Censors at Work

How States Shaped Literature

Robert Darnton (Author)

 

“Splendid. . . . [Darnton gives] us vivid, hard-won detail, illuminating narrative, and subtle, original insight.”—Timothy Garton Ash, New York Review of Books

With his uncanny ability to spark life in the past, Robert Darnton re-creates three historical worlds in which censorship shaped literary expression in distinctive ways.

In eighteenth-century France, censors, authors, and booksellers collaborated in making literature by navigating the intricate culture of royal privilege. Even as the king's censors outlawed works by Voltaire, Rousseau, and other celebrated Enlightenment writers, the head censor himself incubated Diderot’s great Encyclopedie by hiding the banned project’s papers in his Paris townhouse. Relationships at court trumped principle in the Old Regime.

Shaken by the Sepoy uprising in 1857, the British Raj undertook a vast surveillance of every aspect of Indian life, including its literary output. Years later the outrage stirred by the British partition of Bengal led the Raj to put this knowledge to use. Seeking to suppress Indian publications that it deemed seditious, the British held hearings in which literary criticism led to prison sentences. Their efforts to meld imperial power and liberal principle fed a growing Indian opposition.

In Communist East Germany, censorship was a component of the party program to engineer society. Behind the unmarked office doors of Ninety Clara-Zetkin Street in East Berlin, censors developed annual plans for literature in negotiation with high party officials and prominent writers. A system so pervasive that it lodged inside the authors’ heads as self-censorship, it left visible scars in the nation’s literature.

By rooting censorship in the particulars of history, Darnton's revealing study enables us to think more clearly about efforts to control expression past and present.

Book Details

  • Paperback
  • September 2015
  • ISBN 978-0-393-35180-4
  • 5.6 × 8.3 in / 320 pages
  • Sales Territory: World, Excluding UK and Ireland

Endorsements & Reviews

“Enthralling.” — Alberto Manguel, New York Times Book Review

“Provocative.” — Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post

“A vivid, fascinating study of would-be controllers of literary output.” — Felipe Fernández-Armesto, Wall Street Journal

“There is no better guide to the inside story of censorship in the past or present than the internationally renowned historian Robert Darnton. He makes the most prosaic encounters come to life…Darnton brings all his skills and passions for books to this fascinating study of censorship in three different times and places and draws a number of conclusions that will be of interest to readers everywhere.” — Lynn Hunt, author of Inventing Human Rights

Also by Robert Darnton All

  1. Book CoverBerlin Journal, 1989-1990

    Paperback

  2. Book CoverThe Corpus of Clandestine Literature in France, 1769-1789

    Paperback

  3. Book CoverThe Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France

    Paperback

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