The Curiosity Forum — Banned, Censored, Redacted and Black Listed
The Curiosity Forum is a programming series that is a joint venture of Hubbard Hall, Battenkill Books and Leslie Parke Studio.
Our mission is to reward curiosity with events to inspire the mind and ignite the creative spirit!
Our Vision is to grant people in our region access to a world of ideas; to provide residents and visitors alike with a platform from which to share their expertise, passions and pursuits; to develop a diverse audience for – and increase local interest and support of– the arts, sciences and humanities; and to promote cultural tourism in Washington County and our surrounding region.
Growing up, one of my neighbors was Ed Zern, the author of the Exit Laughing column for Field and Stream Magazine. The Zerns had a house unlike any I have ever seen. It was filled with contemporary art by the likes of Jimmy Ernst, Alexander Calder and Ben Shahn, and furniture designed by Le Corbusier and Eames among others. One room was filled with boot jacks – Ed admired their simple and utilitarian design — and another filled with hunting rifles, fishing rods and thousands of tied flies. In the front hall there was an undulating piece of wood that looked like a Brancusi, but was actually the “forcola” or oar lock of a gondola.
In the living room was an extraordinary collection of African art. Glass cabinets were filled with curios, including Egyptian scarabs. Books were everywhere and of every sort.
As a little girl I went to their house ostensibly to water their plants. I dragged a too heavy watering pot across the hardwood floors spilling all the way, but I was really there to soak up the atmosphere. The Zerns were different than my family. They traveled and were adventurous. Every item that entered their house, whether it was a lamp or a bottle opener was beautiful. They valued intelligent conversation, smart design and great art.
It was here that I tasted my first wine, ate my first wild turkey and secretly scanned the pages of Fanny Hill in their attic.
The household was all about inquiry, intellectual honesty and beauty.
So, what does this have to do with banned books? Upon the re-release of the once banned book, D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover*, Ed Zern wrote one of the most famous book reviews ever. I quote it here in full:
“Although written many years ago, Lady Chatterrley’s Lover has just been reissued by Grove Press, and this fictional account of the day-by-day life of an English gamekeeper is still of considerable interest to outdoor-minded readers, as it contains many passages on pheasant-raising, the apprehending of poachers, ways to control vermin, and other chores and duties of the professional gamekeeper. Unfortunately, one is obliged to wade through many pages of extraneous material in order to discover and savour these sidelights on the management of a Midland shooting estate, and in this reviewer’s opinion this book cannot take the place of J. R. Miller’s Practical Gamekeeping.”
* Re: The Banning of Lady Chatterly’s Lover —
In 1930, Senator Bronson Cutting proposed an amendment to the Smoot–Hawley Tariff Act, which was then being debated, ending the practice of having U.S. Customs censor allegedly obscene books imported to U.S. shores. Senator Reed Smoot vigorously opposed such an amendment, threatening to publicly read indecent passages of imported books in front of the Senate. Although he never followed through, he included Lady Chatterley’s Lover as an example of an obscene book that must not reach domestic audiences, declaring “I’ve not taken ten minutes on Lady Chatterley’s Lover, outside of looking at its opening pages. It is most damnable! It is written by a man with a diseased mind and a soul so black that he would obscure even the darkness of hell!”
Lady Chatterley’s Lover was one of a trio of books (the others being Tropic of Cancer and Fanny Hill), the ban on which was fought and overturned in court with assistance by lawyer Charles Rembar in 1959. It was then published by Grove Press,with the complete opinion by U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Frederick van Pelt Bryan, which first established the standard of “redeeming social or literary value” as a defense against obscenity charges.
A French film (1955) based on the novel and released by Kingsley Pictures was in the United States the subject of attempted censorship in New York on the grounds that it promoted adultery. The Supreme Court held that the law prohibiting its showing was a violation of the First Amendment‘s protection of free speech.
The book was famously distributed in the U.S. by Frances Steloff at the Gotham Book Mart, in defiance of the book ban. [Wikipedia]
Leslie Parke, a painter from upstate New York, is the creator of The Curiosity Forum. She is a recipient of the Esther and Adolph Gottlieb Grant for Individual Support, the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest grant as artist- in-residence at the Claude Monet Foundation in Giverny, France, and the George Sugarman Foundation Grant, among others. Her exhibits include the Williams College Museum of Art, the Museum of the Southwest, Midland, Texas, the Fernbank Museum in Atlanta, Georgia, the Milwaukee Art Museum, Wisconsin, and the Museo de Arte Moderno in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Parke has a BA and MA from Bennington College. Her work is in numerous corporate and private collections. Her paintings are currently on exhibit in Toronto, Canada; Houston and Dallas, Texas; and Orlando and Key West, Florida. Website: www.leslieparke.com, Blog www.leslieparke.com/blog/