4.10.2011

a book un-censored

I've blogged several times about the American Library Association's Banned Books Week and the Canadian equivalent, Freedom To Read Week. For those of us who care deeply about books and about intellectual freedom, these are important recognitions of the right of authors to publish freely, and the right of readers to encounter and explore ideas, free from fear, punishment or censorship.

Books are banned and censored all the time, so when an important book is restored to its original form - including four-letter words and references to gay sex - it's cause for celebration. I've always wanted to read this book; I picked up a used copy somewhere and it's been on our shelf for years. Now I'll wait to get this new digital version.
When the classic novel "From Here to Eternity" was published in 1951, a few things were gone that had been in the original manuscript: explicit mentions of gay sex and a number of four-letter words.

The author, James Jones, objected to the changes at the time, arguing in a letter to his editor at Scribner that "the things we change in this book for propriety's sake will in five years, or ten years, come in someone else's book anyway." But eventually he gave in to his publisher.

Sixty years later Mr. Jones's estate has made a deal to reissue a digital version of the book that restores those cuts. The book is still in print.

"It's been on my mind for quite a few years, and the right moment just hadn't come up yet," Kaylie Jones, Mr. Jones's daughter, said in a telephone interview. "My father fought bitterly to hold on to every four-letter word in the manuscript. The publisher was concerned about getting through the censors."

The novel follows a group of soldiers at an Army post in Hawaii a few months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Mr. Jones, who died in 1977, drew from his own Army experiences on Oahu for the novel, which won the National Book Award and is frequently cited as one of the best American novels of the 20th century.

. . . "The text we have has been read by millions of people, and clearly it has been one of the major novels of the middle- and late-20th century," Mr. Hendrick said. "But what was left out of the novel because of the editing in 1950 and 1951 left out many of the gritty details."

The novel was turned into a classic movie with one of the most memorable heterosexual sex scenes of all time, a passionate romp on the beach starring Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr.

Mr. Hendrick said two scenes that had homosexual content were cut from the original version of the book and have been restored in the digital version. In one, a soldier, Pvt. Angelo Maggio (played by Frank Sinatra in the 1953 movie) mentions how he has oral sex with a wealthy man in exchange for $5 or $10 that "comes in handy the middle of the month." Another deals with a military investigation into possible homosexual activity.

Jane Friedman, a former president and chief executive of HarperCollins Publishers, who is a co-founder and chief executive of Open Road, said that republishing Mr. Jones's books was an example of Open Road's mission "to bring the greats back to life."

9 comments:

New Nova Scotian said...

This is great news. I am a big fan of his work. He was a humanistic, compassionate man and a detailed and engaging writer. He has sympathy for the individual schmuck and is unflinching in his determination to write with both depth and truth. There are no saints in his novels. Incidentally, his daughter, Kaylie Jones, is a wonderful and courageous writer as well.

laura k said...

Thanks for the great recommendation, NSS. This is an unexpected addition to my spring/summer reading list.

johngoldfine said...

I've had tussles with editors over stories I've sold, but I never considered that censorship. Stupid, timid, philistine, and self-defeating, yes. But the editors look out for the business end, and that's all there is to it.

Censorship, however it's defined generally, to me implies an outside force applying pressure on author or publisher: police, Mrs Grundy, Mr Comstock, the Catholic Church, SCOTUS, the Union of Artists and Writers or whatever Stalin called it, and so on.

I haven't read FHTE in over half a century--it will be good to see it restored.

BTW--do you know the story about Mary McCarthy meeting Norman Mailer right after 'The Naked and the Dead' was published (back then, he had to use 'fug' throughout, which he did liberally): She said, "Ah, so this is the young man who doesn't know how to spell 'fuck'!")

laura k said...

It's true that I and others who have written about this story have been a bit imprecise.

Technically, editors didn't censor the book. They edited it because they feared, with good reason, that it would not make it through the censors in its original form - that it would be banned from publication, or if it did get published, pulled from shelves.

So technically the censorship didn't come from the editors.

But self-censorship in anticipation of the censorship of the authorities, to my mind, amounts to the same thing.

laura k said...

Your point about censorship is what Allan and I and a zillion other bloggers are always telling trolls.

Before I started useing comment moderation, I had to delete all kinds of filth - so naturally I was routinely accused of censorship.

In fact, there's a guy at JoS right now doing the same thing - although his accusations are a bit mystifying, since all his comments have been put through.

johngoldfine said...

I certainly don't think your telling trolls to fuck off of wmtc or jos is censorship!

laura k said...

I totally know that!

johngoldfine said...

Just been over to your 8:12 JOS link--you and Allan have a hell of a lot more patience than I would have.

laura k said...

Heh, usually I'm less indulgent. But the guy pissed me off in just the right way - plus I'm on home turf.

That thread is an excellent microcosm of how online passive-aggressive behaviour. The guy manages to transform himself into an aggrieved martyr, having said absolutely nothing of substance.