Freedom to Read Week: banned classics and modern challenges

In celebration of Freedom to Read Week (February 20-26), we present a selective timeline of censorship activities throughout history.

For more recent challenges to the printed word, check out 7 days | 7 Challenged Books on our Instagram and Twitter feeds from February 20-26.

8 C.E.
The Roman poet Ovid was banished from Rome for writing Ars Amatoria (The Art of Love). He died in exile in Greece eight years later. All of  Ovid’s works were burned by Savonarola in Florence in 1497, and an English translation of Ars Amatoria was banned by U.S. Customs in 1928.  8th Floor of the Library – PA 6519 A8 H6

The Roman emperor Caligula opposed the reading of The Odyssey by Homer, written more than 300 years before. He thought the epic poem was dangerous because it expressed Greek ideas of freedom. 8th Floor of the Library – PA 4025 A5 M43 2004

Six thousand copies of William Tyndale’s English translation of the New Testament were printed in Cologne, Germany, and smuggled into England were then burned by the English church. Church authorities were determined that the Bible would be available only in Latin. 10th Floor of the Library  – BS 140 1989

The original version of Shakespeare’s Richard III contained a scene in which the king was deposed from his throne. Queen Elizabeth I was so angry that she ordered the scene removed from all copies of the play. 8th Floor of the Library  – PR 2821 A2 W5 1968

Sir Walter Raleigh’s book The History of the World was banned by King James I of England for “being too saucy in censuring princes.” 10th Floor of the Library  – D 57 R183 1972

Martin Luther’s German translation of the Bible was burnt in Germany by order of the Pope.
10th Floor of the Library – BS 239 1967

Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published, outlining the theory of evolution. The book was banned from the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, where Darwin had been a student. In 1925, Tennessee banned the teaching of the theory of evolution in schools; the law remained in until 1967. On the Origin of Species was banned in Yugoslavia in 1935 and in Greece in 1937. 5th Floor of the Library  – QH 365 A1 1987 v.15

A year after the publication of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, the library of Concord, Massachusetts decided to exclude the book from its collection. The committee making the decision said the book was “rough, coarse and inelegant, dealing with a series of experiences not elevating, the whole book being suited to the slums that to intelligent, respectable people.” By 1907, it was said that Twain’s novel had been thrown out of some library somewhere every year, mostly because its hero was said to present a bad example for impressionable young readers.
6th Floor of the Library  – PS 1306 A1 1996

Novels by Ernest Hemingway were banned in various parts of the world such as Italy, Ireland, and Germany (where they were burned by the Nazis). In California in 1960, The Sun Also Rises was banned from schools in San Jose and all of Hemingway’s works were removed from Riverside school libraries.  6th Floor of the Library  – PS 3515 E37 S9 1954 

In a letter to an American publisher, James Joyce said that “some very kind person” bought the entire first edition  of Dubliners and had it burnt. 6th Floor of the Library  – PR 6019 O9 D8 1969

During its examination of school learning materials, the London County Council in England banned the use of Beatrix Potter’s children’s classics The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny from all London schools. The reason: the stories portrayed only “middle-class rabbits.” I.R.C. (WH 222-Book Stacks)  – PZ 7 P85 Tap 1979

Freedom to Read Week “is organized by the Book and Periodical Council’s Freedom of Expression Committee, a group committed to promoting intellectual freedom in Canada. Since 1978, the committee has worked with educators, librarians, publishers, writers, booksellers, advocacy groups and the community at large to provide information that addresses censorship and book and magazine challenges in Canada.” (Book and Periodical Council, 2022).

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