as The Catcher in the Rye and The Raped Little Runaway would have, at one point in time, been lumped together on the same restricted list in Ireland. But, it seems that a country’s history with literature can reveal quite a lot about the development of the society itself and its ever-changing collective psyche. It can show where a society is at with respect to its attitudes about what exactly constitutes ‘obscene’ when we are discussing sex, relationships, profanity, religion and many other topics, and that in itself is very interesting indeed.