This is the final instalment of the Controversial Authors series. Initially I planned for the series to have only three parts, but there are so many authors that have been regarded as controversial through the course of history that I added an additional two.
(January 29th 1737 – June 8th 1809)
Notable works: Common Sense, The Rights of Man, The Age of Reason
Thomas Paine was a political activist, author, political theorist, revolutionary and one of America’s Founding Fathers. He arrived in America from England in 1774, just in time to participate in The American Revolution. Paine’s pamphlet, Common Sense (1776), sold an estimated half-a-million copies during the course of the revolution and is regarded as one of the most influential works of the eighteenth-century.
However when Thomas Paine died in 1809, his funeral was only attended by six people and his obituaries were universally scathing. Abraham Lincoln’s friends even burned a booklet he had written and over a hundred years after Paine’s demise, Theodore Roosevelt referred to him as a ‘filthy little atheist.’ If Paine had been martyred in The American Revolution there seems little doubt that his face would be gracing bills today. It was the controversy of his later writing, particularly The Age of Reason (1794) that were to seal his remarkable fall from grace.
In The Age of Reason Paine defended freedom against what he regarded as religious dogmatism, in the same manner that he had defended freedom against political tyranny during The American Revolution. The book was essentially a critique of The Bible, in which the author aired his own personal views on organised religion. These views were extremely controversial at the time of its publication and were to remain so over the forthcoming years. Though the author stated his strong personal belief in spirituality in the book, he was accused of being an atheist, something that was to cost what many view as his rightful place of honour amongst the The Founding Fathers.
(Born: February 21st 1962)
Notable works: Fight Club, Haunted, Choke
Born in Pasco, Washington state, the American novelist and freelance journalist of Ukrainian descent, has constantly courted controversy with the content of his books; no mean feat in today’s era of tolerance. Palahniuk’s first novel, Invisible Monsters, a fictional story about a model who is shot in the face, was rejected by publishers for its disturbing content. His next effort, Fight Club, which remains to this day his most celebrated, saw the author attempt to be yet more controversial and scandalous than in his first effort. To Palahniuk’s surprise the book was published. It went on to become an international success, in no small part due to it being adapted for the big screen.
The film was extremely controversial at the time of its release in 1999, only six months after the Columbine school shootings. There had been much publicity over the perceived role of violent media in relation to the incident and Fight Club was viewed by many as glamourising violence. Real fight clubs soon began appearing throughout the United States and beyond, only adding to the furore.
Palahniuk’s dark and disturbing Fiction has continued to scandalise ever since. The short story, Guts, about masturbation accidents, contained in his book, Haunted, was met with such shock that people even passed out at public readings, only adding to the author’s notoriety. Haunted is often voted in polls as one of the most disturbing books ever written and has been banned along with the author’s other works in many schools. In Turkey, the translator of Palahniuk’s book, Snuff, was detained and interrogated by the police over what the authorities regarded as the book’s offensive content.
There seems little doubt that the author’s graphic depictions of violence and sex will cause more controversy, especially with further adaptations of Palahniuk’s books due for the silver screen in the near future.
Click here to read Part 4 of Controversial Authors.