Here are 7 famous controversial novels from the last 250 years. They are presented in chronological order:
Fanny Hill by John Cleland (1748-1749)
Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure or Fanny Hill as it is popularly known was published in 2 parts in 1748 & 1749. Written during its author’s stint in a debtor’s prison, Fanny Hill is considered to be the first erotic novel in the English language. It is one of the most banned and prosecuted books of all time. In November 1749 Cleland was arrested and charged with ‘corrupting the King’s subjects’.
Candide by Voltaire (1759)
Candide is a satirical novella that was regarded as being highly controversial at the time of its publication. Its author, the ardent critic Voltaire, not only criticised the prevailing philosophical ideology of his era, optimism, but also attacked the greed and hypocrisy within the state and church. The religious and secular authorities denounced the book, and it continued to cause controversy into the 20th Century.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe (1852)
Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Life Among the Lowly as it is also known was deemed at the time of its publication as a scathing attack on the slave-owning South. The book was so reviled in the South that it spawned a raft of what came to be known as Anti-Tom literature. The book is regarded as having been instrumental in stirring the abolitionist cause that was to culminate in The Civil War.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence (1928)
Lady Chatterley’s Lover is a fictional account of a married woman’s affair with her gamekeeper. Although published, it was heavily censored due to its perceived pornographic content. In 1960, 30 years after Lawrence’s death, Penguin attempted to publish the original version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, but was forced to go to trial because of the ‘Obscene Publications Act’ of the previous year. The book was banned in the America until 1959.
Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs (1959)
Burrough’s seminal work, the non-linear Naked Lunch, is a sardonic, dark and humorous work that takes the form of a series of loosely linked vignettes. It draws on Burroughs’s own experiences living as a drug addict in the U.S., Mexico and Tangier. The book was viewed as being so scandalous at the time of its publication that it underwent a court case under U.S. obscenity laws.
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie (1988)
The title of The Satanic Verses was deemed offensive by many Muslims, as it refers to a number of allegedly pagan verses, temporarily included in the Qur’an and later removed. Some pious Muslims were also displeased that the prophet Abraham was referred to as a ‘bastard’, in addition to various other insertions. In January 1989 the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a Fatwa against the author. To this day Rushdie receives death threats.
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis (1991)
American Psycho is a satire of the yuppy culture of the 1980s that brought Easton Ellis instant fame. It is about a young, psychopathic Wall Street financier. The book caused outrage when it was published due to its explicit violence, sexual content and perceived misogynistic themes. Its author received numerous death threats. American Psycho was deemed harmful to minors in Germany and sold shrink-wrapped in Australia.
Click here to sign up to my monthly book-related newsletter.