Sunday 15 December 2019

John Daly: 'Censored - when words were a crime'

Notebook

Such was the sheer breadth of literary suppression from the 1920s to the '60s, being banned was often seen as the first step to international success. Stock picture
Such was the sheer breadth of literary suppression from the 1920s to the '60s, being banned was often seen as the first step to international success. Stock picture

John Daly

It's an education to trawl the aisles of your local Irish Cancer Society shop, an amble through unknown lives affording glimpses into the way we were.

Fashions from another era back in style again, old 45's where Elvis begged 'Love Me Tender' and Hardy fly rods with tales to tell of lazy afternoons on the Blackwater's banks.

Escaping a downpour last week, my eye drifted over an intriguing pile - Edna O'Brien's 'The Country Girls', Walter Macken's 'Quench the Moon', John McGahern's 'The Dark', and Maura Laverty's 'No More Than Human'. Each text a sublime journey to the soul of what it is to be human - and all united in being banned under the cold command of the crozier that once dictated our lives.

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Such was the sheer breadth of literary suppression from the 1920s to the '60s, being banned was often seen as the first step to international success.

A generation of our greatest literary icons ranging from Joyce, O'Casey, Beckett and Ó Faoláin to Frank O'Connor, Kate O'Brien and Liam O'Flaherty found their works outlawed by a regime dedicated to eradicating all "evil literature contaminants".

When 'Borstal Boy' was banned in 1958, its incensed author coined a ditty to the tune of 'McNamara's Band': "My name is Brendan Behan, I'm the latest of the banned, although we're small in numbers, we're the best banned in the land."

Some writers chose a change in latitude to ensure the sanity of their literary attitude. Joyce opted for "a voluntary exile" in Trieste and Paris, preferring to immortalise his native land from "the safe side of distance".

Indeed, Irish censorship proved equal to Joyce's description as "the sow that eats her farrow" in also taking a red marker to international authors, including a few Nobel Prize winners - William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck amongst them.

"Censorship ends in logical completeness when nobody is allowed to read any books except the books nobody reads," was how George Bernard Shaw saw it.

We may titter uncomfortably in 2019 at the antics employed by our forefathers in their Stalinesque tyranny upon the written word, but one couldn't deny their enthusiasm for the task.

The Irish Vigilance Association was established in 1911 to crusade against "evil literature", including newspapers "that fill their columns with vile, filthy, immoral matter which sullies the sanctity and purity of our Irish homes".

Even the ravages of the Civil War did little to quell the thirst for restriction, with the fledgling new Republic establishing the Committee on Evil Literature in 1926 for the dedicated duty of "weeding out filth". One can only imagine what those pious paragons of virtue would make of the expletives littering our daily lives.

Kids fulminating on the 'Six One News', blaspheming gone reckless on 'Love/Hate,' 1916 a wasteland of obscenity in 'Rebellion' and even the sacred confines of 'The Late Late Show' defiled by profane imprecations. Perhaps, in the end, as we're all clearly going to hell in a hand basket, there's no choice but to follow the advice of Mrs Brown: "F**k 'em if they can't take a joke!"

Watch your language

If you thought good grammar and romance were unlikely bedfellows - think again. Making a successful online match can hinge more on syntax than sex appeal, according to a recent study in the 'Journal of Social and Personal Relationships'.

Spelling mistakes in your online profile will see you swiped left even before the first date, it seems, being perceived as lazy and inattentive.

Just think what they'd make of those legendary Bertie-isms like "upset the apple tart" and "there are kebabs out there plotting against us". Flippin' deadly.

Irish Independent

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