Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure (aka: Fanny Hill), (1748) by John Cleland, is perhaps “the most famous work of erotic literature ever written” and “has the dubious distinction of being the most prosecuted literary work in history.” 1
Censors argue that the book is “pornographic,” and indeed, was considered “obscene” in the United States from 1821 until 1966, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a Massachusetts decision to ban its publication in that state.2
1 Jonathon Green, Encyclopedia of Censorship (New Edition), rev. Nicholas J. Karolides. (New York: Facts on File, 2005), 346-47.
2 Green, Encyclopedia of Censorship (New Edition),346.
In Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), Harriet Beecher Stowe, exposed the inhumane brutality of human slavery. The book was best-seller, selling 10,000 copies in the United States in its first week and 300,000 copies in its first year. 1
Despite the book’s success at home and abroad, it drew the attention of many critics and was banned in some parts of the southern United States during the Civil War because of its anti-slavery message. 2
Madame Bovary (1856) by Gustave Flaubert, is the story of a doctor whose young wife Emma Bovary falls in love with another man, has an affair and eventually kills herself, after subsequent affairs, when plans to run away with her lover fall through. 1
Flaubert’s novel was banned in France and he was prosecuted and eventually acquitted for “offences against public morals” in 1857 2
1 “Banned: Books you could have been jailed for reading,” The Independent, January 22, 2010, Accessed April 19, 2012.
2 “Banned: Books you could have been jailed for reading,”
The Well of Loneliness (1928), by Radclyffe Hall was a ground-breaking novel with a lesbian theme. Although the content is tame by modern standards, critics of the book were outraged - so much so that it was banned in England from 1928 (the same year it was published) until after Hall’s death in 1949. 1
The novel was also subject to scrutiny in New York, where it was brought to trial under an obscenity statute in 1929. In 1974, The Well of Loneliness was read on BBC Radio’s “A Book at Bedtime” - apparently with no public complaints. 2
1 Jonathon Green, Encyclopedia of Censorship (New Edition), rev. Nicholas J. Karolides. (New York: Facts on File, 2005), 646.
2 Jonathan Green, Encyclopedia of Censorship (New Edition), 646.
The President (1946) was the debut novel by Miguel Angel Asturias that reflects on and criticizes the real-life Manuel Estrada Cabrera dictatorship (1898-1920) of Guatemala.
Although the book was written in the 1930's, it was unable to be published until the overthrow of General Jorge Ubico Castenada's regime (1931-44). The President is a bleak depiction of a society whose lives are devastated at the hands of a tyrant. 1
1 Jonathon Green, Encyclopedia of Censorship (New Edition), rev. Nicholas J. Karolides. (New York: Facts on File, 2005), 26-27.
The Diary of A Young Girl (1947) by Anne Frank was compiled and published by Anne’s father, Otto Frank who discovered his daughter’s writings after he was freed from Auschwitz. Anne’s observations chronicle her family’s life hiding from the Nazis between 1942 and 1944. 1
In addition to receiving criticism from conservative groups in the United State for being “pornographic,” 2 the book is banned in Lebanon because it “portray[s] Jews, Israel or Zionism favorably.” 3
1 Jonathon Green, Encyclopedia of Censorship (New Edition), rev. Nicholas J. Karolides. (New York: Facts on File, 2005), 149.
2 Green, Encyclopedia of Censorship, 149.
3 William Marling. “Why Jane Fonda is banned in Beirut: Anti-Semitism leads to startling censorship in Lebannon.” The Wall Street Journal, May 1, 2009. Accessed April 19, 2012.
Dr. Zhivago (1957) by Boris Pasternak, is a novel that spans the life of the title character before his death at age 40. Pasternak gives an account of a crucial period in Russia’s history: the turn of the twentieth century, through the 1917 revolution, the civil war and the Stalinist 1930’s. 1
Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature for Dr.Zhivago in 1958, but was forced by the Soviet Union to refuse the award. His government viewed the work as, “counter-revolutionary and slanderous.” The novel was finally allowed to be published in Russia in 1988. 2
1 Jonathon Green, Encyclopedia of Censorship (New Edition), rev. Nicholas J. Karolides. (New York: Facts on File, 2005), 151-152.
2 Green, Encyclopedia of Censorship (New Edition), 152.
One Day of Life (1980) by Manlio Argueta, is the story of a peasant family’s typical day in war-torn El Salvador and the horrible struggles they endure. 1
The book was banned by the El Salvadorian government in 1980, presumably because the book portrays human rights violations. 2
Not Without My Daughter (1991) by Betty Mahmoody, is the true story of an American woman whose Iranian husband kept her and her daughter prisoners once they arrived in Iran on what she thought was going to be a nice vacation. Instead, she has to escape through a dangerous underground route that won't accept her child. 1
This memoir and the subsequent film adaptation are both banned in Iran. 2
Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India (2011) by Pulitzer-Prize winning Joseph Lelyveld, is currently banned in Gujarat, a state in western India, for suggesting that Mahatma Gandhi had a homosexual relationship. Homosexuality was illegal in India until 2009 and is still stigmatized. 1
1 “Indian state bans Gandhi book after reviews hint at gay relationship.” The Guardian, March 30, 2011. Accessed April 19, 2012.