The Black Market of American Literature: Where Classic Novels Once Were

Updated on September 6, 2018
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Sara has been a Freelance Writer and Editor since 2007, currently in Cincinnati, OH. With a lifelong dream of writing this is it for her!


For those of you who have seen, I have previously covered this topic as it is one of incredible personal interest for me. Spending many years studying literature I have to wonder sometimes why certain novels that presented such introspection to strong American events are banned from publication and sale here in our own country. The more I look into the topic, the longer the list of these books grows, making me question why publishers and bookstores would feel this necessary.

There have been a number of reasons for books to be banned historically. Whether they would be language, sex, improper presentation of animals or scenery, there have been many, many reasons for books to be banned over the years. Then, later those same books have returned to the lists of leading, classic novels as they have told the word of our nation’s history or presented the tale of some of the greatest times worldwide.

It is amazing to consider the evolution of many novels from their initial publication to the time I was in high school, and then in college.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence

I know there are so many books that I find influential, one of these being Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence. There is not much to say other than the fact that this wasn’t meant to close the eyes of the American audience, or to introduce sexuality into the public eye. While much of the language in the book is what initially kept it off the shelves across most of the world, the eventual battle was resolved on the side of Penguin Publishers.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Ironically, this book based upon the stand against futilities and frustrations of official commands became initially banned in Strongsville, Ohio, in 1972. Though it was considered to be banned for foul language, it was found to be truly withheld because of its anti-Vietnam War theme. Hitting the shelves as the war was actually coming to an end, it was likely that a book expressing the absurdities of war would not be a positive if we were to lose the battle overseas.

Ulysses by James Joyce

Likely the most well-known Joyce masterpiece, it is hard to believe that this incredible novel was once banned from all American and British shelves early after its publication. With a simple advertisement in a literary journal, there was so much depth in the language of the sample prose that it is likely to have been considered potentially obscene. The immediate denial of this incredible novel went as far as the U.S. Postal Service burning copies before they would make it to bookstores.

Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe

This now classic novel was once legally banned by the federal Comstock Law of 1873, intended to prevent the sale of any products or materials considered to be obscene. While this is often considered an objective determination, back in this day Moll Flanders was banned along with contraceptives and sex toys… an interesting combination. While it would not necessarily be considered as saucy today, the indications of sex out of wedlock, adultery and other criminal behavior were way to haughty to be placed in the hand of public American readers. Interestingly enough, despite the law, it was never considered that Moll was returned to England in penitence for her sins (a point where the separation of church and state is basically ignored).

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Recorded as the second largest-selling book of the 1800s, only behind the Bible, it also raised the greatest amount of controversy! Actually banned in both America and Russia, of only a few books to which this happened, this happened in Russia as overstepping religion while in America it was for issues with race. However, here in America it was the face that it spoke out AGAINST racism, something that was not done until much later in this country. Southerners made enough of an outcry against Stowe’s novel that it was banned almost immediately upon publication.

Women in Love by D.H. Lawrence

In addition to Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D.H. Lawrence was on the blacklist of American Literature. This actually leads to a long list of Lawrence’s publications that post the open statement of female sexuality and desire openly for the public back in the first quarter of the 20th century. Now, it was initially published in the early ‘20s in New York, despite the bitter voice it received both here in the U.S. and in Britain. However, the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice declared it obscene, pulling it off the shelves and banning it officially. It also remained banned in Britain until 1931, as it was considered in both countries to be of a “putrid” nature.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

This book has existed on both ends of the line, the most banned and second most taught book in American history. A major definition of what teenage life entails, in frustrations and stress, it has been defended by many to be a key life educator. There are still those who speak out against it as playing a key role in murders and suicides across our nation, along with the addition of communist idealism to our youth. Something that was ignored by censors of this book is that banning it based on its affect on teenage rebellion will just make rebellious teenagers look harder for it.

Candide by Voltaire

Now this is one piece considered brilliant today that was originally a black seed at its first publication back in 1759. Though considered a best-seller it was also burned in Paris and Geneva at this time. And it took two centuries for this same reaction to occur here in the United States! Customs seized copies in 1930 based on its perspective of the military while we were entering WWII. So, it was banned a second time, by the post offices like many of the other classics that were withheld from shipping throughout the centuries.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Sara McIntosh


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      • saramc1980 profile imageAUTHOR

        Sara McIntosh 

        22 months ago from Cincinnati

        Haha, thanks! No matter how many times you turn off "autocorrect" in Office it still corrects your typos poorly.

      • profile image


        22 months ago

        Nice article. A small typo in line 4. Spelling of ‘banned’.


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