Books we must not read. Part Two


Recently, following the lead of an article by William Mason-Owen published in a 1951 issue of The Colophon magazine, Jot 101 looked at some of the manuscripts and typescripts in the British Museum Library that were then withheld from publication due to the sensitivity of their contents. In part two we examine the banned printed books mentioned in the article.

First on the Colophon list is Cantab, by the otherwise respected Irish writer Shane Leslie, which appeared in 1926. This was ‘withdrawn under threat of legal proceedings for obscenity’. Your Jotter hasn’t examined the novel, which recounts the adventures and misadventures of a Cambridge undergraduate, but those in the know have maintained that any indelicacies it contains are inoffensive and certainly do not justify the ban.

D.H.Lawrence’s The Rainbow and Lady Chatterley’s Lover were also regarded as dangerous to public morality. Around half the first edition of the former was burned in 1915, hence its comparative rarity. Moreover, if you can find a copy in the original rather sensationalist dust wrapper you will get a few thousand pounds for it.

Ulysses (1922) was another on the list. The Little Review, in which excerpts appeared, was prosecuted in the US and the whole book remained suppressed here until 1934.The Egoist, which published parts of it in the UK was also the subject of court action. The first edition of the book appeared in Paris in 1922, but copies of this and subsequent continental editions were subject to seizure by British customs until a ban was lifted on its publication in the thirties.

The first volume of Havelock Ellis’s Studies in the Psychology of Sex which dealt with sexual inversion,was subject to court action when it appeared from London University press in 1997. Pronouncing on this first significant study of male and female homosexuality, the judge contended that claims for the book’s scientific value were ‘a pretence adopted for the purpose of selling a filthy publication’. Because of this obtuse verdict, the remainder of the seven volumes in the series were published only in the States and until 1935 were legally available solely to the medical profession.

The Mint, by T.E.Lawrence remains one of the most famous of the banned books, probably because of the author’s damaging remarks on a fellow officer. Mason-Owen goes further and suggests that more than one person may have been libelled. A US edition came out in 1936 with the remarks intact ( thank heavens for US free speech, I say), and although Cape set up the book in 1948, it wasn’t published in a trade edition until 1955, by which time an officer mentioned by the author had died.

The ‘original copy ‘ of De Profundis by Oscar Wilde, which according to Mason-Owen, ‘differs considerably to the version familiar to normal readers’, has ‘never been seen by the general public except when it was occasionally taken into court for legal purposes ‘.All very mysterious. Today we can safely reveal that the ‘original copy’ in question was the manuscript detailing the relationship between Bosie and Wilde which Robert Ross, Wilde’s executor, placed in the BM, specifying that it wasn’t to be published in total until 1960.It later appeared in an edition of Wilde’s letters.

Boy by James Hanley. This semi-autobiographical account of a young sailor’s sexual encounters while in the navy was published by Boriswood in 1931 with the offensive passages replaced by asterisks. Two reprints appeared within the following 18 months without anyone turning a hair, and it was only after an unexpurgated cheap edition from the same publisher was found in a Manchester lending library in 1934 that the local watch committee alerted the police. In court it was ruled that its appearance might corrupt the youth and it was withdrawn. The publishers were also warned that Hanley’s description of a gay encounter was indefensible in court and a fine was summarily imposed on Boriswood.

Bessie Cotter (1935) by the brilliant American book illustrator Wallace Smith was the story of a prostitute on the streets of Chicago. It was banned for indecency when it appeared in the UK, but copies were still available in the States.

No Place for the Young was on the Colophon list, but alas nothing can be discovered about this banned book. If some Jotwatcher can tell us more, we’d like to hear from them. [R.M.Healey]

2 thoughts on “Books we must not read. Part Two

  1. Roger Allen

    The only book titled No Place for the Young in the BL catalogue is by Erik WARMAN, published by Fortune Press in 1934. Fortune Press was run by the infamous R A Caton. In 1934 it was one of the books – among them translations by Shane Leslie and Montague Summers – that Caton was ordered to destroy after he was found guilty of obscene libel.

  2. Jot 101 Post author

    Many thanks Roger. We bought a big Caton archive last year and the book wasn’t in it but I did found out that many of the books that Caton was ordered to destroy were not destroyed, he merely stashed them until the row blew over.


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