To celebrate Freedom to Read Week, here are some examples of historical and more contemporary censorship selected from the holdings of the Archives & Special Collections.
Il Petrarcha colla spositione di Misser Giovanni Andrea Gesvaldo : Alla illvstriss. Signora Donna Maria di Cardona la Signora marchesana de la Palvde
This item on Petrach from the Garigue Collection includes dedications to Pope Clemens VII. This did not stop the item from being censored in 1585 by members of the Inquisition. Leaf cliiii has had the bottom half removed and the top half of the page has been affixed to leaf clv. Leaves cxciv-cxcvi, a section (perhaps titled Babylonian sonnets?), have been removed altogether while leaf cxciii (verso) has text stroked out. A handwritten note dated 1585 on the title page identifies the changes as being carried out by the Inquisition.
Wyndham Lewis's BLAST
In the original edition of this avant-garde periodical, a poem by Ezra Pound entitled "Fratres Minores" was excised by U.S. censors. The censored lines read:
With minds still hovering about their testacles [sic]
That the twitching of three abdominal nerves | Is incapable of producing a lasting Nirvana.
In subsequent reprints of BLAST, these three lines were not reproduced at all (or even shown blacked out).
Jurgen and the censor : Report of the Emergency Committee organized to protest against the suppression of James Branch Cabell's Jurgen
In this pamphlet, letters of support are reprinted in a limited edition of 448 by members of the Emergency Committee led by Edward Hale Bierstadt, Barret H. Clark and Sidney Howard to protest the censorship of James Branch Cabell's fantasy novel Jurgen, A Comedy of Justice. This book is available online through the Internet Archives here.
Cabell's best-known book, Jurgen was denounced by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice which attempted to charge both the author and his publisher with obscenity. The controversy spilled out over two years before the case was resolved in court. The judge determined that the elements that so offended the prosecution were double entendres that arguably could have decent interpretations as well. As with many censorship and obscenity cases, concerns that 'vulnerable' groups of readers (children, adolescents, women, the working class) would be damaged by exposure to the text was assuaged by the court judge. He remarked that Cabell's writing style would not reach a wide audience as "...it is doubtful if the book could be read or understood at all by more than a very limited number of readers."
Cabell added an additional chapter to his 1926 revised edition of the novel, which had the hero on trial by the Philistines with a large dung beetle as the the chief prosecutor.
More recent censorship
Rohinton Mistry, Govenor General Award winning author donated his papers to York University beginning in 2000. In 2010, students in his alma mater of the University of Mumbai protested the inclusion of his 1991 novel Such a Long Journey in the library and school curriculum, claiming the book contained "offensive" descriptions of the political party Shiv Sena and its sometimes violent tactics. Shiv Sena supporters burned the book on campus as part of their protest. The protest was led by the 20-year old grandson of the party's founder, who admitted that he had not read the entire book, only the sections referring to Shiv Sena. Mistry responded in an op-ed piece in the Globe & Mail:
As for ... the young man who takes credit for the whole pathetic business, the literary critic who admits to not having read the book, just the few lines that offend him and his bibliophobic brethren, he has now been inducted into the family enterprise of parochial politics, anointed leader of its newly minted “youth wing.” What can – what should – one feel about him? Pity, revulsion, disappointment, compassion? Twenty years old, in the final year of a BA in history, at my own alma mater, he is about to embark down the Sena’s well-trodden path, to appeal, like those before him, to all that is worst in human nature.
Freedom to Read ... Freedom to Watch
The archives holds the records of Canadian director John N. Smith. Not a stranger to controversy, many of Smith's film projects have been challenged and repressed.
In the 1990s, Smith's CBC mini-series The Boys of St. Vincent was prevented from being nationally broadcast as it was believed it would influence public opinion of criminal trails related to child abuse at the Mount Cashel orphanage in Newfoundland. Smith's more recent production Prairie Giant: The Tommy Douglas Story was challenged by family members related to Premier James Garfield Gardiner, who felt the film was historically-inaccurate and slandered Gardiner's reputation. Ceding to pressure, the CBC issued a public apology and removed the series from future broadcast and prevented sales of the DVD. More recently, footage from Smith's 2009 Irish co-production Love & Savagery was held up by border officials in Canada. Smith and his production partners blamed the delay on Bill C-10, believing border officials suspected the film was pornographic. Border officials threatened to send the footage to an RCMP lab to be developed to prove their suspicions, which raised new concerns with the director. "This was 35-millimetre negative film. It's very, very critical, you can't just have any old lab go and process it," Smith told reporters.
Gallup, Donald. "Some notes on Ezra Pound and censorship" found in 'Ezra Pound : a new montage', The Yale University magazine, Dec. 1958. pp. 37-41.
Glassman, Marc. "In conversation with John N. Smith" Montage (Directors Guild of Canada) (Fall 2006) : 12-19.
"Director suspects shadow of Bill C-10 involved in confiscation of footage". CBC News. Available at: http://www.cbc.ca/news/story/2008/05/07/border-footage-loveandsavagery.html.
Mistry, Rohinton. "Oh, what a sorry book-burning spectacle." Globe and Mail. 20 October 2010. Available at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/opinion/oh-what-a-sorry-book-burning-spectacle/article1764205/
"Mistry defends book dropped at Mumbai University." CBC News. 19 October 2010. Available at: http://www.cbc.ca/arts/books/story/2010/10/19/rohinton-mistry.html
VCU Libraries Special Collections : James Branch Cabell. Available at: http://www.library.vcu.edu/jbc/speccoll/exhibit/cabell/jbcbio.html
The Frost Library has created a Freedom To Read exhibit featuring censored and challenged books from their own collections. Check out the main lobby of the Frost Library!