The On-Line Books Page



Welcome to this special exhibit of books that have been the objects of censorship or censorship attempts. The books featured here, ranging from Ulysses to Little Red Riding Hood, have been selected from the indexes of the On-line Books Page.

This page is a work in progress, and more works may be added to this page over time. Please inform of any new material that can be included here. Note that the listings are meant to be representative rather than exhaustive. Also, many recent books that have been banned or challenged have not been included here, because they have not been made available on-line. (But see below).

[EFF Free Speech Online Blue Ribbon Campaign]

News (November 24, 1998): Victory against mandatory filtering! A federal judge has ruled that Loudoun County's policy of requiring adult library users to use filters to access the Internet is unconstitutional. The editor of Banned Books On-Line was one of the plaintiffs in the suit. Loudoun County's filters had for a time prevented library patrons from seeing both this site, and at least some of the books linked to from this page. We are happy to see this sort of censorship ruled illegal. See this ACLU press release for more details.

The full text of the decision is here. (Although I was dismissed from the case in the final decision, due to problems supplying evidence regarding the blocking of this site, the basic outcome, which stopped mandatory filtering, was the one we sought.)

For more information on the pitfalls of labeling and filtering in practice, see various links about ratings and RSACi at this Australian site.

Meanwhile, another federal judge has also issued a preliminary injunction suspending enforcement of the the newly enacted "CDA II" law, which made it a crime to knowingly" communicate "for commercial purposes" material considered "harmful to minors." For more information, see the EFF Blue Ribbon Campaign site.

Books Suppressed or Censored by Legal Authorities

Ulysses by James Joyce was recently praised by CMU English professor and vice-provost Erwin Steinberg. (Steinberg also defended Carnegie Mellon's 1994 declaration to delete and some 80 other newsgroups, claiming they were legally obligated to do so.) Ulysses was barred from the United States as obscene for 15 years, and was seized by U.S Postal Authorities in 1918 and 1930. The lifting of the ban in 1933 came only after advocates fought for the right to publish the book.

In 1930, U.S. Customs seized Harvard-bound copies of Candide, Voltaire's critically hailed satire, claiming obscenity. Two Harvard professors defended the work, and it was later admitted in a different edition. In 1944, the US Post Office demanded the omission of Candide from a mailed Concord Books catalog.

John Cleland's Fanny Hill (also known as Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure) has been frequently suppressed since its initial publication in 1749. This story of a prostitute is known both for its frank sexual descriptions and its parodies of contemporary literature, such as Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders. The U.S Supreme Court finally cleared it from obscenity charges in 1966. (Copies exist on the English Server and on Wiretap; if one server is inaccessible, try the other, or wait until later.)

Aristophanes' Lysistrata, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Boccaccio's Decameron, Defoe's Moll Flanders, and various editions of The Arabian Nights were all banned for decades from the U.S. mails under the Comstock Law of 1873. Officially known as the Federal Anti-Obscenity Act, this law banned the mailing of "lewd", "indecent", "filthy", or "obscene" materials. The Comstock laws, while now unenforced, remain for the most part on the books today; the Telecommunications Reform Bill of 1996 even specifically applied some of them to computer networks. The anti-war Lysistrata was banned again in 1967 in Greece, which was then controlled by a military junta.

The Comstock law also forbade distribution of birth control information. In 1915, Margaret Sanger's husband was jailed for distributing her Family Limitation, which described and advocated various methods of contraception. Sanger herself had fled the country to avoid prosecution, but would return in 1916 to start the American Birth Control League, which eventually merged with other groups to form Planned Parenthood.

Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman's famous collection of poetry, was withdrawn in Boston in 1881, after the District Attorney threatened criminal prosecution for the use of explicit language in some poems. The work was later published in Philadelphia.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau's autobiography Confessions was banned by U.S. Customs in 1929 as injurious to public morality. His philosophical works were also banned in the USSR in 1935, and some were placed on the Catholic Church's Index of Prohibited Books in the 18th century.

Thomas Paine, best known for his writings supporting American independence, was indicted for treason in England in 1792 for his work The Rights of Man, defending the French Revolution. More than one English publisher was also prosecuted for printing The Age of Reason, where Paine argues for Deism and against Christianity and Atheism.

Blaise Pascal's The Provincial Letters, a defense of the Jansenist Antoine Arnauld, was ordered shredded and burned by King Louis XIV of France in 1660. France also banned Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered in the 16th century for containing ideas subversive to the authority of kings.

In nervous times, politically motivated censorship has occurred in the United States as well. In 1954, the Providence, RI, post office attempted to block delivery of Lenin's State and Revolution to Brown University, citing it as "subversive". In 1918, the US War Department told the American Library Association to remove a number of pacifist and "disturbing" books, including Ambrose Bierce's Can Such Things Be? from camp libraries, a directive which was taken to apply to the homefront as well.

The Bible and The Qur'an were both removed from numerous libraries and banned from import in the Soviet Union from 1926 to 1956. Many editions of the Bible have also been banned and burned by civil and religious authorities throughout history. On July 1, 1996, Singapore convicted a woman for possessing the Jehovah's Witness translation of the Bible. A 1997 US government study reported that Burma bans all Bible translations into local indigenous languages. (The military dictatorship of that country also required modems to be licensed, so residents of Burma, like NetNanny users, are not likely to see this page.)

D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover was the object of numerous obscenity trials in both the UK and the United States up into the 1960s. This book is also still copyrighted in the United States, but can be downloaded elsewhere.

E for Ecstasy, a book on the drug MDMA, was seized by Australian customs in 1994. At this writing (March 1995), the official ban on the book is still in force in that country. (An Australian goverment site has further information on what kinds of books are banned or restricted in Australia).

A number of democratic countries, including Austria, France, Germany, and Canada, have criminalized various forms of "hate speech", including books judged to disparage minority groups. In the 1980s, Ernst Zündel was convicted twice under Canada's "false news" laws for publishing Did Six Million Really Die?, a 1974 book denying the Holocaust. On appeal, the Canadian Supreme Court found the "false news" law unconstitutional in 1992, but Zündel is now being prosecuted under Canada's "Human Rights Act" for publishing this book and other material on his Zundelsite. (Even so, Deborah Lipstadt and some other prominent critics of Holocaust deniers have gone on record as opposing laws that would censor such speech.)

Unfit for Schools and Minors?

From the Associated Press, March 3, 1996: Merrimack, NH schools have pulled Shakespeare's Twelfth Night from the curriculum after the school board passed a "prohibition of alternative lifestyle instruction" act. (Twelfth Night includes a number of romantic entanglements including a young woman who disguises herself as a boy.)

John T. Scopes was convicted in 1925 of teaching the evolutionary theory of Darwin's Origin of Species in his high school class. The Tennessee law prohibiting teaching evolution theory was finally repealed in 1967, but further laws intended to stifle the teaching of evolution in science classes have been proposed in the Tennesee legislature as recently as 1996.

An illustrated edition of "Little Red Riding Hood" was banned in two California school districts in 1989. Following the Little Red-Cap story from Grimm's Fairy Tales, the book shows the heroine taking food and wine to her grandmother. The school districts cited concerns about the use of alcohol in the story.

Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were excluded from the juvenile sections of the Brooklyn Public library (among other libraries), and banned from the library in Concord, MA, home of Henry Thoreau. Huckleberry Finn has been dropped from high school reading lists due to alleged racism. For example, in March of 1995, such concerns caused it to be removed from the reading list of 10th grade English classes at National Cathedral School in Washington, DC, according to the Washington Post. A New Haven correspondent reports it has been removed from one public school program there as well. Recent objections have often concerned the use of the word "nigger", a word that also got Uncle Tom's Cabin challenged in Waukegan, Illinois. For a comprehensive web site describing attempts to ban Huckleberry Finn and other Twain works, see the site Huck Finn Today, by Jim Zwick. Also see that site for The Pennsylvania NAACP vs. Huck Finn (new!)

Many "classics" (and their authors) were regarded as scandalous when they were first published, but after the author was safely dead they were relegated to high school English classes and largely forgotten by most people. However, in 1978 Union High School (in Anaheim, CA) woke up to the danger of George Eliot's Silas Marner and banned it. I would be gratified (and not at all surprised) if there was a sudden surge of interest in Eliot among Anaheim students afterwards.

John Locke's philosophical Essay Concerning Human Understanding was expressly forbidden to be taught at Oxford University in 1701. The French translation was also placed on the Index.

Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice was banned from classrooms in Midland, Michigan in 1980, due to its portrayal of the Jewish character Shylock. It has been similarly banned in the past in Buffalo and Manchester, NY. Shakespeare's plays have also often been "cleansed" of crude words and phrases. Thomas Bowdler's efforts in his 1818 "Family Shakespeare" gave rise to the word "bowdlerize".

Bowdlerism still exists today, but nowadays cleaning up sexual references is waning in popularity, and cleaning up racial references is growing in popularity. Case in point: This version of The Story of Dr. Dolittle, from the 1960s, was silently "cleaned up" from the 1920 original, in which Polynesia the parrot occasionally used some impolite terms to refer to blacks. In 1988, after the book had fallen from favor enough to have dropped out of print, the publishers issued a new edition that removed nearly all references to race from the book (and cut out a plotline involving Prince Bumpo's desire to become white). In contrast, the Newbery-winning Voyages of Dr. Dolittle has been available in its original form (impolite words and all) for a long time, in part because the Newbery awarders forbade their medal to be displayed on altered texts.

Similar concerns about the handling of race apparently caused The Story of Little Black Sambo to be banned from Toronto public schools in 1956, according to a book by Daniel Braithwaite.

More Censorship Information

This exhibit only represents books that are available on-line. For a more comprehensive review of censorship through history, see The File Room exhibit at the University of Illinois, particularly its literature section. (The exhibit is having some technical problems, but is still on-line as of June 1998.)

The Digital Freedom Network is an archive that publishes current writings of people who have been censored by their governments. You can read there what oppressive regimes are trying to censor right now.

PEN, an international group of writers, keeps track of censorship and oppression of writers worldwide. Their US and Canadian sites are good starting points for current information on censored writers.

To see a list of books have been the targets of recent school censorship attempts in the United States, see this list of Most Frequently Challenged Books of the 1990s, from Herbert Foerstel's Banned in the U.S.A.. A more recent list published by the Christian Science Monitor also shows the reasons why certain books were challenged or banned.

The American Library Association has designated September 26 - October 3 as Banned Books Week 1998. Their web site has information on the observance.

[EFF Free Speech Online Blue Ribbon Campaign]
The 1996 telecommunications bill passed by the US Congress included a provision that prohibited making "indecent" material generally available. It was struck down as unconstitutional in federal court on June 12, 1996, a judgment affirmed by the Supreme Court on June 26, 1997. Find out about the latest news, and what you can do to help free speech online, at the Electronic Frontier Foundation Blue Ribbon Campaign page. Some of the projects being done in response include 24 Hours of Democracy.

The Columbus, Ohio, library, is currently banning three books by Anne Rice. See this page for more information.

Stop CMU Censorship. This exhibit is based at Carnegie Mellon, where the administration decided in 1994 to remove over 80 newsgroups on sexual matters, claiming that it was required to by law. Resolutions by the official student, faculty, and staff representative groups requested that the groups be restored. After nearly 2 years in limbo, all newsgroups have been restored to CMU computer science servers, but 11 remain banned on the undergraduate Andrew system. See the Censorship at CMU page for more details.

Another current censorship case involves the Church of Scientology. In the 1970s, they attempted to remove books critical of the Church from libraries in Canada by suing libraries in Hamilton and Etobicoke. (See the Free expression in Canada page for more details.) Church officials also took direct action against some authors of critical books. (See this page from Ron Newman). Their latest targets have been people on the Net; see The Church of Scientology vs. the Net page for the latest developments.

There's a new multimedia exhibit called Book Burning, Banning, and Censorship at Book Stacks Unlimited's site. Parts of it assume certain software and machine configurations.

A number of other on-line book-banning pages, from various perspectives, can be found at The Censorship Files

See also the comprehensive set of resources available at the Index on Censorship web site.

Off-line, see Banned Books: 387 B.C. to 1978 A.D by Anne Haight, updated by Chandler Grannis, for a long list of classic books that have been banned or challenged through history. Accounts on books challenged in U.S. schools and libraries in the last ten years can be found in Banned in the U.S.A. by Herbert Foerstel. Published in 1994, this book documents attempts to ban numerous books, including critically acclaimed works by Twain, Steinbeck, L'Engle, Blume, Dahl, and Vonnegut. Information on expurgating and altering books can be found in Noel Perrin's Dr. Bowdler's Legacy: A History of Expurgated Books in England and America.

A classic work that helped establish a free press is John Milton's Areopagitica. It was written to fight the licensing of publications then required in Britain (and was published without a license, in defiance of the law of the time). Many of its points are still revelant today as governments decide whether they should restrict the press on the Internet.


Information for this page was gathered from The File Room Archive the Academic American Encyclopedia, the American Library Association (via John Edwards), Paul S. Boyer's Purity in Print: The Vice Society Movement and Book Censorship in America, Deborah Lipstadt's Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, and the books and Web sites cited above.

The on-line books come from the CMU English Server, the Internet Wiretap collection, Columbia University's Project Bartleby, Trent University's Gopher server, Robert Stockton's HTML literature collection, and various other sources. Some of the works were originally provided by Project Gutenberg. All listings are from the on-line books page at CMU.

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