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Over one hundred years after “Eve’s Diary” by Mark Twain was banned in Charlton, Massachusetts, residents of the town will now be able to borrow it from the Charlton Public Library. Two paperback copies were ordered for the library and were officially available to the public as of September 22. Within hours of the books being put on the shelves, one copy was borrowed.
The book, published in 1906, tells the story of Eve’s journey in Eden. It is written like a diary from Eve’s point of view but the reason the book was banned from the library was not for its words or message. In the first edition of the book, every other page had an illustration by Lester Ralph.
Trustees of the library in 1906 found some of the pictures objectionable, even pornographic for its depiction of naked skin. Frank Wakefield, the trustee who wanted the book banned first, talked to the New York Times about the illustrations, even though the newspaper did not find the story of any interest at the time.
One of the illustrations showed Eve in the bushes. However, the bushes did not “seriously cut off the view of Eve,” Wakefield told the newspaper. More than a hundred years later, library trustee Richard Whitehead read an article about “Eve’s Diary.”
He tracked down a first edition copy of the book in 2010, which was on display during the first week of October, and worked with other trustees to unban the book. Whitehead said the illustrations were not objectionable at all. “It’s kind of a shame that for what seems like very good artwork, a great piece of literature was banned,” he said.
Cheryl Hansen, director of the Charlton Public Library, agreed with this sentiment. “They’re not what we would consider inflammatory at all, and I’m even surprised they were considered (inflammatory) then,” she said. The board voted unanimously to unban the book just in time for Banned Book Week, which was from September 24 to October 1.
“Banned book week is about celebrating the freedom to read. And here our small-town library had been cited in numerous pieces as a place that had banned a book from a great American writer. This was an opportunity to set that right,” said Whitehead. Earlier this year, another popular novel by Mark Twain was the subject of a censorship debate.
Alan Gribben, an English professor at Auburn University in Alabama, was uncomfortable teaching “Huckleberry Finn” because of its language. In the edited version, the N-word was replaced with “slave” and the word “injun” had been replaced with “Indian.” The change ignited a debate about the ways historical racism was being taught in the classroom.
Elon James White, editor-in-chief at This Week in Blackness, said the type of language used in the novel should not be altered. “The N-word belongs in Huckleberry Finn. The book, which deals directly with racism, is not better served by erasing the racial slur,” he wrote in an article for Salon.