Classic books that were banned is this week’s theme.
Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
4.5 stars, 13 reviews
In the small midwestern city of Zenith, George Babbitt seems to have it all: a successful real-estate business, a devoted wife, three children, and a house with all the modern conveniences. Yet, dissatisfied and lonely, he’s begun to question the conformity, consumerism, and competitiveness of his conservative, and ultimately cultureless middle-class community.
His despairing sense that something, many things are missing from his life leads him into a flirtation with liberal politics and a fling with an attractive and seemingly “bohemian” widow. But he soon finds that his attempts at rebellion may cost more than he is willing to pay.
Candide by Voltaire
4 stars, 71 reviews
One of the finest satires ever written, Voltaire’s Candide savagely skewers this very “optimistic” approach to life as a shamefully inadequate response to human suffering. The swift and lively tale follows the absurdly melodramatic adventures of the youthful Candide, who is forced into the army, flogged, shipwrecked, betrayed, robbed, separated from his beloved Cunégonde, and tortured by the Inquisition.
As Candide experiences and witnesses calamity upon calamity, he begins to discover that—contrary to the teachings of his tutor, Dr. Pangloss—all is not always for the best. After many trials, travails, and incredible reversals of fortune, Candide and his friends finally retire together to a small farm, where they discover that the secret of happiness is simply “to cultivate one’s garden,” a philosophy that rejects excessive optimism and metaphysical speculation in favor of the most basic pragmatism . . .
Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence
3.5 stars, 51 reviews
The last, and most famous, of D. H. Lawrence’s novels, Lady Chatterley’s Lover was published in 1928 and banned in England and the United States as pornographic. While sexually tame by today’s standards, the book is memorable for better reasons—Lawrence’s masterful and lyrical prose, and a vibrant story that takes us bodily into the world of its characters.
As the novel opens, Constance Chatterley finds herself trapped in an unfulfilling marriage to a rich aristocrat whose war wounds have left him paralyzed and impotent. After a brief but unsatisfying affair with a playwright, Lady Chatterley enjoys an extremely passionate relationship with the gamekeeper on the family estate, Oliver Mellors. As Lady Chatterley falls in love and conceives a child with Mellors, she moves from the heartless, bloodless world of the intelligentsia and aristocracy into a vital and profound connection rooted in sexual fulfillment . . .
Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
4 stars, 46 reviews
When Leaves of Grass was first published in 1855 as a slim tract of twelve untitled poems, Walt Whitman was still an unknown. But his self-published volume soon became a landmark of poetry, introducing the world to a new and uniquely American form. The “father of free verse,” Whitman drew upon the cadence of simple, even idiomatic speech to “sing” such themes as democracy, sexuality, and frank autobiography . . .
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
3.5 stars, 35 reviews
The publication in 1857 of Madame Bovary, with its vivid depictions of sex and adultery, incited a backlash of immorality charges. The novel tells the story of Emma Bovary, a doctor’s wife bored and unfulfilled by marriage and motherhood. She embarks upon a series of affairs in search of passion and excitement, but is unable to achieve the splendid life for which she yearns. Instead, she finds herself trapped in a downward spiral that inexorably leads to ruin and self-destruction . . .
Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
3.5 stars, 11 reviews
One of the most determined, energetic, and lusty heroines in all of English literature, Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders will do anything to avoid poverty. Born in Newgate Prison, she was for twelve years a whore, five times a wife (once to her own brother), twelve years a thief, and eight years a transported felon in Virginia before finally escaping from the life of immorality and wickedness imposed on her by society. She is as much a survivor, and just as resourceful, as Defoe’s other great literary creation, Robinson Crusoe . . .
Sons and Lovers by D. H. Lawrence
4 stars, 14 reviews
With a new Introduction by Geoff Dyer
Commentary by Anthony Burgess, Jessie Chambers, Frieda Lawrence, V.S. Pritchett, Kate Millett, and Alfred Kazin
Of all Lawrence’s work, Sons and Lovers tells us most about the emotional source of his ideas,” observed Diana Trilling.
Jungle by Upton Sinclair
4 stars, 105 reviews
The Jungle, Upton Sinclair’s muckraking masterpiece, stands as one of America’s great indictments of persecution, and it has never been out of print since its initial publication in 1906.
Sinclair’s documentary novel centers on Jurgis Rudkus, a Lithuanian immigrant working in Chicago’s infamous Packingtown. Instead of finding the American Dream, Rudkus and his family inhabit a brutal, soul-crushing urban jungle dominated by greedy bosses, pitiless con-men, and corrupt politicians . . .
Metamorphosis and Other Stories by Franz Kafka
4 stars, 40 reviews
“The Metamorphosis,” Franz Kafka’s best-known story, is both harrowing and amusing, a landmark in modern literature and the epitome of Kafka’s parabolic style.
Kafka’s lucid, succinct writing strikingly contrasts with the labyrinthine complexities, the futility-laden horror, and the stifling oppressiveness that permeate his vision of modern life. His nightmarish novels and short stories have come to symbolize the anxiety and alienation of mankind in the modern world—as Kafka saw it, a bizarre, hostile, and dehumanized place. Virtually unknown during his lifetime, Franz Kafka is now one of the world’s most widely read and discussed authors . . .
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
3.5 stars, 226 reviews
An English scholar sends his young wife to Boston in the 17th century. He discovers his wife s illegitimate child, and banished from the city wearing a scarlet “A”.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
4.5 stars, 72 reviews
Uncle Tom’s Cabin brought the evils of slavery to the consciences and hearts of the American people by its moving portrayal of slave experience. Harriet Beecher Stowe shows us in scenes of great dramatic power the human effects of an economic system in which slaves were property: the break up of families, the struggles for freedom, the horrors of plantation labor.
She brings into fiction the different voices of the emerging American nation, the Southern slave-owning classes, Northern abolitionists, children, the sorrow songs and dialect of slaves, as well the language of political debate and religious zeal. The novel was, and is, controversial, abrasive in its demand for change, yet also brilliant in the deployment of dialogue, with great comic skill and a power of pathos that made it a runaway bestseller in its time that continues to move us today.
Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence
3 stars, 5 reviews
“Let us hesitate no longer to announce that the sensual passions and mysteries are equally sacred with the spiritual mysteries and passions,” wrote D.H. Lawrence.
In Women In Love, a masterpiece that heralded the erotic consciousness of the twentieth century. Echoing elements of Lawrence’s own life, Women In Love delves into the mysteries between men and women as two couples strive for love against a haunting backdrop of coal mines, factories, and a beleaguered working class. New introduction by Louis Menand.