A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

It’s been said that there's no such thing as bad publicity, and in the case of notoriety among books, that may be true. Sex, violence, drugs, profanity, obscenity and any other shocking scenes you can think of, they’ve been written about. And sure enough, someone, somewhere has taken offense, mounted a protest, and unwittingly given the book far more attention than it might have had otherwise. Banned book lists, brown paper wraps, black censor bars and all – the more a book is rumored to be outrageous, the more hype and curiosity is built up around it.

A great example is A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. The dystopian story of ultra-violent Alex and his dear droogs was first published in 1962 in the UK, and immediately had the British public up in arms.  The novel is largely centered around the ideas of free will and nature versus nurture (or how much of our personality and choices are determined inherently rather than learned), but also wholeheartedly embraces the aestheticization of violence – that is the depiction of graphic, over-the-top, excessive violence in a stylized, exaggerated fashion. The story focuses on Alex, an English teenager, and his cronies, or “droogs”, and their day-to-day life in London, which includes opiate-enhanced nights at the milk bar, sprees of orgiastic and unprovoked violent crime, and other unsavory activity. All are willing participants, but Alex is clearly the ringleader and most depraved of the bunch.

Both the novel and its film adaptation (directed by Stanley Kubrick, released in 1972) were met with glee by some readers and audience members, and shocked horror by others. From the immediate wanton, senseless acts of cruelty, to Alex’s betrayal by his droogs, capture and ultimate twisted, excruciating behavior modification rehabilitation, the story is relentless and leaves readers dazed and bruised. Five decades later, students of both film and literature still cite and analyze A Clockwork Orange, and it seems unlikely that the title will ever fade into obscurity.  It says something that even all this time later, new readers and viewers will likely still understand the objections raised in 1962 – the violence is horrific even by today’s standards.

That’s not always the case. Outcries and censorship around literature are far from new, and some of the books that were notorious or controversial in their day wouldn’t even have folks batting an eye now. Take Chaucer’s classic tale of a pilgrimage, The Canterbury Tales.  Written in Middle English in the 14th century, it is widely considered one of the finest pieces of literature. But it was not without its detractors – the Catholic church, among others, denounced much of the work for its bawdiness, crudeness, and hints at blasphemy. But by today’s standards, it’s a kind of risqué or naughty that we find cute and harmless, especially when compared with something like A Clockwork Orange.

Regardless of one’s personal feelings about a work, there’s no denying that controversy and curiosity go hand in hand. To demonstrate, we’ve put together a selection of some of the most notorious, controversial, objected-to books the literary world has seen. Bet you’ve heard of all or most.

 

Related Video

Censored and Banned Books: From John Steinbeck to Dr. Seuss Play Video



Some Faces of a Clockwork Orange:

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
A Clockwork Orange
by Anthony Burgess

This Penguin paperback edition is perhaps the most iconic and best-known cover of the book.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
A Clockwork Orange
by Anthony Burgess

This is the cover of the true first edition, released by Heinemann, London, in 1962.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
A Clockwork Orange
by Anthony Burgess

This cover is found on the 1963 American first edition by Norton, New York.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
A Clockwork Orange
by Anthony Burgess

This edition by Abelard-Schuman, New York, 1972, marked the first time a major director allowed a book to be recreated directly from his film.
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
A Clockwork Orange
by Anthony Burgess

This luxurious leather and gold edition is by Easton Press and came out in the UK in the year 2000.

Other Controversy and Infamy:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
by Mark Twain

An American classic, to be sure, but not everyone could stomach Twain's liberal use of the 'N' word sprinkled throughout its pages.
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
American Psycho
by Bret Easton Ellis

While intended as satire, the brutality, murder and themes of sadism in this novel still resulted in hate mail and death threats for Bret Easton Ellis.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
Beloved
by Toni Morrison

Detractors of this story of a runaway slave objected to inclusion of racism, bestiality and explicit sexual encounters.
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
The Canterbury Tales
by Geoffrey Chaucer

Even this classic legend of literature was not impervious to critics, many of whom took exception to the cheek, bawdiness and crudeness of members of the pilgrimage, such as the cook and the wife of Bath.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Catcher in the Rye
by J.D. Salinger

Full of swearing, smoking, drinking, sexual scenes, lack of faith in God and subversive elements.
The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
The Chocolate War
by Robert Cormier

This novel set in an all-male boarding school raised objections with some parents due to complaints of vulgarity, sexually explicit language and violence.
Crash by J.G. Ballard
Crash
by J.G. Ballard

While the Cronenberg film adaptation is better known, plenty of folks were repulsed and shocked by this novel about the sexual fetishization of car accidents.
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
Fight Club
by Chuck Palahniuk

While Fight Club is immensely popular, some readers take issue with the glorification of violence and anarchy, as well as casual treatment of dark subjects such as abortion.

Handle with Care: A Novel by Jodi Picoult
Handle with Care: A Novel
by Jodi Picoult

This novel caused a great stir among both pro-life and pro-choice groups, as well as disability advocate groups due to its questions around ableism and abortion.
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood

A futuristic, dystopian, anti-feminist state is the backdrop for this novel, whose themes were deemed obscene, blasphemous and anti-Christian by some schools and critics.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's (Philosopher's) Stone
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's (Philosopher's) Stone
by JK Rowling

While a more successful children's book franchise has never existed, many Christian parents nevertheless railed against Harry Potter, deeming his magical dabblings blasphemous.

King & King by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland
King & King
by Linda de Haan and Stern Nijland

Many parents fought schools' inclusion of this tale of a prince choosing to marry another prince instead of a princess, claiming a homosexual agenda and indoctrination.

Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence
Lady Chatterley's Lover
by D.H. Lawrence

First published in 1928, the portrayals of a sexual relationship between a lady of the aristocracy and a blue-collar man, as well as inclusion of some then-unprintable four-letter-words appalled many critics and readers.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Lolita
by Vladimir Nabokov

The pronounced age difference between Humbert Humbert and Lolita, the pre-teen with whom he becomes obsessed, made some readers uncomfortable and extremely angry.
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Madame Bovary
by Gustave Flaubert

The outcry against perceived obscenity in Madame Bovary was so great that Flaubert was forced to stand trial. He was acquitted in 1857.
A Million Little Pieces by James Frey
A Million Little Pieces
by James Frey

Originally published as a memoir, this book was eventually outed and disgraced as being more fiction than non-fiction.
Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth
Portnoy's Complaint
by Philip Roth

This novel was protested for its explicit scenes of sex and masturbation, as well as by the Jewish community for its negative depictions of Jewish characters.
Sisters by Lynne Cheney
Sisters
by Lynne Cheney

This out-of-print 1981 historical novel contains themes of sexual lesbian relationships in the Old West.
Forever by Judy Blume
Forever
by Judy Blume

It was 1975 when this frank novel about teenage sexuality was published, and it is often challenged and censored to this day.
And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
And Tango Makes Three
by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

This children's book based on the true story of a same-sex partnering between penguins resulted in uproar among some parents and schools.
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
The Satanic Verses
by Salman Rushdie

Rushdie's fourth novel caused tremendous outrage in Muslim communities for perceived blasphemy, and was often banned and even burned. Rushdie himself was under threat of death after a fatwa was issued by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini.
Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
Tropic of Cancer
by Henry Miller

This book is now symbolic of freedom of speech - but at its time of publication, it was shunned by legions for its candid sexuality, and even put on trial for obscenity.
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
The Wasp Factory
by Iain Banks

People were made very uncomfortable by the perceived depravity and sickness of the novel's protagonist, Frank, who delights in cruelty.
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Lord of the Flies
by William Golding

This classic story of British schoolboys stranded on an island without adults horrified many readers with its implications of the base, savage nature of humans and children.
The Lorax by Dr. Seuss
The Lorax
by Dr. Seuss

Many felt that this heavy-handed and preachy environmental book of Seuss' was too bleak and somber for children, particularly when in comparison to what they'd come to expect of Seuss.

Censored and Banned Books: From John Steinbeck to Dr. Seuss



What book shocked you, and why?

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