Sexy, scandalous books such as… a picture book about penguins? These banned books may all not be the ones you imagined. There’s a difference between prohibited from publication, and the strict guidelines that libraries and schools in some states of the USA seem to employ. Which ones have you read? And which are ‘too sexy for your shelves’? Read more about banned books here.
1. The Canterbury Tales – Geoffrey Chaucer
A collection of stories of pilgrims walking to Canterbury written in Middle English, dating from the end of the 14th century. What could be scandalous about that? Well, there are some parts that are rather ‘bawdy’, although you may not realise it if you’re struggling with the original verse, rather than reading a modern translation. It was prohibited for sale in the United States due to sexual situations and swearing. It continues to be abridged for content and language across the United States to this day.
2. Moll Flanders – Daniel Defoe
Defoe’s 1722 novel was banned for lewdness and indecency due to the themes of adultery and prostitution. Ironically, Defoe left out the dirtiest of details to ensure he’d stay out of jail once Moll Flanders was published.
3 120 Days of Sodom – Marquis De Sade
Written in 1785 by Donatien Alphonse Francois, better known as the Marquis De Sade, the book catalogues orgies, prostitution, incest, the rape of children, sex with nuns, urine drinking, flogging, genital mutilation, torture and mass murder. Impressive. No wonder the term ‘sadism’ bears his name. In 1801, the author was imprisoned by Napoleon Bonaparte for two years, and then due to his family’s appeals, was transferred to a lunatic asylum where he eventually died.
4. Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (or Fanny Hill ) – John Cleland
This book was considered “the first original English prose pornography, and the first pornography to use the form of the novel”. In November 1749, a year after the first instalment was published, the author was arrested charged with “corrupting the King’s subjects.” Cleland renounced the novel and it was officially withdrawn. In 1821, in the first known obscenity case in the United States, a Massachusetts court outlawed Fanny Hill, and the publisher, Peter Holmes, was convicted for printing a “lewd and obscene” novel.
5. Candide – Francois Voltaire
This novel was banned shortly after its publication in 1759 by the Grand Council of Geneva and the administrators of Paris. In 1762 it was listed in the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, the Roman Catholic Church’s list of prohibited books. However, it still became a best seller!
6. Tarzan of the Apes – Edgar Rice Burroughs
What was Tarzan banned for? Fashion crimes against leopard skin print? No, it was banned from some US schools because Tarzan was ‘living in sin’ with Jane.
7. Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D. H. Lawrence
This book is perhaps more famous for being banned than for the actual story – the adulterous affair between a sexually unfulfilled upper-class married woman and the gamekeeper. Penguin were taken to court for publishing the full uncensored edition in 1960, under the Obscene Publications Act of 1959. They won, and Philip Larkin famously wrote that sexual intercourse began ‘Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban/And the Beatles’ first LP’.
8. The Story of O ” Pauline Réage
French journalist Anne Desclos wrote this book in 1954 as an offering to her employer and long-time lover, the publisher Jean Paulhan. The book, which shared themes of love, dominance and submission with the writing of the Marquis De Sade, won a top French literary prize. However, the novel was charged with obscenity, and put under a publicity ban. Desclos herself did not reveal herself as the author for forty years after the initial publication.
9. His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman
Although the book is aimed at children, the themes attacking the church and religion in general have displeased some US libraries and school boards. In addition, passages dealing with the sexual awakening of its main female character, Lyra, have been removed in some editions.
10. Fifty Shades of Grey – E.L. James
One Florida library would not accept the book because of its “semi-pornographic” prose, while another explained that it was not stocked because “it has not received what we would consider good reviews.” It hasn’t stopped E.L.James who currently has a net worth of around $60 million for her book trilogy and subsequent films.
11. And Tango Makes Three – Peter Parnell/Justin Richardson, illustrated by Henry Cole
This 2005 children’s book is based on the true story of Roy and Silo, two male chinstrap penguins in New York’s Central Park Zoo. The two made a nest together and lived as a couple – even hatching a chick, ‘Tango’. The book has been at the centre of many heated debates about same-sex marriage, adoption, and was banned by many school boards across the USA.
Has Valentines Day inspired to get going on your own romantic novel? Take a look at the Romantic Novelists’ Association. And why not enrol in a course in Romantic Fiction with Arvon? Try their course From Kiss to Completion: the Road to Romance.