‘The books that the world calls immoral are books that show the world its own shame.’
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
One of the earliest known examples of books being banned is as far back as 212 BC. Shih Huang Ti, the first emperor of a unified China is said to have buried alive 460 Confucian scholars in order to control the writing of history. He burned all the books in China, retaining only a single copy of each for the Royal Library. With all historical records now destroyed, he believed history could be said to begin with him. Sadly, things haven’t changed much over the years, and similar tales can be seen right up to the present day.
Recently we shared across social media books that have at one time or another been banned, burnt, censored or abridged. The reasons range from racism to anti-religious sentiment, from immorality to indecency, the advocating of drug use or simply just the ‘portrayal of exclusively middle class rabbits’ (I’m looking at you Peter Rabbit….). The texts shine a light on less enlightened times, the changing face of morality and the role of the state and religion in culture. Whilst the vast majority of these are from the past, the written word is still being censored by governments, schools and religions.
Index Librorum Prohibitorum
One of the most prolific examples of banning comes The Vatican. The ‘Index Librorum Prohibitorum’ contained works that were deemed heretical, or contrary to morality by the Sacred Congregation of the Index. Published annually up until 1966, when it was formally abolished by Pope Paul VI, any works included were forbidden to be read by Catholics.
Interestingly, this all started around the time Gutenberg printed his bible (around 1454). Books, once rare and kept carefully in a small number of libraries, could now be mass-produced and widely circulated. The Church saw that printing could enable the spread of immorality and bad faith and, attempted to stem the tide of rapidly spreading ideas.
Below is a selection of books from the shelves at Shapero that found their way on to the Index:
The Works of Joseph Addison
Honore De Balzac (Droll Stories)
Galileo Galilei - Dialogo
Daniel Defoe - Robinson Cusoe
Edward Gibbon - Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Morality features heavily in the history of book banning. Sex, drugs and language were all reasons for abridging and censoring across schools, countries, religions and even the odd prison
Below are the chief contenders from the top shelves, with one or two wholly unexpected entries.
Bram Stoker - Dracula
Jonathan Swift - Gulliver's Travels
Mark Twain - The Adventure's of Tom Sawyer
Henry Miller - Quiet Days in Clichy
Virginia Woolf - Selected Works
Roald Dahl - The Witches
Oscar Wilde - The Writings
Lewis Carroll - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
William Shakespeare - The Plays
Kenneth Grahame - The Wind in the Willows
Henry Miller - Tropic of Capricorn
Germany 1933 – 1945
It should come as no surprise that the National Socialists stepped into the arena of book banning and burning.
They waged a fastidious campaign against the written word not too dis-similar to Shih Huang Ti. The books targeted were those viewed as being subversive or representing ideologies contrary to their belief system.
As expected, Jewish authors featured heavily but also pacifist, religious, classical liberal, anarchist, socialist, and communist authors found their way on to the list.
Albert Einstein; Sigmund Freud - Why War?
Sigmund Freud - Studies on Hysteria
Ernest Hemingway - In Our Time
Franz Kafka - The Castle
H.G. Wells - The War of the Worlds
Soviet Russia 1917 – 1991
The Soviets were systematic in their banning of works from inside and outside of the Soviet states and many authors found themselves on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain.
Subversive Russian authors would find their works banned often with ideological campaigns waged against them to further try and discredit their work. In extreme cases writers could find themselves locked up in gulags. Many authors critical of the Soviet regime fled Russia or had their works smuggled out of the country to be published aboard.
Boris Pasternak - Doctor Zhivago
Mikhail Bulgakov - The Master and Margarita
Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn - One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - The Return of Sherlock Holmes
Ilya Ilf, Evgeny Petrov - New Adventures of Ostap Bender
George Orwell - Animal Farm
George Orwell - Nineteen Eighty-Four
Books are still banned or censored around the world whether through moral, religious of governmental reasons.