The way the term “Mommy Porn” has been slung around lately, you’d think sex had only been recently invented. And you might think that E. L. James was the first author to ever write a sexy novel. I’m happy for Ms. James and all the success she’s had, but I’m sure she’d be the first to remind us that many authors have written sexually explicit material long before Fifty Shades of Grey came on the scene. And some of these books were banned or nearly banned because some people found them offensive. Today, in honor of Banned Books Week (Sept. 22 -28, 2013), I’d like to share a few of them with you.
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne—published in 1850. Now this book has been on many high school reading lists, and actually contains no sexually explicit material. But its heroine, Hester Prynne is an adulteress and has a baby as a result of an extramarital affair. Because of this, some people felt that this was an inappropriate topic for a work of fiction. As the book became popular, a Reverend Arthur C. Coxe attempted to have the book banned in 1852. Over the years, The Scarlet Letter has faced challenges, one as recent as 1982 in Ohio. (Perhaps those objecting to the book felt Hester, in spite of having to wear the scarlet letter A, was not punished sufficiently for adultery? The book actually portrays her in a much more sympathetic light than it does her partner in adultery or her “wronged” husband.)
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert is another classic work of literature that has faced attempts at censorship. It so shocked the public when it first appeared in 1856 that the author was placed on trial on obscenity charges. Those familiar with the story may remember that the book’s main character indulged in two extramarital affairs before falling deeply into debt and committing suicide. The attempts to ban the book failed when the author was acquitted in 1857 and thereafter Madame Bovary became a bestseller (of course). When are people going to realize that the best way to insure a book’s popularity is to censor it? People want to find out what all the fuss is about!
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence. Though one version was published in 1928, the unexpurgated version not published until 1960 in the UK. The book was also banned in Australia, Canada, and the U.S. . This novel features explicit sexual encounters between married Lady Chatterley (whose husband was paralyzed due to a war wound) and the game keeper Oliver Mellors. In addition to the explicit love scenes, the terms found in the story (“fuck” and “cunt”) contributed to charges of obscenity.
The book’s UK publisher, Penguin Books, faced trial under the Obscene Publications Act of 1959 and was forced to prove the book had literary merit to justify publication. The jury delivered a verdict of not guilty in November 1960.
Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller was originally published in 1934, but banned in United States until 1961. Even after the book was published, booksellers in 21 states faced obscenity charges for selling it. The book is a blend of autobiography and fiction narrated by the main character Henry Miller. “There are many passages explicitly describing the narrator's sexual encounters.” (Wikipedia article, Tropic of Cancer)
Peyton Place by Grace Metalious—published in 1956. If you haven’t read the book, chances are you’ve seen the movie starring Lana Turner. The film had to be toned down somewhat, but still managed to cover much of the novel’s themes of unwed motherhood, adultery, sexual abuse, rape and even abortion. Though the term “Peyton Place” became shorthand for any small town dirty secrets and hypocrisy, the book was banned in Boston and the entire state of Rhode Island.
For more information on Banned Books Week: http://www.bannedbooksweek.org/
Some other “naughty books” are listed here!
And there’s a Banned Books Virtual Read Out! http://www.youtube.com/bannedbooksweek
Have a wonderful weekend, all!
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