Books are vessels for ideas. Sometimes ‘dangerous’ ideas. Ideas that challenge dominant societal values, political ideology and scientific theory, or ideas presented by people whose voices are traditionally underrepresented. When those in power have felt threatened by such ideas, the offending books have been banned, blacklisted, stripped from shelves, and even burned. But censorship isn’t just a thing of the past. Hundreds of books are challenged each year for content that some members of the public consider unsuitable. Take a look at prohibited and censored books, old and new.

Our rare book collection contains books that were prohibited to members of the Roman Catholic Church. How did the Church keep track of the books it had banned? It made a list.

Index librorum prohibitorum, 1529

title page of Index librorum prohibitorumpages of Index librorum prohibitorum

This is part of the Index librorum prohibitorum, a list of books banned by the Roman Catholic Church, published by the Council of Trent in 1634. The first such list appeared in 1529, and many others followed over the centuries.

The goal of the Index was to protect the ideologies of the Church by telling its followers which authors and books to avoid. This edition, for example, has a list of the ‘first class’ of authors that have been banned. For more than 400 years it banned works from many genres (scientific, philosophical, political, theological) because they were perceived to contradict Church doctrine.

De reuolutionibus orbium coelestium by Copernicus, 1566

title page of De reuolutionibus orbium coelestiumPages from De reuolutionibus orbium coelestium

Copernicus caused quite the stir when he published his work showing the Earth wasn’t the centre of the universe, as Christians believed it to be, following the description of creation in their Holy Scripture. It’s not every day the Church burns out passages of your writing.

This edition of De reuolutionibus orbium coelestium, published in 1566, contains passages that have been obscured and, in some instances, burned away. The further away from the Vatican you went, the less likely it was copies of the book would’ve been altered in such a way.

The work was never formally banned, but removed from circulation until it could be ‘corrected’ to present Copernicus’s heliocentric model as a hypothesis rather than a fact. It was removed from the Church’s Index librorum prohibitorum in 1758.

Dialogue by Galileo Galilei, 1632

pages of Galileo's Dialogo

It’s never a good idea to suggest the Pope is simpleminded, even if you do it accidentally.

Galileo Galilei’s Dialogue concerning the two chief world systems was published in 1632. It compared the heliocentric (the sun’s the centre of the solar system) and the geocentric (the Earth’s at the centre). Galileo had been instructed by Pope Urban VIII to present arguments for and against heliocentrism and to include the Pope’s views on the matter.

In the book, a character named Simplicio argues for a geocentric view of the solar system. He sometimes seems like a fool. This made the work seem like a defence of Copernican theory and lead to Galileo alienating the Pope.

Galileo was adamant he made an innocent mistake, but he was found guilty of heresy and imprisoned in 1633 regardless. His Dialogue was banned. It wouldn’t be removed from the Index librorum prohibitorum until 1718.

The Index librorum prohibitorum was one of the most powerful censorship tools in the world and was abolished in 1966.

Power Without Glory by Frank Hardy, 1950

power without glory cover

Power without glory was self-published in 1950, with some help from members of the Communist Party of Australia.

It’s a thinly-veiled fictionalised version of the life of John Wren, a Melbourne businessman and underworld figure. The book also includes characters based on social and political figures across Victoria and Australia, including former Victoria Premier Sir Thomas Bent and former Prime Minister James Scullin.

Power without glory saw Hardy tried for criminal libel in 1951. He was charged with libelling Ellen Wren, John Wren’s wife. The book suggests she had an affair that led to an illegitimate son. Hardy was acquitted as his work was a mix of fact and fiction.

The case, however, coincided with an anti-Communist referendum, giving Power without glory (and its negative portrayal of John Wren) even more attention.

The world is full of married men by Jackie Collins, 1968

Cover of The world is full of married men

Published in 1968, The world is full of married men by Jackie Collins is a story of ‘sex and show business’ (according to The Australian newspaper).

It made best-seller lists within a week of its publication but found itself banned in Australia. Collins was told to remove all the four-letter words but that didn’t help: the book was still banned.

The world is full of married men was eventually released in Australia. This copy was published by Compass Press in 1998.

The hate u give by Angie Thomas, 2017

Cover of The hate u give

The hate u give is inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and addresses issues of racism and police violence. A powerful and gripping young adult novel about one girl’s struggle for justice, it has won several literary awards and sat atop The New York Times bestseller list for 50 weeks. Yet the novel appeared in the top ten of the American Library Association’s list of most challenged and banned books of 2017.

School officials in Katy, Texas, banned The hate u give in late 2017 after it was challenged for ‘inappropriate language.’ It was pulled from the shelves by District Superintendent Lance Hindt, who claimed his actions were based on the book’s ‘pervasive vulgarity and racially-insensitive language … not its substantive content or the viewpoint expressed.’ After a local teen collected signatures the book was returned to the shelves, but students are now required to get parental permission to check it out. The book has also been challenged by the Fraternal Order of Police in Charleston, South Carolina for encouraging ‘distrust of police’. Read more about its status as a challenged book.

The hate u give is on the shortlist for the 2018 Silver Inky Award. The Inky Awards winners will be announced on Tuesday 2 October 2018.

More to explore

You may also like

Books that changed the world

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *