13 Books That Were Totally Scandalous When They First Came Out
You've read Huxley and Joyce, memorized Shelley and Steinbeck, but even though you may know them as classic, these were books that were scandalous when they first came out.
Whether it was for explicit sexual content or subverted gender roles, vulgar language or immoral behavior, there have been dozens and dozens of books that we consider literary masterpieces today, but were nothing but scandal and controversy when they first came out. Frequently challenged and banned by religious groups, schools, activists groups, and even governments, these were books that featured characters, plots, language, or even settings that didn't fit with the social and cultural norms of the day. Whereas 100 years ago, it seemed nothing short of evil to publish a story featuring homosexuality, today, we celebrate the inclusion of LGBTQ stories in literature. A few decades ago, talking openly about teenage sexuality was strictly taboo, but now, it's considered honest, poignant, and important. Times certainly have changed, haven't they?
From literary masterpieces to erotic fiction, young adult stories to dystopian novels, here are 12 books that were scandalous when they first came out. You may never be able to look at your high school summer reading list the same again.
1. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Considered an essential work of feminist fiction, Kate Chopin's The Awakening was quite controversial when it was first published, and is still challenged in certain places today. Featuring taboo subjects like female sexuality and subverted gender roles, this 1899 book couldn't have been much more shocking.
2. Candide by Voltaire
It's hard to believe that anything published as far back as the 18th century could be considered scandalous, but when it was published in 1759, Voltaire's Candide stirred up quite a bit of noise and was immediately banned in several places.
3. Forever by Judy Blume
If you came of age in the time of Teen Mom, then Judy Blume's Forever probably doesn't seem all that risque, but in 1975, its candid attitude toward teenage sexuality and birth control was controversial. Though many praised the classic YA novel for it's honest approach to safe sex and young love, religious and sexual abstinence groups saw nothing but a scandal.
4. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
It's not uncommon for highly acclaimed literary novels to be the center of controversy when they come out, and John Steinbeck is no stranger to scandal. His 1939 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Grapes of Wrath , was banned and burned thanks to its supposed socialist content, sympathy towards the poor, and honest portrayal of the working conditions of migrant workers. Now, its one of the most widely read books in the Western cannon.
5. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
Young adult novels can be scandalous, too. Robert Cormier's 1974 The Chocolate War — which features close to 200 swears and includes scenes of masturbation and depicts violence — is still frequently banned to this day, but the story of Jerry Renault, a high schooler determined to take down the students controlling his school, is still beloved by many.
6. Ulysses by James Joyce
One of the greatest novels of the 20th century, James Joyce's Ulysses was also one of the most scandalous ones. Due to its vulgarity and obscenity, the U.S. banned the book in the States upon its publication overseas, and actually seized copies before it could come into the country.
7. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein wasn't always the classic monster story that it is today. When it was first published, it received mixed reviews, many of them unfavorable, and many people criticized it for being obscene and blasphemous. Religious groups thought its plot — a man consumed with the idea of creating life — mocked their faith. Talk about scandalous.
8. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Aldous Huxley's Brave New World was a groundbreaking work of fiction when it was originally published in 1932, but its revolutionary ideas made it a scandalous book, too. Featuring recreational group sex, drugs, and general debauchery, the banned book eventually became a dystopian classic.
9. The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall
Criticized and banned for its inclusion of two lesbian characters, Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness was considered to be quite scandalous despite its lack of explicit sexual content. When it was published in 1928, even the slightest hint that two women spent the night together was ground enough to consider the book controversial.
10. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
It may be the 21st century, but books that challenge religion are still considered to be scandalous. Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code details the secrets of the Catholic church over the centuries, including Christ's own personal history. Due it's controversial content, it has been heavily criticized since it was originally published.
11. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Though its mild in sexual content, Gustave Flaubert's classic modernist text Madame Bovary was labeled scandalous for its inclusion of extramarital affairs and the abandonment of domestic life. Placed on trial on obscenities charges in 1857, Flaubert was eventually acquitted, and his book is now a highly acclaimed addition to the cannon.
12. Fanny Hill by John Cleland
It's unsurprising that an erotic novel would be deemed scandalous, but John Cleland's Fanny Hill , the story of a young girl forced into a life of prostitution, took it to the next level. Originally titled Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, Cleland's often banned and frequently censored novel was deemed "perverted" for its sexual content. The book was even a part of the landmark 1966 Supreme Court that changed censorship in the U.S.