27 September 2017: Banned Books Week
The 24th-30th September marks 'Banned Books Week'. The intention of this week is to celebrate the freedom to read. Below we have selected some works from our library that were previously censored.
Our first work, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, centres on the horror and immorality of slavery. Published in 1852, these themes did not align with the Confederacy, which heavily relied upon slavery as a means to sustain its agricultural economy. As such, this book was banned during the Civil War, as a protest from the defenders of slavery and a way to minimise response from abolitionists. Our edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin is the first official copy to be released in the UK. Prior to this, several unofficial copies had been produced and circulated. Whilst much controversy surrounded Stowe’s work, the reason for censorship in the UK was vastly different to those voiced in the Confederate States. Rather than shunning the pro-slavery themes, it was the portrayal of America as the ‘greatest and most free’ nation that was disliked by the British. These initial fears did not stop Uncle Tom’s Cabin from becoming the bestselling novel of the nineteenth century and remaining a highly influential and integral work of anti-slavery literature. The copy in our collection marks the shift in the UK towards its acceptance as such. Click here to see our listing.
We also have a copy of The Key To Uncle Tom's Cabin. This was a supportive text to Stowe's novel in which she presented the facts regarding the horrors of slavery. The work was written to prove that she had not exaggerated or misrepresented slavery in her previous work. Click here to see our listing.
The passing of time does not necessarily mean that a book becomes immune from government censorship. Balzac’s 1837 collection of short stories, known as Droll Stories or Droll Tales was later banned in Canada and Ireland for its obscenity. Ireland only lifted this ban in 1953, over a hundred years after the original text was published. The Droll Stories contains 30 tales, split into three sections, each with Balzac’s characteristic realism. However, it was the licentiousness and innuendo filled content that lead to its being banned. We have a number of copies of ‘Droll Stories’ in our collection, including a fine copy, once owned by the noted book collector Hugh Selbourne MD and complete with numerous colour illustrations by Belgian painter Jean de Bosschere. Click here for our listing.
In some instances, the banning of a book increases its notoriety to such an extent that the censorship becomes an integral part of the work's context. D H Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover is perhaps one of the most well-known examples of this. The story centres on the emotional and physical relationship between an upper class woman and a working class man. Lawrence's erotic descriptions meant that an unexpurgated edition was not openly published until 1960, 32 years after its initial release. Following the publication of the unexpurgated edition further controversy ensued as Penguin, the publishing house, was brought to court for its production of ‘obscene materials’. After Penguin won the trial, the book went on to sell 3 million copies. Whilst the work was popular due to its own merit, the notoriety gained through the trial certainly increased the visibility of the novel. The UK was by no means the only country which banned the novel, with Australia, the USA and Canada just a few examples of where else the novel was censored. Australia even banned a book regarding the censorship trial in the UK. Click here to see one of our copies of Lady Chatterley.
Should the matter of banned books have piqued your interest, we have a book on the subject titled The Banned Books of England and Other Countries by Alec Craig. Craig analyses the conception of literary obscenity along with the social repercussions that come from this. The work is a fascinating read for anybody interested in the subject as a whole. Click here to view our listing.