Literary Censorship Highlights (From Tabula Rasa #3, 1994)585 BCThe fabulist Æsop is flung from a high rock by the priests of Delphi, an execution for sacrilege.443 BCThe office of Censor is created in the Roman Republic. The duty of the position was to collectstatistics and patrol their accuracy.Meanwhile, in Athens, Plato is theorising the position of literature in The Republic. The poet shallcompose nothing contrary to the ideas of the lawful, just, or beautiful or good, which are allowed inthe State; nor shall he be permitted to show his compositions to any private individual, until he shallhave shown them to the appointed censors and the guardians of the law, and they are satisfied withthem.398 BCAnd at the height of the Peloponnesian War, Aristophanes produces his satire Lysistrata, theparliament of women. The Athenian ruler Cleophon calls for his deportment as an alien for producingmorally offensive material. The way Aristophanes satirised him may just have been a factor.17 ADOne of the most popular poets of the new Roman Imperium, Publius Ovidius Naso or Ovid, isbanished from Rome after publishing the Ars Amatoria (your Latins good enough for that). This wasconceivably an excuse; he writes that two crimes, a poem and a blunder have brought me to ruin. Imust keep silent.1235The Inquisition is established by Pope Gregory IX to patrol and enforce the orthodoxy of the Christianfaith. The Inquisition, over the next four hundred years, practises an extremely direct form ofcensorship involving the examination of published works, their judgement of heretical content orotherwise, and the seeking out and examination of the authors. If an idea did not fit in with establishedchurch law, it could not be circulated. Writers such as Giordono Bruno, in 1600, and Lucilio Vanini,1619, were burned along with their works.1554The first of a new style of novel, the picaresque, is published in Spain by an anonymous author. LaVida de Lazarillo de Tormes y sus Fortunas y Adversidades is placed on Pius IVs list of bannedbooks, for immorality and anti-clerical statements.1571Paul IV issues the first formal Index Librorum Prohibitorum, including such works as DeRevolutionibus Orbium Coelestium by Copernicus and the Dialoga of Galileo.1660In England A Proclamation for Calling In, and Suppressing of Two Books Written by John Milton. Thebooks concerned are Miltons Eikonklastes (a justification of Charles Is execution) and Pro PopuloDefensio (In Defence of the People of England).1759The Encyclopedie ou Dictionnaire Raisonne Des Sciences, Des Arts et de Metiers, is placed on thatyear’s papal Index. The project of a group of French intellectuals, including Jean-Jaques Rousseau,Denis Diderot and Francois Arout le Voltaire, the entry most likely to have been the trouble wasCannibalism, see Eucharist.1785Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais has his extremely popular play La folle Journèe (The CrazyDay), banned for raising the issue of droit et signeur. Also known as Le Mariage de Figaro, the banwas lifted by the Duke of Vienna in 1786 to allow performance of an opera version by WolfgangAmadeus Mozart.
1796An English Society for the Suppression of Vice is formed and succeeds in having The Monk banned.This was the second edition, wherein the author revealed himself as a well-regarded Member ofParliament, Matthew Lewis. The exalted position of the author appears to have been the motivation.1801French government forces arrest the Marquis de Sade at the house of his publisher. Copies of thenotorious Justine, ou les Malheurs de la Vertu, published in 1791, are also seized. This book remainedbanned in France, certainly into the 1960s. The works of this author have, as a rule, been a mainstay ofthe debate on censorship since they were first published.1818A member of that English Society for the Suppression of Vice was one Thomas Bowdler, who in thisyear published The Bowdler Family Shakespere, excised of all words and expressions... which cannotwith propriety be read aloud in a family.1873In America, the Comstock Act is passed by Congress, criminalising the depositing of obscene, lewdor lascivious book or other publication of indecent character in the US mail. The bill was lobbied forby Anthony Comstock, founder and secretary of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice.1877Annie Besant stands trial in England for the printing and distribution of The Fruits of Philosophy, apamphlet on birth control described as indecent, lewd and obscene.1917The periodical The Little Review begins publishing James Joyces novel about the whole of life,Ulysses, in serial form. Charges of obscenity follow and stick. The Shakespere and Companybookshop in Paris nonetheless prints the first full edition in 1922; an edition not permitted to beimported into England or America.1939World War II. Lots. It is interesting to note that, aside from the usual propaganda and cultural purityissues, works of fictional horror were dissaproved of on both sides of the Atlantic on the grounds theywould damage morale.1954The American Senate commences an inquiry, and brings to court Entertaining Comics, for producingtitles such as Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror. The trial was incited by publication of DrFredric Werthams book, The Seduction of the Innocents: The Influence of Comic Books on TodaysYouth.1989Salmon Rushdies novel The Satanic Verses was deemed an insult to Islam and banned in Islamiccounties, whilst copies were burnt in England. Not content with this, the Ayatollah Khomeini placed adeath sentence on the authors head, forcing him into hiding. At least they didnt throw him off a rock.Thats progress for you.Timeline of Literary Censorship in Canada1694Molière’s comedy Tartuffe was condemned by Bishop Jean Baptiste de la Croix Chevrière de Saint-Vallier of Quebec. In his sentence the bishop declared that all such comedies were not onlydangerous, but also evil and criminal. To ensure that inappropriate entertainments of this sort were notrepeated in the colony, Chevrière offered the cash-strapped governor one hundred pistols in return forbanning the offensive work, a gift that was happily accepted1847
The passing of the Customs Act which prohibited the importation of “books and drawings of animmoral or indecent character.”1895The creation of the first Canadian list of books not to be imported into Canada, including 47 titles; by1957 there were over one thousand.1914The passing of The War Measures Act provided for the “censorship and control and suppression ofpublications, writings, maps, plans, photographs, communication and means of communication.”Particularly severe was Chief Censor Ernest J. Chambers’ ban of 253 foreign titles, as well as thesuppression of several Canadian newspapers including the Sault Ste. Marie Express, Le Bulletin ofMontreal, Quebec City’s La Croix, and Victoria Week which had questioned the government’s wartimepolicies.1919The extension of the War Measures Act ostensibly allowed for the reconstruction of the falteringCanadian economy. As a result numerous leftist books and journals were banned from importation.While some Canadian journals wthe Chief Censor was less successful in prosecuting organizationswilling to print similar materials inside the country. In 1919, for example, the Socialist Party ofCanada published an edition of the Manifesto of the Communist Party using funds from the bequest oflate party member George Whitehead of Vancouver.1919In the wake of the Winnipeg Strike, Section 98 was added to the Criminal Code establishing a twentyyear prison term for anyone involved in the production or distribution of printed materials thatadvocated or defended the use of force or terrorism to achieve political or economic change.1923James Joyce’s Ulysses banned from importation into Canada. The ban was lifted in 1949.1937In Quebec, Maurice Duplessis’ government passed the “Padlock Law” making it illegal to propagateCommunism in print.1937The Alberta government passed the “Alberta Press Act” requiring newspapers to publish free of chargestatements furnished by the Social Credit Board chairman that related to government policies. Editorshad to print up to one full page of text every day a newspaper was printed if needed by the Party. TheAct also demanded that newspapers divulge the names of anyone involved in the writing of editorials.Penalties included suspension of publication and bans against journalists.1939Passing of The War Measures Act and the Defence of Canada Regulations which came into effect inSeptember 1939. As with World War I, censorship focused on the protection of military secrets,national safety, the prosecution of the war abroad, and the maintenance of morale at home. Contraryto common law tradition, the burden of proof fell on the person who was charged with any violation ofthe regulations.1949Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead banned in Canada.1954The federal government defined “obscenity” in the Criminal Code, amending the definition five yearslater to state that “any publication a dominant characteristic of which is the undue exploitation of sex,or of sex and any one or more of the following subjects, namely, crime, horror, cruelty and violence,shall be deemed to be obscene.”
1960The uncensored version of Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover banned from Canada. The ban waslifted in 1962.1970Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act to deal with the perceived threat that theF.L.Q. posed to peace in Canada generally and Quebec in particular. The Act limited the ability ofnewspapers and magazines to report events with surprisingly little criticism at the time although theAct allowed for the “censorship and the control and suppression of publications, writings, maps, plans,photographs, communications and means of communication.”1971Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women is removed from the shelves of a Peterborough High Schoolleading to the establishment of Freedom to Read Week in Canada.1976A group of Lakefield, Ontario parents united under the banner of the “Citizens in Defence ofDecency”, demanding that Laurence’s The Diviners be removed from schools on the grounds that itwas “unsavory pornography” promoting “degradation, indecency and immorality”. Although theirdemands were ultimately rejected, another challenge came in 1985 by another group whoacknowledged that they had not read the book in its entirety.1982With the appearance of the Canadian Charter of Rights limitations on literary expression become farmore difficult, though not impossible, to justify.1989During Freedom to Read Week Canada becomes the only Western Deomcracy to ban the importationand sale of The Satanic Verses.2000J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is removed from numerous school libraries across Canada,particularly in Newfoundland, Ontario, and Alberta.2007Peels Catholic board pulled the award-winning novel Snow Falling on Cedars from high schoollibrary shelves after one parent complained about its sexual content.