Famous Books You Didn’t Know Were Censored


Most fans of literature and free speech will be well aware that censorship (or at least attempted censorship) is alive and well in the United States. Recently, a parent objected to the un-expurgated version of Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl, calling her descriptions of her budding sexuality “pornographic.” This person is rather behind the times — those passages were originally cut because of the chance that they might offend, but reinstated later on. But Frank isn’t the only author whose raciest passages were cut before publication. Feast your mind on the following selection of books that were censored or expurgated from their original, more scandalous formats.

The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank

Back in 1947, when Anne’s father Otto Frank published her diary, he was advised by his publisher that some of Anne’s writings about her sexuality would be offensive to certain readers, and several diary entries, constituting about 30 percent of the book, were cut. Sixty-six years later, parents are complaining about the “pornographic” entries in the restored edition, since being frank (pun somewhat intended) about one’s vagina is clearly incredibly porn-y.

The Picture of Dorian Gray , Oscar Wilde

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Oscar Wilde’s famous novel was much more homoerotic in its original form than in the version that finally made it to print in 1891. Apparently, Wilde’s editor J.M. Stoddart acknowledged that the text contained “a number of things which an innocent woman would make an exception to,” and to that end made significant cuts of “objectionable” material (read: more obvious exploration of both Basil’s and Dorian’s sexuality), assuring Craige Lippincott that he would polish it until it was “acceptable to the most fastidious taste” before it was published in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in 1890. Even with these cuts, the public outrage was so intense that it was revised even more drastically before it could be published in book form the next year. In 2011, an uncensored version was published by Harvard University Press.

From Here to Eternity , James Jones

When James Jones submitted his classic novel From Here to Eternity to his editor at Scribner, it contained “explicit mentions of gay sex and a number of four-letter words” that didn’t make it to the final product. When changes were proposed, Jones objected, writing that “the things we change in this book for propriety’s sake will in five years, or ten years, come in someone else’s book anyway.” But ultimately he gave in, and the edited version was published in 1951. Sixty years later, Jones’s daughter decided to republish the book in a completely restored, digital edition.

In The First Circle , Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Before Solzhenitsyn’s classic was published in 1968, the author cut nine chapters (including a scene in which the main character warns the US embassy of a Soviet plan to steal nuclear secrets) in order to pass through censors in his native USSR, and even truncated the title to The First Circle. An English translation of the full version was published by Harper Perennial in 2009.

Fahrenheit 451 , Ray Bradbury

Oh, irony. Bradbury’s famous novel, a strong argument against censorship, was itself expurgated and sold by its publisher in that diminished form for a full 13 years before the author found out about it. About 15 years after its original publication in 1953, Ballantine Books began marketing a special edition to high schools, with more than 75 passages “cleaned up” for teenage consumption — swear words erased and certain passages rewritten. The censored version ran for 10 printings before Bradbury found out about it in 1979. He demanded that the publisher withdraw all the modified books and continue to sell only the original, and they gracefully (and probably sheepishly) agreed.

Demons , Fyodor Dostoyevsky

When Dostoyevsky submitted his political novel in 1872, the government censored an entire chapter, “At Tikhon’s,” which features Stavrogin’s confession that he molested a teenage girl, who then killed herself. It is now included in most modern editions, but also often published separately.

The Woman At 1000°, Hallgrímur Helga

This novel’s not a classic (yet), but it is a contemporary example of major expurgation to fit a foreign market. Apparently, the German version of Icelandic author Hallgrímur Helga is a full 30 chapters shorter than the original — with the affected chapters being mainly related to Hitler and the Holocaust. “It is not just a gentle redrafting – it is a rewrite of everything that has to do with Adolf Hitler, SS and war. We are not talking about removing one word here and one sentence there, but completely systematic political censorship,” said scholar Erik Skyum-Nielsen. The German publisher said they merely wanted to make it shorter.