History’s Most Controversial Authors

The following 7 controversial authors are presented in the order in which they were born.


AristophanesAristophanes (Circa 446 BC – 386 BC)

Often referred to as ‘the father of comedy’, Aristophanes was an ancient Athenian comic playwright, whose plays are still performed to this day. Though regarded as being old fashioned and conservative, Aristophanes was also extremely controversial. Respected and feared for his comic wit, the playwright was merciless in his scathing satire of religion, politicians and poets. His victims included such influential figures as Euripides, Cleon and Socrates.


Aphra Behn
(July 10th 1640 – April 16th 1689)

Restoration era author, playwright, poet and political spy Aphra Behn was one of the first English women to earn a living from her writing. She was viewed as a literary role model by later generations of women authors. Behn’s written accounts of her romantic relationships with men and women provoked outrage. Other highly controversial themes in her works included women’s rights and the wrongs of slavery.


(November 21st 1694 – May 30th 1778)

Voltaire was unrelenting in his criticism of the establishment, church and the order of the day. His beliefs and determination to voice them did not endear him to all. The controversial writer endured 2 stints in The Bastille and a period of exile in London. His most famous work, Candide, is a satirical work that was widely banned at the time, as it was viewed as blasphemous and revolutionary.


GoetheGoethe(August 28th 1749 – March 22nd 1832)

German writer and statesman Johan Wolfgang von Goethe was a pioneer in fields as diverse as evolution and the theory of optics. In an era when the private nature of sexuality was stringently enforced, the erotic occurrences in a number of his works led to him being viewed as a controversial literary figure. Parts of his book, Venetian Epigrams, were withheld from publication due to their perceived scandalous sexual content.


Thomas PaineThomasPaine(January 29th 1737 – June 8th 1809)

Author and political theorist Thomas Paine was one of America’s Founding Fathers. His pamphlet, Common Sense (1776) sold an estimated half-a-million copies during the course of The American Revolution. But it was the controversy of his later writing, particularly The Age of Reason (1794) that was to seal his remarkable fall from grace. His criticism of what he regarded as religious dogmatism led to Paine being ostracised.


D. H. LawrenceD.H.Lawrence (September 11th 1885 – March 2nd 1930)

D. H. Lawrence was one of the most influential writers of his generation. Controversy courted the writer incessantly, primarily because of the perceived explicit nature of his works. One of his most famous novels, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, though published was heavily censored. 30 years after his death in 1960 Penguin attempted to publish the original version, but were forced to go to trial due to the Obscene Publications Act of the previous year.


Vladimir NabokovNabokov (April 22nd 1899 – July 2nd 1977)

Russian born Vladimir Nabokov was a renowned novelist, lepidopterologist (someone specialising in the study of moths) and chess composer. Nabokov’s seminal work, Lolita, is about a man who falls in love with a 12-year-old girl. The book’s paedophilic theme resulted in it being rejected by numerous American publishers. Lolita was eventually published by Olympia Press, a Paris based publisher.  To this day the book courts controversy.


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  • Really interesting post Guy. Good to see a woman on here. Was not aware of Aphra Behn until now. No wonder she was a literary role model. Look forward to 2nd part.

    • Yes indeed Heather. I found this quote by Virginia Woolf — ‘All women together ought to let flowers fall upon the tomb of Aphra Behn, for it was she who earned them the right to speak their minds.’

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