Many authors have been branded as being controversial over the course of history. What actually constitutes controversy is of course a highly subjective matter and an author whose work was viewed as being controversial in one era may not be in a later one. Then there are those authors whose controversy may not be limited only to their work but also to their actions. The following blog post is dedicated to two authors, widely regarded as being controversial, who will always be remembered as being pioneers by the literary establishment.
(November 21st 1694 – May 30th 1778)
Notable works: Candide, Letters on England and Zadig.
Living to the ripe old age of eighty-three in an era with a life expectancy of about fifty, Voltaire is remembered to this day as being a central figure in the 1700’s intellectual movement, The Enlightenment. A prolific and witty writer, Voltaire embraced a variety of writing forms including poems, plays, essays, novels, scientific and historical works. Unrelenting in his criticism of the establishment, church and the order of the day, Voltaire can in many ways be viewed as a modern person, due to his opinions about social reform, his criticism of elements within The Bible and his preaching of religious tolerance. Voltaire’s beliefs and determination to voice them certainly didn’t endear him to many and he had to endure beatings, two stints in The Bastille and a period of exile in London. His most famous work is undoubtedly the novella, Candide, a satirical work that was widely banned at the time due to it being viewed as blasphemous and revolutionary.
William S. Burroughs
(February 5th 1914 – August 2nd 1997)
Notable works: Junkie, Queer, The Soft Machine & The Naked Lunch.
William S. Burroughs will always be remembered as being at forefront of the Beat generation, influencing the likes of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. His works include eighteen novels, in addition to a number of novellas and short stories, many of which are semi-autobiographical in nature. Burroughs’s writing is characterised as being sardonic, dark and often humorous. Arguably his most famous book, the non-linear Naked Lunch was so scandalous at the time of its publication that it underwent a court case under U.S. obscenity laws. A controversial character with a penchant for rent boys and heroin use, Burroughs ended up killing his second wife Joan Vollmer in Mexico after attempting to shoot a water-tumbler, which she had balanced on her head. Even in death controversy continues to follow Burroughs. Only last year a Turkish publisher faced obscenity charges after releasing a Turkish translation of The Soft Machine.
Click here to read a review of The Soft Machine.