12 classic books that were banned and the (often unexpected) reasons why

From The Wizard of Oz to Brave New World, here's a list of 12 classic novels that have been banned around the world – and the sometimes surprising reasons why . . . 

19/07/2021
2 minutes to read

Authors throughout history have struggled to tell their stories, in the face of religious dogma and political and social suppression. Indeed, in many parts of the world, this is still very much the case. Here are 15 classic novels that have been banned around the world – and the sometimes surprising reasons why.

The Prince

by Niccolò Machiavelli

Book cover for 9781529008401

Drawing on examples from the ancient Greeks and Romans and from Machiavelli’s contemporaries, The Prince offers – some believed with satirical intent – advice on how a ruler should preserve his power, conduct warfare and maintain his reputation. Satirical or not, the book has the distinction of having been banned at least twice – first by the Pope in 1559 for being anti-Catholic and dangerous, and then by Protestants who felt that it played a role in a 1572 massacre of French Huguenots.

Twelfth Night

by William Shakespeare

Book cover for 9781909621909

Shakespeare's themes have evergreen relevance, and have been banned everywhere from China to Texas at various points. With its joyous approach to cross-dressing characters, Twelfth Night was was banned in the school system in Merrimack, New Hampshire for 'encouraging homosexuality.'

The Call of the Wild and White Fang

by Jack London

Book cover for 9781509841769

The Call of the Wild tells the story of Buck, a domestic dog who is kidnapped from his home in California, while White Fang is the tale of a crossbreed wolf/dog, who is tamed and taken to live in California. Writing about animals may seem innocuous, but George Orwell proved that our four-legged friends can carry a powerful political message. In Yugoslavia and in Italy, London's books were banned for their radicalism and anti-totalitarian message.

The Wizard of Oz

by L. Frank Baum

Book cover for 9781509881963

Follow Dorothy, and her loyal dog Toto, as they are carried away from Kansas by a cyclone to the wonderful world of Oz. This may seem an innocent journey, but throughout the twentieth century and across various US states, the book was banned for its strong female characters, use of magic, promotion of socialist values and attribution of human characteristics to animals.

A Farewell To Arms

by Ernest Hemingway

Book cover for 9781909621411

Ernest Hemingway’s charming story of a Red Cross ambulance driver and a nurse falling in love and finding happiness in the First World War was banned from entering the Boston newsstands upon publication in 1929 as it was deemed pornographic, despite containing no ‘scenes of a sexual nature’.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass

by Lewis Carroll

Book cover for 9781909621572

This beloved children’s book was banned in China in the 1930s as the then government believed animals using the same language as humans was a religious abomination. In the 1960s multiple institutions in the United States banned the book, believing the caterpillar and his hookah promoted the use of hallucinogenic drugs.

A Study in Scarlet & The Sign of the Four

by Arthur Conan Doyle

Book cover for 9781909621763

In 2011, the first of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mysteries was banned from schools in Virginia. Parents complained that Doyle portrayed the Mormon religion in a negative light, and despite students still arguing that it was a good book, the school board agreed that it was not age appropriate and subsequently banned it.

The Well of Loneliness

by Radclyffe Hall

Book cover for The Well of Loneliness

Whilst non-binary narratives like this one are becoming more and more welcomed, a hundred years ago The Well of Loneliness was labelled as a ‘contamination and corruption of English fiction’ for its portrayal of a young woman falling in love with another young woman. The legal battle to get Hall’s novel published increased the visibility of lesbian culture, but the book remained banned until after her death in 1943.

Lady Chatterley's Lover

by D. H. Lawrence

Book cover for 9781509843190

In Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D. H. Lawrence tells the story of a wife yearning for human contact after her husband returns from war paralysed, and her subsequent illicit and passionate affair with their estate’s gamekeeper, Mellors. The book was published privately in 1928 but banned in the UK and America. After a groundbreaking obscenity trial against Penguin Books, it was published in 1960 and promptly sold 3 million copies.

Lolita

by Vladimir Nabokov

Book cover for Lolita

In Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov addresses one of the most taboo subjects of our era. The novel invites readers, very much against their will and without realising it, to sympathise with Humbert Humbert: a man obsessed with sexualising young girls. It’s no surprise that this book was banned upon publication in the 50s, but its literary potential was realised by an American professor shortly afterwards as he jumped through all the hoops to get this book on his class reading list.

Brave New World

by Aldous Huxley

Book cover for Brave New World

Presenting a stark vision of our future world - where babies are manufactured on conveyor belts, non-conformists are banished like zoo animals to ‘The Reservation’, and dosing up on chemicals is the norm - Huxley’s 1932 utopian-turned-dystopian novel evoked fear in many Americans, resulting in it being banned from many school syllabuses in the mid-twentieth century.

Ulysses

Book cover for Ulysses

When it was first published in 1922, Joyce’s masterpiece was considered a danger to the impressionable minds of young girls. Authorities feared Ulysses would corrupt them with passion and loose morals, which resulted in the novel being banned after one of the most famous trials in literary history.