Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence (1960)

Originally published in 1960 by Penguin, Lady Chatterley’s Lover led to arguably the most famous trial in literary history, in which they had to prove the work had enough literary merit to warrant its explicit content under the obscenity law. Penguin won, with E. M. Forster defending it in court, and Lawrence’s story of Lady Constance Chatterley and her affair with gamekeeper Mellors went on to sell three million copies in the three months after the trial. 


Animal Farm by George Orwell (1945)

Orwell's allegorical novel about the Soviet Union was banned in the USSR up until the 1980s. Through the animal inhabitants of Manor Farm, Orwell criticised what he saw as a brutal dictatorship and reign of terror. Before the book was even published it was rejected several times by publishers, as it was written during the UK’s wartime alliance with the Soviet Union. It was also temporarily banned in the UAE because of its talking pigs, seen to be against Islamic values. 

Beloved by Toni Morrison (1987)

Although it won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Morrison’s story of an escaped slave named Sethe has been challenged again and again when supplied as set reading in English lessons. The book’s violence and sexual content have repeatedly provoked controversy – in fact, 10 years after its publication it was entirely banned from a high school in Kentucky, and students from one Idaho district had to have parental permission to study it. 


A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)

After the release of Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation brought the novel to wider public attention, A Clockwork Orange became the target of censorship over its language and was pulled from libraries and schools in Colorado, Massachusetts and Alabama. Anthony Burgess himself dismissed A Clockwork Orange later in life over his regret that the film had, in his view, glorified sex and violence and misinterpreted the book. When director Stanley Kubrick was asked if he had ever met with Burgess to discuss the project, he exclaimed, "Oh good God, no! Why would I want to do that?" 

The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer (1476)

Written at the end of the 14th century, Chaucer’s collection of stories in Middle English has been banned, challenged and censored for centuries. The stories follow a group of pilgrims making up tales on their way to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket, and are filled with sexual innuendo, swearing and perceived criticism of the church. It was censored widely on first publication and then, under the 1873 Comstock Law, it was banned from being posted in the US, with several modern editions still heavily edited for profanity. 

Ulysses by James Joyce (1922)

A lawsuit brought against this modernist masterpiece in New York addressed the question of whether the obscene language in a work of literature was enough to override the author's constitutional right to freedom of expression. In the US, the judge presiding over the case ruled in Joyce's favour, offering a defence of free speech in the process.

However, the book didn't fare so well in the UK. Sir Archibald Bodkin, the Director of Public Prosecutions and a man with decidedly Victorian sensibilities, deeming it a 'filthy book' and prevented its import from Paris.


Letters from Burma by Aung San Suu Kyi (1997)

This collection of essays from Nobel Peace Prize winner and current Burmese State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi was banned in her native Burma while she was under house arrest for 15 years, despite being widely available across the world. In these letters, she paints a picture of her Burma; from the impact of the political situation to the people who have supported the National League for Democracy, to the landscape and customs of the country itself. 

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (2012)

Despite being one of the most popular young adult novels of recent years, Green’s bestselling novel was banned in a school district in California after a parent challenged its "morbid plot, crude language and sexual content,” saying it wasn’t appropriate for middle school-aged children. Hazel and Gus’ heartbreaking love story is the second book to be banned in the district after Robert Cormier’s 1974 novel, The Chocolate War.


Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody (1987)

This is the true story of Betty Mahmoody who travelled to Iran from the US to meet her husband’s family. Once there she realised that her husband and his family had always intended them to stay, and that she and her daughter were trapped with an increasingly violent man in a society where most women were treated as property. This account of her attempts to escape with her daughter was banned in Iran for its depiction of the patriarchal culture there.

The Complete Fairy Tales by The Brothers Grimm (1812)

Although the Brothers Grimm were the collectors rather than the inventors of the fairy tales they published, they were still banned in Germany after the fall of the Nazis. The collection was banned by the Allies who claimed the roots of Nazism could be found in the stories; particularly citing the way the Nazis used Little Red Riding Hood as a symbol of the German people being saved from the Jewish wolf. 

The Witches by Roald Dahl (1983)

Dahl’s beloved and dark tale of witches living in disguise has been challenged consistently since it was published in 1983, primarily in the US. Criticisms include it not teaching moral values (Iowa in 1987), turning children towards the occult (Dallas in 1991) and satanic themes (Ohio in 1998). Most of Dahl’s books have been challenged or banned over the years, with The BFG even being accused of promoting cannibalism. 

Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin (1953)

Attempts to ban James Baldwin's first novel over its "recurring themes of rape, masturbation, violence, and degrading treatment of women" completely missed the beating heart of the book. This semi-autobiographical novel takes the reader back to Baldwin's childhood in Harlem with an abusive stepfather, capturing his church upbringing, with its almost evangelical tone and rhythm. Bans succeeded in New York and Virginia, but that hasn't stopped Baldwin being inextricably tied to Harlem culture.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (2000)

Graphic novels are often challenged for the risks they take, none more so than Marjane Satrapi's story of growing up in a Westernised Iranian middle class and fleeing for Europe after the Iranian Revolution. As well as the film adaptation being banned in Iran, Persepolis was the second most challenged book in American libraries in 2015, and remains banned below 8th grade by the Chicago public schools system.

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie (1988)

In one of the most notorious publishing events in modern times, a short passage in Rushdie's The Satanic Verses resulted in public book burnings in the UK, a fatwa issued against the author and calls for his death. Rushdie went into hiding, surrounded by constant security for some time. The novel remains subject to bans in several countries including Iran, India, Singapore, Tanzania and Kuwait.

The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall (1928)

The Sunday Express' James Douglas, notable for his campaigns against women's suffrage, argued that this story of lesbian love was more damaging to readers than a vial of poison, saying that "poison kills the body, but moral poison kills the soul." The Well of Loneliness eventually ended up in court in 1928 in a case against the Home Office over its alleged obscenity. Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster published open letters documenting the potential cultural effect of the suppression of literature, and, in a farcical legal process, the book was ruled upon by jurors who were prevented from reading any part of the work by the Director of Public Prosecutions. The book was finally published without legal challenge in 1949.

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