Long before the days of cancel culture, there were bans. And one of the biggest targets of those wielding the power was — and still is — books. Even the most seemingly benign stories have been preyed upon, from illustrated children’s tales to a fable about a seagull learning to fly. No author is safe from the harsh critics who seek to silence their words. And let this be a message to all authors who dream of writing a bestseller not to be disheartened by rejection. Because as this list shows, even literary classics fall prey to being banned or rejected — and some more than once, too. Read on to discover some of the world's most beloved books that were banished before they became bestsellers.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter
“There is something delicious about writing the first words of a story. You never quite know where they'll take you.”
Kicking off our merry little list of maligned classics is the beloved children’s book The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Now a bona fide staple of the kids’ literary canon, the book was initially cast aside, despite its adorable story of a mischievous rabbit. But frustrated by the constant flow of publisher rejections, author Beatrix Potter decided to self-publish the tale in 1901. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D. H. Lawrence
“There's lots of good fish in the sea...maybe...but the vast masses seem to be mackerel or herring, and if you're not mackerel or herring yourself, you are likely to find very few good fish in the sea.”
Another fantastic literary piece that found itself struggling to find a publisher was the explicit Lady Chatterley’s Lover — and it was the graphic use of words that put off most publishing houses. Indeed, the topic was so hotly debated that a famous 1960 British trial brought the issue of censorship to the forefront. But over 30 years after it was privately published, Penguin Books won the much-publicized case, which lifted the ban. They went on to publish millions of copies of the thought-provoking book in its entirety.
Dune, Frank Herbert
“Deep in the human unconscious is a pervasive need for a logical universe that makes sense. But the real universe is always one step beyond logic.”
Though it remains one of the most truly groundbreaking science fiction novels ever made, Dune wasn’t nearly as loved by publishers the first time around. Its story of a war being waged on a fictional planet fell on deaf ears a staggering 23 times before finally seeing the light of day through Chilton Books in 1965. And author Frank Herbert consequently changed the sci-fi landscape in one fell swoop.
Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
“Beware; for I am fearless, and therefore powerful.”
Mary Shelley’s gothic/romance hybrid Frankenstein was first published in 1818, but before that, the manuscript had particular trouble finding a publisher. Yes, one of the most successful novels ever written was rejected, presumably due to its author’s lack of experience; she was just 18 when she started it. However, Shelley would have the last laugh, with a book that’s still as influential now as it was over 200 years ago.