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Banned Books, Burned Books: Forbidden Literary Works

From Shakespeare to Harry Potter and beyond, trace the history of book banning and censorship in the English-speaking world and see why it continues today.
Banned Books, Burned Books: Forbidden Literary Works is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 18.
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Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good history of censorship Maureen Corrigan is an enthusiastic and engaging instructor, clearly used to giving lectures of this type. I was particularly interested in her lectures on Shakespeare, Huckleberry Finn, and the “cancelled” authors of the present. She takes time, as a general rule, to describe the many sides to these cases. I said as a general rule. There are many hints demonstrating her cultural and political biases. In one lecture she lumps Woody Allen with Ezra Pound and others for having said awful things. No doubt Pound spoke in favor of the Italian Fascists. But Woody Allen? I know many things have been said about him but what has he said which compares to Pound? She rightfully describes the book burnings in 1930's Germany in detail. Then she proceeds to discuss book controversies in school libraries and required reading as if they were on the same plan as the Nazis. I’m sorry but I don’t view a parent’s concern about what their 13 or 14 yeaor old must read in class with the wholesale burning of all books by authors deemed obnoxious by nazis. She also speaks approvingly of a Virginia teacher who appears to say that parents need to let literature professionals- i.e. teachers- decide what books ought be required reading. Let’s take that logic a step further. So if you take your child to the doctor and he opines the child needs a new medicine, or some of therapy, or even a sex change operation, you need to quietly accept and acquiesce. After all he or she is the professional. At least in medicine you can ask for a second or third opinion. Finally she speaks of various books as perhaps having questionable themes or content, but they should be read because of their artistic merit. Fair enough. By that logic D.W. Griffiths Birth of a Nation ought to be shown since it is generally thought to be a masterpiece of early movie making. Young viewers ought to be able to ignore the nasty pro KKK element.
Date published: 2023-03-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course on a Timely Topic Dr. Corrigan is the perfect person to present this lecture series, as more and more attempts to ban literature are reported every year in the media. She takes the historical view, beginning with book banning during the Inquisition and works forward through "Ulysses" and "Catcher in the Rye" to contemporary complaints about the Harry Potter book series. Anyone who goes through this course will be much better informed on this subject.
Date published: 2023-03-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great combination: love of the subject and perso I have learned from hundreds of The Teaching Company‘s Great Courses. What is so different and special about this course is that not only does Professor Corrigan have a deep interest in the subject, but her personal experiences-including a trip to West Egg (Gatsby) - enliven each and every lecture.
Date published: 2023-03-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What a Challenge! AS an avid reader of many banned and challenged books, this course was right down my alley. The challenge, however, was to stay away from ludicrous anger at the reasons for the challenges. I was seriously awakened to the reality of the divide within this country, with literature being a flashpoint, but I was also inspired to start a "Banned Book Club" with a few friends to revisit the classics that, sadly, some people will never be allowed to experience!
Date published: 2023-03-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The voice of reason Maureen Corrigan's voice is well-known to any listener of NPR's Fresh Air, where she provides concise, thoughtful book reviews. This course allows her to delve deeper into the world of literature, addressing the corrosive impact of censorship and outright bans. I did not realize the turmoil caused by classic works. Ulysses and Lolita -– OK, sure. Huckleberry Finn –- I suppose (a different era). But To Kill a Mockingbird? Harry Potter? The Great Gatsby? Surely it hasn’t gone that far? Unfortunately, there has always been an intolerant sector of society that wants to legislate morality for others, and that's when things go awry. I had assumed that book banning was a dated practice, which modern society has outgrown -- yet ‘tain’t so. The risk of being canceled or impugned is always with us, for intolerance is a deep-seated human trait. This course was well researched, beautifully written, and thoughtfully delivered. And it made me angry. Maureen Corrigan turned an uncomfortable subject into a compelling series of lectures. She’s one of Wondrium's gems.
Date published: 2023-03-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Lectures! As an former English (specifically literature) major, I have always been against banning books. Just because I didn't like or didn't agree with a particular book or author didn't give me the right to say others couldn't read said book/author. The acid test, as it were, for me was the book The Turner Diaries, and it took me quite a bit to get past my initial "Nobody should read this!" reaction. I would love to know the lecturer's reaction to *that* book! Anyway, I *highly* recommend this series of lectures and the books they're about.
Date published: 2023-03-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of my favorite courses I looked forward to every lecture in this program. Professor Corrigan provided a fantastic exploration of censorship and banned books. The US state in which I live is banning books and ideas at a feverish pace, so I am deeply interested in this topic. Maureen Corrigan has thoroughly researched the material and is a fantastic presenter. I highly recommend this course!
Date published: 2023-02-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course but disturbed by the censorship It seems to us ironic that you would censor a course that is dealing explicitly with censorship. There was no need to bleep-out and black out the professors words. Otherwise the course materialand the professor are excellent. We were very happy to see someone provide a full-throated defense of free expression in literature.
Date published: 2023-02-23
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With Banned Books, Burned Books: Forbidden Literary Works, author and book critic Professor Maureen Corrigan will take you on a tour of some of the most challenged and controversial works of literature, from the plays of Shakespeare to 21st-century best-sellers—even including the dictionary and classic fairy tales. You will explore the common reasons books have been and continue to be banned, including profanity, heresy, illicit or sexual content, racism, violence, and more. And you’ll consider the shifting trends in why books are challenged.


Maureen Corrigan

The impulse to protect impressionable readers runs up against some of our most cherished democratic principles—not just free speech, but also our commitment to the open exchange of ideas.


Georgetown University

Maureen Corrigan is the Nicky and Jamie Grant Distinguished Professor of the Practice in Literary Criticism at Georgetown University. She received her PhD in English Literature from the University of Pennsylvania. She is the book critic for the NPR program Fresh Air and has received multiple awards for her literary criticism. She also regularly writes for The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal and is the author of the literary memoir Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading and So We Read On: How “The Great Gatsby” Came to Be and Why It Endures.

By This Professor

Banned Books, Burned Books: Forbidden Literary Works
Banned Books, Burned Books: Forbidden Literary Works


Bowdlerizing the Bard

01: Bowdlerizing the Bard

Begin the course with an introduction to the concept of literary censorship and examine why even authors as influential and esteemed as Shakespeare can fall prey to it. Meet some of the writers and editors who attempted to sanitize the bawdier parts of the Bard’s plays and discover where we get the term “bowdlerism.”

32 min
Ulysses on Trial

02: Ulysses on Trial

James Joyce’s Ulysses is considered the novel that ushered modernism into mainstream literature, yet its introduction to the world was ruthlessly contested. Get a brief overview of Joyce’s life and work, then dive into the story of how his modernist masterpiece was challenged and consider how the legal battles over his work shaped later censorship battles.

36 min
The Defense for Lady Chatterley’s Lover

03: The Defense for Lady Chatterley’s Lover

At the time of his death in 1930, British author D. H. Lawrence was widely viewed as one of the greatest writers of the English language. Yet, as you will see here, this popularity did not prevent some readers from taking offense to his frank depictions of sexuality, resulting in a censorship and an obscenity trial over his final novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

34 min
Censors from the Inquisition to the Puritans

04: Censors from the Inquisition to the Puritans

Step back in time to get the broader historical context for censorship and see how the cases of the 20th and 21st centuries fit into a much larger pattern of religious and moral pressure from the 12th century onward. Here, you will look at the influence of the Catholic Church and the colonial Puritans on the control of printed materials they found troubling or even heretical.

34 min
Anthony Comstock’s Moral Crusade

05: Anthony Comstock’s Moral Crusade

Meet Anthony Comstock, the relentless late-19th-century enforcer of Victorian codes of sexual propriety. His decades-long crusade for moral purity gave us a new term for censorship and his influence shaped the history of censorship in the United States—including the arrests, suicides, and destruction he proudly claimed as part of his legacy.

32 min
Books on Fire: The Reformation to Rushdie

06: Books on Fire: The Reformation to Rushdie

Here, look at the most extreme form of print censorship: the physical destruction of books deemed heretical, dangerous, or subversive. From the Protestant Reformation to Nazi Germany and beyond, you will see how the desire to stop the dissemination of various works has resulted in book burnings, violence, and even murder.

30 min
Allen Ginsberg’s Alarming “Howl”

07: Allen Ginsberg’s Alarming “Howl”

In the 1950s, the Beat Movement in literature and pop culture was well underway. As a movement that set out to rebel from the status quo, it is no surprise that one of its most famous works, Allen Ginsburg’s poem “Howl,” came under fire for its alleged obscenity and radical politics. See how the poem became a generational touchpoint and how the controversy it caused made Ginsburg a literary celebrity.

33 min
Holden Caulfield’s Subversive Voice

08: Holden Caulfield’s Subversive Voice

J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye had an outsized effect on the real world, given that the novel is associated with the death of John Lennon and the attempted assassination of Ronald Regan. Contemplate the power of reading (and misreading) literature as you examine the subversive narrative voice of Salinger’s most famous work.

33 min
Artistry, Morality, and Nabokov’s Lolita

09: Artistry, Morality, and Nabokov’s Lolita

Though many critics and scholars consider Nabokov’s Lolita as one of the greatest English-language novels of the 20th century, it is a novel that elicits extreme reactions in both its fans and detractors. Revisit the creation of this controversial classic, examine its initial reception, and consider why it continues to be one of the most challenged and banned books to this day.

37 min
Authors Who Censor Themselves

10: Authors Who Censor Themselves

Consider the curious history of authors who’ve decided to burn, ban, or censor their own works. While some texts managed to escape the destructive impulses of their creators, there are many other manuscripts that have been lost forever. What drives a writer to bury, burn, shred, or otherwise lay waste to their own work?

33 min
The Hidden Dangers of Fairy Tales

11: The Hidden Dangers of Fairy Tales

Perhaps no other body of literature is so tenaciously scrutinized and policed than books aimed at preschool and grade school readers. Here, you will begin a three-part exploration into the realm of children’s literature with a look at the banning and censorship of fairy tales. As you will see, even the most recognizable tales can fall under the scrutiny of angry parents and school officials.

32 min
Contested Classics of Children’s Literature

12: Contested Classics of Children’s Literature

In this second lecture on children’s stories, move into 20th- and 21st-century controversies over classic children’s books such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Story of Ferdinand, Winnie-the-Pooh, and the works of Roald Dahl. As you examine reactions to these works, you will see the full range of complaints brought against these stories—including some rather absurd accusations.

32 min
New Kids’ Books, Old Objections

13: New Kids’ Books, Old Objections

Begin this look at contemporary children’s books with a consideration of complaints lodged against Dr. Seuss and see how these objections carry over to later works like SkippyJon Jones and Captain Underpants. From potty humor and violence to racial stereotypes and moral panics, discover the many ways children’s literature can spark extreme adult reactions.

33 min
Canceled Authors

14: Canceled Authors

Where do we draw the line between an author’s work and their private life? Examine some striking instances in which authors’ behavior—alleged or confirmed—has resulted in the challenging or banning of their works and see how social justice movements and the internet have changed the nature of censorship, book banning, and free speech in the 21st century.

33 min
Huckleberry Finn and Race in America

15: Huckleberry Finn and Race in America

Examine the creation and legacy of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the most consistently challenged or banned of the great American novels. Why does Huckleberry Finn occupy this dubious pride of place? As you will see, its steady presence on high school reading lists and foregrounding of race collide to create an ideal trigger for censorship.

32 min
To Kill a Mockingbird, Then and Now

16: To Kill a Mockingbird, Then and Now

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most read, most assigned, and most beloved novels in the American canon. It’s also, without a doubt, one of the most challenged and banned books in American libraries and schools. Look back on the creation of Harper Lee’s singular masterpiece and consider why it is both so esteemed and so often challenged.

31 min
Young Adult Fiction and Its Discontents

17: Young Adult Fiction and Its Discontents

Explore the relatively new category of young adult (YA) fiction, one of the most profitable genres in publishing—and also the genre that produces some of the most challenged and banned titles. Define the vast category that is YA and look at some of the notable titles that have been challenged over the years, including works by S. E. Hinton and Judy Blume.

30 min
Attempts to Suppress #MeToo Books

18: Attempts to Suppress #MeToo Books

The online social movement against sexual assault, known as the #MeToo movement, began to gather steam in 2006 and has grown in reach ever since. Here, consider some of the books that have been embraced by or emerged out of the movement and look at how they’ve been challenged, mostly by school boards.

30 min
The Battle over Critical Race Theory

19: The Battle over Critical Race Theory

First, explore some of the ways the Black Lives Matter social movement has influenced the publication and reception of some recent books. Then, look at the ways the movement has triggered fears regarding critical race theory in books and what these fears tell us about the concept of freedom in relation to books and literacy.

31 min
Alice Walker and Toni Morrison under Attack

20: Alice Walker and Toni Morrison under Attack

Alice Walker and Toni Morrison are two of the most prominent Black women writers to enter the literary mainstream in the wake of the civil rights movement. Delve into Walker’s and Morrison’s most celebrated novels and consider the multitudinous ways readers, educators, librarians, and literary gatekeepers have objected to them.

34 min
The Textbook Wars

21: The Textbook Wars

A consistent category of challenges and book bans within school systems are those involving textbooks, especially history textbooks. Begin by thinking about the larger issues at stake in these controversies. Then, investigate some of the specific cases of censorship that have affected education in the United States from the 1970s to more recent controversies.

35 min
The Backlash against Harry Potter

22: The Backlash against Harry Potter

Despite their beloved status and massive financial success, the Harry Potter books have been accused by assorted parents, school district administrators, and librarians of being excessively violent, glamorizing witchcraft and the occult, and being dismissive of traditional family values. See how Rowling’s series widened the focus of censorship to include fantasy narratives.

26 min
Fun Home: An All-Too-Graphic Memoir

23: Fun Home: An All-Too-Graphic Memoir

The growth of the graphic novel genre coincided with—and explicitly mirrored—the social transformations of the 1970s, in regard to race, gender, politics, and sexual identity. See why graphic novels regularly appear on banned book lists, with a look at a particularly contentious tile: the postmodern memoir Fun Home.

31 min
Contesting the Great American Novel

24: Contesting the Great American Novel

Bring the course to a close with a discussion of some of the formal objections to novels commonly nominated as “The Great American Novel.” Look at four works that are perennial contenders for the mantle—The Great Gatsby, Moby Dick, Invisible Man, and The Grapes of Wrath—and consider why they are challenged almost as much as they are revered.

37 min