Ulysses and book burning in Australia

Today the 16th June is Bloomsday, a celebration of the life and work of the Irish writer James Joyce. Joyce’s epic novel Ulysses is set on that day in 1904, the day of his first date with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle.

This lengthy novel has been highly controversial, and has been banned in various countries. It is written using a stream-of-consciousness technique, with careful structuring based on Homer’s Odyssey. Its revolutionary technique and experimental prose as well as its rich characterisation and broad humour, have led it to be regarded as one of the greatest literary works in history.

I read Ulysses as an undergraduate during my daily commutes by train to and from Sydney University. I was particularly taken with the final chapter of Ulysses in which Molly Bloom is lying in bed next to Leopold and her thoughts are reported as a stream-of-consciousness 42 pages in length. I think I read a paperback edition that belonged to my father. I remember him during that period quoting to me the following passage highlighting Leopold Bloom’s adoration for his wife Molly, because he loved the sound of the words:

“He kissed the plump mellow yellow smellow melons of her rump, on each plump melonous hemisphere, in their mellow yellow furrow, with obscure prolonged provocative melonsmelonous osculation.”
                James Joyce, Ulysses, Episode 17 “Ithaca”.

My father and before him my great-Uncle John (1895-1975) were book collectors and I have kept some of their books, including a copy of the first edition of Ulysses published by Shakespeare and Company in Paris. After the initial printing of 1000 numbered copies in 1922, my great-uncle acquired a copy in 1927 from the 8th print run of May 1926.

Title page

A publishing history of Ulysses can be found at antwerpjamesjoycecenter.com

I knew that Ulysses had been banned in Australia for some time and looked up the dates. it was not banned until 1929, then released in 1937, only to be restricted again in 1941 after pressure from Catholic organizations. This ban was lifted in 1953 after it was considered ineffectual considering how many copies were already in circulation.

Ulysses was banned in the USA until 1934, when it was deemed not to be pornographic in a court case brought by the publisher Random House. Throughout the 1920s, the United States Post Office Department burned copies of the novel. Ulysses was also banned in the United Kingdom until 1936 and in Ireland until the 1960s.

During the 20th century Australia was one of the strictest censors in the western world, often banning imported material that was considered suitable reading in England, Europe and America. A vast range of books have been banned in Australia for reasons including depictions of sex, homosexuality, violence, crime and drug use, or for “subversive” political themes. In 1935, the responsibility for banning books fell on the Department of Trade and Customs who could ban the import of any book it deemed “obscene, indecent, blasphemous and seditious, or those identified to excessively emphasize sex, violence or crime”.

Other prominent novelists and writers who have had books banned in Australia include William Burroughs, James Baldwin, Balzac, Simone de Beauvoir, Erskine Caldwell, Daniel Defoe, Ian Fleming, Jean Genet, Ernest Hemingway, Aldous Huxley, Barry Humphries, D.H. Laurence, Vladimir Lenin, Norman Mailer, Vladimir Nabakov, George Orwell, Ovid, Rabelais, Philip Roth, J.D. Salinger and Gore Vidal.

In the year I was born, Ray Bradbury published the dystopian science fiction novel Fahrenheit 451 about a future American society where books are outlawed and “firemen” burn any that are found. The title refers to the temperature at which book paper catches fire and burns. Incidentally, every few years, Fahrenheit 451 ends up on a banned book list somewhere in the United States. It’s an irony with a long history. In 1979, Bradbury himself demanded that Ballantine Books cease publication of a high school edition that censored some of the language.

At the time Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451, Australia had a very active regime of banning books and burning those illicit copies that it seized. Far more so than the USA, where there was some constitutional protection for free speech. In contrast, the Australian constitution has no clauses on human rights, and there is no bill of rights. Hence, there are no real legal impediments to the persecution of whistle-blowers and journalists, as is happening at increasing rates at present, or to the censorship of films and books.

Lists of banned material from the 1920s to 1970s have been compiled by Google Arts and Culture, the National Library of Australia and the University of Melbourne Library among others. I list below a selection of books that have been banned in Australia at various times; it’s an idiosyncratic selection including some famous books I am astonished to see there as well as various books I have read and, in some cases, currently own copies of. I’ve largely ignored the quite large numbers of banned erotic, romantic or crime novels by largely obscure authors, but have included some that illustrate that our government used to think Australians were too sensitive to be given information about hippy culture, birth control, or sexual practices, orientations, and psychology of sex, among other things.

 Selected books that have been banned in Australia

  • William Adlington (trans.), The golden ass of Lucius Apuleius (banned 1933–1936)
  • Stuart Anderson, The how and why of birth control (banned 1937)
  • Anon., Hash cookery (banned 1970)
  • Anon., The mad, mad world of Aubrey Beardsley (banned 1969)
  • James Baldwin, Another country (banned 1963–1966)
  • Simone de Beauvoir, The Marquis de Sade: An essay (banned 1956–1973)
  • Brendan Behan, Borstal boy (banned 1958–1965)
  • Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron (banned 1923–1936)
  • William S. Burroughs, The naked lunch (banned 1960–1973)
  • Sir Richard Francis Burton (trans.), The Kamasutra (banned c.1900–1968)
  • Erskine Caldwell, God’s little acre (banned 1933–1958; banned in Victoria 1959)
  • Alex Carlson, She-male: The sex-reversal true story of Coccinelle (banned 1966)
  • John Cleland, Memoirs of a woman of pleasure (Fanny Hill) (banned c.1920–1940; restricted 1940–1973)
  • Robert Close, Love me sailor (banned 1946–1960; author and publisher convicted of obscene libel)
  • Leonard Cohen, Beautiful losers (banned 1967–1973)
  • Daniel Defoe, Moll Flanders (banned 1930–1937; restricted 1940–1973)
  • J.P. Donleavy, The ginger man (banned 1957–1967)
  • John Dos Passos, 1919 (banned 1932–1937)
  • Bret Easton Ellis, American psycho (R-rated in Australia, banned in Queensland 1991 to date)
  • Ian Fleming, The spy who loved me (banned 1962)
  • Jean Genet, The thief’s journal (banned 1965–1972)
  • Radclyffe Hall, The well of loneliness (banned 1928–1939)
  • J.M. Harcourt, Upsurge (banned 1934–1958). A novel of working class Western Australians during the Depression, it was regarded as indecent and seditious.
  • Frank Harris, My life and loves (banned 1926–1973)
  • Ernest Hemingway, A farewell to arms (banned 1931–1937)
  • Abbie Hoffman, Woodstock nation (banned 1970)
  • Barry Humphries, The wonderful world of Barry McKenzie (banned 1968–1971)
  • Aldous Huxley, Brave new world (banned 1932–1937). Libraries were required to return copies of the novel already imported, to Customs for destruction in 1933, when they were duly burnt.
  • James Jones, The thin red line (banned then released 1963)
  • James Joyce, Dubliners (banned 1929–1933)
  • James Joyce, Ulysses (banned 1929–1937, restricted 1941–1953)
  • Phyllis & Eberhard Kronhausen, Pornography and the law (banned 1960–1968)
  • D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s lover (banned 1929–1965)
  • Timothy Leary, Ralph Metner & Richard Alpert, The psychedelic experience: A manual based on the Tibetan book of the dead (banned 1968)
  • Gershon Legman, The limerick: 1700 examples with notes, variants and index (banned 1956–1973)
  • Vladimir Lenin, The State and revolution (banned c.1930–1937)
  • Jack Lindsay (trans.), The complete works of Caius Petronius Arbiter (banned c.1930)
  • Norman Lindsay, Age of consent (banned 1938–1962)
  • William McCarthy, Bible, Church, and God (banned 1943–1958)
  • Larry McMurtry, The last picture show (banned 1967–1973)
  • Norman Mailer, An American dream (banned 1965–1971)
  • Norman Mailer, Why are we in Vietnam? (banned 1968–1973)
  • ‘Ern Malley’, The darkening ecliptic (publisher Max Harris convicted of indecent publication 1944)
  • Robert Masters & Jean Houston, Psychedelic art (banned 1968)
  • E.P. Mathers (comp.), The thousand and one nights (banned 1930–1938)
  • Grace Metalious, Peyton Place (unexpurgated edition banned 1957–1971). Payton Place sold more than 12 million copies in the USA, and it surpassed Gone With the Wind to become the best-selling novel of all time in 1958, a position it held for nearly 20 years. Despite this, Australians officially could only buy a specially “expurgated” edition.
  • Henry Miller, Nexus (banned 1955–1973), Plexus (banned 1955–1973), Sexus (banned 1955–1973)
  • Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer (banned 1949–1956; restricted 1956–1971)
  • Henry Miller, Tropic of Capricorn (banned 1949–1956; restricted 1956–1971)
  • Joseph Mouet (trans.), Casanova’s memoirs (banned c.1930)
  • Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (banned 1958–1965)
  • Muhammad Ibn Umar al-Nefzaoul, The perfumed garden (banned 1929–1968)
  • Phillip Nitschke and Fiona Stewart, The peaceful pill handbook (refused classification 2007)
  • John O’Hara, Appointment in Samarra (banned 1935–1954)
  • John O’Hara, Butterfield 8 (banned 1950–1963)
  • George Orwell, Down and out in Paris and London (banned 1933–1953)
  • George Orwell, Keep the aspidistra flying (banned 1936–1954)
  • Ovid, The love books of Ovid (banned 1926–1936)
  • William Powell, The anarchist cookbook (banned 1970)
  • François Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel (banned 1926–1929)
  • Erich Maria Remarque, All quiet on the Western Front (banned in NSW 1930)
  • Harold Robbins, The adventurers (banned 1968–1971)
  • Harold Robbins, The carpetbaggers (unabridged edition banned 1961–1971)
  • C.H. Rolph, The trial of Lady Chatterley (banned 1961–1965)
  • Panama Rose, The hashish cookbook (banned 1970)
  • Harold Rosen, Therapeutic abortion (banned 1963–1969)
  • Philip Roth, Portnoy’s complaint (banned 1969 to mid-1971). Penguin Books Australia went to court and gained the rights to publish it locally, although that edition was then banned by most of the States.
  • Marquis de Sade, Justine (banned 1936–1973)
  • Marquis de Sade, Oeuvres completes (banned 1967)
  • Marquis de Sade, The 120 days of Sodom (banned 1957; restricted release 1973)
  • J.D. Salinger, The catcher in the rye (banned 1956; ban lifted after copies seized from Commonwealth Parliamentary Library 1957)
  • George Scott, Modern birth control methods (banned 1936–1956)
  • Cecil E. Skitch, Woman’s destiny and birth control (banned 1928)
  • Manning Slater, Sex offenders in group therapy: The personal experiences of a clinical psychologist (banned 1966)
  • Wilbur Smith, The train from Katanga (banned 1966)
  • Terry Southern & Andy Warhol, Blue movie (banned 1971)
  • Mickey Spillane, I, the jury (banned 1951–1967) and several other novels
  • Norman Spinrad, Bug Jack Barron (banned 1970)
  • Norman Spinrad, The men in the jungle (banned 1972)
  • W.D. Sprague, Sexual rebellion in the sixties (banned 1966)
  • Olaf Stapledon, Sirius (banned 1945–1958)
  • Irving Stone, Pageant of youth (banned 1936–1958)
  • Marie Stopes, Wise parenthood (banned 1918)
  • Kenneth Tynan, Oh! Calcutta (banned 1969)
  • Gore Vidal, The city and the pillar (restricted 1950–1966)
  • Gore Vidal, The judgement of Paris (banned 1953–1958)
  • Gore Vidal, Myra Breckinridge (banned 1968–1973)
  • Oscar Wilde (trans.), The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter (restricted 1935–1951)
  • Edmund Wilson, Memoirs of Hecate County (banned 1946)
  • Kathleen Winsor, Forever amber (banned 1945–1958). There was some government embarrassment when it was discovered that Hollywood was making a movie of the book, released in 1947. However, that did not alter the views of the Literature Censorship Board.
  • Xiaoxiaosheng, The golden lotus (restricted 1948–1968)

Another set of books on the list above which my great-uncle John had in his library was The Book of The Thousand Nights and One Night translated by Dr. J.C. Mardrus and compiled by E. Powys Mathers. This was privately printed in London as a 16 volume set for subscribers of the Casanova Society in 1923 and acquired by my great uncle on 24 September 1923. It was banned in Australia from 1930 to 1938. In part, because it was compiled by a namesake, I have kept this set of books also. Such classic stories as Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves are from the 1001 Nights. As is the story of Aladdin, recently made into the second of two movies of the same title from Walt Disney.

Among other banned books that my father had in his library were Frank Harris’s very explicit autobiography My Life and Loves with a focus on his many seductions of teenage girls and women, as well as other Frank Harris memoirs. I started seriously buying my own books around 1970 when I started university, and made it a habit to include a tour of the second-hand bookshops of George Street, on my return home at the end of the day. I picked up a number of books, new or second-hand in the early 1970s which, at the time, I had no idea  had been banned. These included Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckinridge, Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s complaint, Timothy Leary, Ralph Metner & Richard Alpert’s The psychedelic experience: A manual based on the Tibetan book of the dead, Gershon Legman, The limerick: 1700 examples with notes, variants and index, and Barry Humphries, The wonderful world of Barry McKenzie.

The election of the Whitlam Government in 1972 was a breath of fresh air after many years of conservative government. Among the many things his government did was an easing of censorship, particularly of books. Perhaps Gough Whitlam was particularly sensitized to this, as the then Deputy Leader of the Opposition had his copy of James Baldwin’s Another Country seized by Australian Customs in 1964. That book explored race relations in the USA in the 1950s.

One of Australia’s best known comedians, Barry Humphries, published a cartoon strip The Wonderful World of Barry McKenzie in Private Eye, which was banned by the Liberal Prime Minister John Gorton in 1968. It was Bazza McKenzie who popularized the term “technicolour yawn” for vomit, and educated me on the two main classes of vomiting: “Herg” and “Ruth”. Four years later, the film version not only received cinema release but even featured a cameo appearance from Gorton’s successor, Gough Whitlam.

Although book burning and banning are much less common in Australia these days, there is more active censorship of films, and in recent years there have been backyard screenings of banned films, with police raids and seizing of “illegal” DVDs (see theguardian.filmcensorship).  The thought police and their cheer squads remain very active and recent moves by Australian governments to persecute and suppress whistle-blowing and politically embarrassing journalism give no cause for complacency. Western Enlightenment values such as freedom of speech seem more under threat from both left and right these days than they were when I was younger.

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