#BannedBooksWeek 2017: Jane Eyre

  Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë is an excellent classic to take a look at during Banned Books Week (September 24 – 30). Originally published in 1847, Jane Eyre was written at a time when women rarely played a large public role, with restrictions in place for universities, government, and most careers. The women’s suffrage movement which won women the right to vote wouldn’t take off until decades later. Brontë wrote the work under the gender-neutral pseudonym of Currer Bell to avoid additional criticism because of her sex. Initially published as Jane Eyre: An Autobiography, Brontë’s work presented itself as a true story advocating radical feminist ideals and advertising individual expression. These were highly controversial opinions for the mid-nineteenth century, which resulted in the novel being banned in various locations, and cited as dissentious, anti-Christian literature unfit for young ladies. 

  Jane Eyre provides a first-person narrative of the life of a fictional young woman, Jane Eyre, in northern England in the early 1800s. The book begins by describing Jane’s unhappy childhood and stressing her rebellious, outspoken nature. Orphaned from a young age, Jane is brought up by her spiteful aunt, and is sent off to boarding school at age ten. After eight years at school, Jane’s adventurous spirit remains unquenched, and she begins to seek work elsewhere as a governess. Several months later, Jane begins working as a governess for Adele Varens, a young French girl under the charge of the mysterious Mr. Rochester. Rochester and Jane spend time together, often discoursing on a variety of intellectual topics, and each develop feelings for the other. As the novel is written as a narrative, it focuses solely on Jane’s feelings and her brazen approach to love, which is considerably out of place for the time. Rochester and Jane soon plan to be married, but the wedding is called off when it is revealed that Rochester is already married. Jane, proud of her morals, cannot bear to be in unlawful matrimony and flees, endeavoring to make her own way in the world once more. After some time, and a  marriage proposal by another man, Jane begins to pine for Rochester once more. Upon her return, she finds Rochester’s wife dead and him half-crippled, and pledges herself to him with the two eventually marrying.

  For 1847, Jane Eyre presented a strikingly radical opinion on how young women could behave. Jane’s ability to make decisions independent of what everyone else was telling her and stick to her moral convictions cause her to stand out as an impressive fictional role model even today. While progressive for its time, Bronte’s work helped influence future feminist movements and the emergence of more women authors. I believe that Jane Eyre is still relevant and worth reading today – and certainly should never be banned. Jane Eyre showcases individual thought and active questioning, as well as maintaining one’s morals and coming to understand love. This first edition of this powerful book is now on display in Lindeman Library as part of the exhibition: Jane Austen and the Rise of Feminism.  Jane Eyre is also available at Lehigh in older editions held by Special Collections, and in newer editions on Linderman Library’s third floor.

References

  • http://standardissuemagazine.com/arts/jane-eyre-feminist-icon/
  • https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/03/how-jane-eyre-created-the-modern-self/460461/

 

#BannedBooksWeek 2017: The Lord of the Rings

One of the most influential fantasy fiction stories of all time, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings has taken millions of people on the perilous journey through Middle-earth. However, to some, this journey is just too perilous to allow others to read. The books, along with The Hobbit, have since been banned a number of times in various schools and churches with reasons ranging from depictions of smoking to outright satanism.

In a number of schools, The Lord of the Rings has been banned for the frequent use of a pipe by various characters in the book. The National Health Service in Plymouth, England claimed that children were more likely to start smoking because of books and films like The Lord of the Rings. However, the trilogy has seen much harsher criticisms for darker reasons.

All three volumes of The Lord of the Rings

Catholic and Christian communities in particular have had a history of denouncing the books saying they promote witchcraft. The references to darkness and sorcery did not sit well with churches and religious schools. Somewhat recently, a group in the Christ Community Church in Alamogordo, New Mexico set fire to a pile of books that included Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. They claimed the books to be evil and said they were destroying people with their satanic ways.

Ironically, J.R.R. Tolkien was devoutly religious, having converted to Roman Catholicism at a very young age. His Biblical inspiration is often said to show up in characters like Gandalf and in the general story of light versus darkness. An even stronger example, Tolkien’s other work about the world of Middle-earth, The Silmarillion, has numerous similarities to the book of Genesis.

Map of Middle-earth located on the back cover of the library’s 1993 edition of The Lord of the Rings

Despite the banning and disputes The Lord of the Rings has suffered, it continues to excite people of all ages. Whether you believe Tolkien promotes witchcraft, references Christianity, or merely creates a magic world, he has certainly influenced the world with his stories.

 

References:

http://world.edu/banned-book-awareness-lord-rings-jrr-tolkien/

http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/31766

#BannedBooksWeek 2017: The United States v. One Book Called Ulysses

Today, James Joyce’s Ulysses is considered a classic novel with a secure place in the Western literary canon. English professors and scholars around the world praise the novel’s stream-of-consciousness technique and incredible depth. However, the novel was not always readily available to the public, being banned soon after its publication. In fact, when Joyce decided to publish the novel, he could not find an English publisher that would work with him. A French publisher, Shakespeare and Company, finally agreed to publish the novel and it was available in 1922. Despite this successful publication, several English speaking countries of the world banned Ulysses because of its “obscenity.” A series of court battles ensued to determine the legality of selling Ulysses in the United States.

The question of Ulysses’ legality in the United States was heard in the court case United States v. One Book Called Ulysses. In 1933, Random House, a publishing company with rights to publish the entirety of Ulysses, decided to instigate a test case against the ban of the book.  Random House therefore made an arrangement to import the edition published in France and have a copy seized by the US Customs Service when the ship carrying the work arrived. After Customs confiscated the copies of the book, it took the US Attorney’s Office several months to decide whether to proceed further. The office of the US Attorney finally decided to take action against the book under the Tariff Act of 1930, which allowed a district attorney to bring an action for forfeiture and destruction of imported works which were obscene.

Ulysses was considered obscene because of Episode 13. In this part of the novel, Leopold Bloom and Gerty have a sexual interaction in which Gerty exposes her legs and underwear to Leopold Bloom while she lays on the ground, watching fireworks. Leopold Bloom presumably masturbates as a result of Gerty’s actions as he “puts his hands in his pockets”. The scene’s climax occurs when the fireworks end with a firework in the shape of a “Roman candle bursting in the air.” This moment conveys Bloom’s orgasm and ends his sexual interaction with Gerty.

 

Judge John M. Woolsey presided over the trial of the United States v. One Book Called Ulysses and he decided that Ulysses was not pornographic. To make this decision, Judge Woolsey spent weeks reading Ulysses, which he described as “not an easy book to read or to understand,” and “a heavy task” (United States v. One Book Called” Ulysses”). The judge ultimately found that the novel was serious and that its author was sincere and honest in showing how the minds of his characters operate and what they were thinking. Therefore, Ulysses was not legally considered obscene and a decade after it was published, it was legally allowed to be sold and obtained in the United States.

Since the uplift of the ban on Ulysses, James Joyce’s novel has been enjoyed and celebrated by millions of Americans. It has been labeled a “literary masterpiece” and entered the American literary canon. The book is so highly praised because of its stream-of-consciousness technique. James Joyce popularized this technique and it is a literary technique that attempts to portray the complexity of human ideas and thoughts through literature. The novel’s attempt at showing the complexity of human thought has made it difficult to read and scholars have argued over the meaning of the novel since it was published. However, an important lesson to take away from Ulysses is that novels must be protected and allowed to be sold and circulated. Novels have the distinct ability of conveying important lessons and messages. Without protecting their legality, their messages will simply fade into oblivion. It is important to preserve the legality of books like Ulysses to ensure that their messages live on. Lehigh Special Collections holds three different editions of Joyce’s Ulysses: the first edition published by Shakespeare and Company, the Limited Editions Club version with artwork by Henri Matisse, and a facsimile copy of the manuscript.

References

United States v. One Book Called” Ulysses”, 5 F. Supp. 182 (S.D.N.Y. 1933).

Banned Books Week: Mark Twain and Huck Finn

Every year, the American Library Association (ALA) dedicates one week to education and advocacy about the problem of book censorship. This year, staff and students from Special Collections will be writing a series of blog posts examining controversial and challenged books in our holdings.

ALA Banned Books Week

ALA’s top ten most challenged books of 2015 are listed below, three of which are currently available in the collections of the Lehigh Libraries. The absence of commonly challenged books in Lehigh’s collection is not indicative of censorship but rather a reflection of the collection development and purchasing priorities of an academic institution, with a focus on research and scholarly support.

  1. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  2. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James
    Reasons: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, and other (“poorly written,” “concerns that a group of teenagers will want to try it”).
  3. I Am Jazz, by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings
    Reasons: Inaccurate, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, and unsuited for age group.
  4. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, by Susan Kuklin
    Reasons: Anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”).
  5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
    Reasons: Offensive language, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“profanity and atheism”).
  6. The Holy Bible
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint.
  7. Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
    Reasons: Violence and other (“graphic images”).
  8. Habibi, by Craig Thompson
    Reasons: Nudity, sexually explicit, and unsuited for age group.
  9. Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group, and violence.
  10. Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan
    Reasons: Homosexuality and other (“condones public displays of affection”).

Huck FInn Cover

While not on this year’s list of most challenged books, one of the most well-known and frequently contested books of the past one and a half centuries is Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Twain and Huck Finn are of particular interest to us in Special Collections as they feature prominently in the ongoing exhibit in Linderman Library, Visual and Verbal: The Deborah and Alfred Judson Barcan Collection. Banned Books Week happens to coincide with an event honoring the Barcans for their gift, which will be held Wednesday, September 27 at 4:10pm in the Scheler Humanities Forum (Linderman 200). This event features a presentation by Associate Professor of English Seth Moglen, who will focus on the works of Twain in the Barcans’ collection. For more information on the Barcan Collection, visit the online exhibit, which includes images and descriptions of the books on display, including numerous works by Twain.

According to the ALA,

Since its publication in 1884, “Huck Finn” has been the subject of intense criticism and also acclaim. Initially dismissed by some for its “coarse” vernacular language, the book faced new objections in the twentieth century to its racial language and themes. In May 1996, a class action lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix, alleging that the district deprived minority students of educational opportunities by requiring racially offensive literature (including “Huck Finn”) as part of class assignments. A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit, stating he realized that “language in the novel was offensive and hurtful to the plaintiff,” but that the suit failed to prove the district violated students’ civil rights. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that requiring students to read literary works that some find racially offensive is not discrimination prohibited by the equal protection clause or Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (Montecito v. Tempe Union High School District). Today, “Huck Finn” remains a classic contribution to American literature and is often ranked among the truly great American novels.

Banned Books Week: Celebrating 30 Years of Liberating Literature

Huck Finn

While the modern challenges against Huck Finn focus on its frequent use of the n-word and its racist portrayal of black people, these challenges are somewhat ironic considering that Twain was one of the more progressive writers of his era. In addition to the vernacular language, which readers at the time of its publication considered too vulgar for “real” literature, Huck Finn was also controversial for Huck’s decision to help Jim escape from slavery. In line with the prevailing sentiments of the time, Huck considers Jim to be the lawful property of the Widow Douglas. However, through their adventures together, Huck starts to see Jim as a human being and questions the morality of what for the time should have been the clear course of action – to return the Widow’s stolen property to her. Instead, Huck decides that he would rather endure eternal damnation for stealing and helps Jim to escape.