The Evolution of the Written Word and Uninvited Censorship

At the moment it would be fair to say that I’m living in chaos. I’m in the middle of a house restoration and every day I am subjected to drilling, hammering and the banter of a jovial half French, half Italian builder. I have all my worldly possessions spread out over two-rooms and have a one metre squared space in the corner of the kitchen to write in. So as you can imagine I find it difficult to concentrate and that means no writing which in turn means no income. I have two features to complete, but luckily the editor has given me an open ended submission date; that being, any time between now and the end of August. So, in order to keep my brain active and satisfy my need to write I’ve been posting on my other blog: A Life on Shuffle, a more light-hearted look at the world around me. A Life on Shuffle

As I cannot write due to the constant distractions, I decide to catch up on my reading, I’ve just started to read Where the Bodies are Buried by Kim Newman. But today I can’t locate it in the mêlée that is my corner of the kitchen, so grab the first book at hand. It turns out to be an old book from my childhood, Enid Blyton’s The Mystery of the Spiteful Letters. I find a quiet spot or rather a less noisy one and read the opening paragraph. ‘Bets and Pip were waiting impatiently for Larry, Daisy and Fatty to come, reads the first sentence. I stop reading and realise that my brain has just been party to what I can only call, uninvited censorship. “You can’t openly call someone, Fatty,” my brain says, “well not in 2013.” I continue reading and come across a discussion about the telegram boy, where he’s referred to as, ‘a little queer’. Uninvited censorship takes place again and later occurs again on page forty-five where Fatty says, whilst talking about stage make-up, “One day I’m going to make myself up as a black boy and give you all a fright.” If Ms Blyton was writing for todays’ market, these stories would never see the light of day. Thankfully she isn’t and this treasure from 1946 and many more are still available, untouched, uncensored and unique.

This made me think about how the written word has evolved, mostly in part down to the reader. Writers’ write to earn and readers’ earn to read and in turn fund the writers. Therefore the market must be mostly dictated to by the text buying public, whether it be novels, newspapers or non-fiction.

Last week we had William Shakespeare’s birthday and date of his death, both allegedly occurring on April 23rd. Now Shakespeare wrote for the people; the masses so to speak. Yes he had plays commissioned by royalty, but the language he used was the language of the streets. But times move on and we no, longer, verily say adieu. Last week also was the birthdate of Charlotte Bronte, writer of such timeless classics like Jane Eyre and Villette. What makes these novels still sell in their hordes is the fact that they have a darned good story attached to them. But the language and style is very different from that being published today. For instance often the dialogue takes place with the character speaking adding the name of the person being spoken to, this also occurs in Enid Blyton’s work too. EG. “What have you been up to today, Pip?” “Nothing at all, Fatty, nothing.” This would now seem so antiquated, an outmoded style of conversation. But back in Victorian England when the Haworth Parsonage was privy to the writing activities of the three Bronte sisters, conversations like this actually took place. Also in the middle-class, ordered lives of Enid Blyton’s, Five Find Outers, It was considered polite to address people directly when talking to them.

Now I’m not saying we’re all becoming uncouth and politeness is waning. And I certainly don’t harbour the same views as the potty, political correctness brigade, that think we should rewrite out such phrases in books like Fatty’s black boy remark. If we start down that route where will it end; Benvolio sending Juliet a secret note saying his mate Romeo fancies her. And heaven forbid the PPCB work out that she’s consummated her marriage and is still only fourteen.

What I am saying is, as we evolve so does the written word. So let’s all banish the little member of the PPCB that sits inside our heads waiting for a moment of uninvited censorship and we’ll all be richer for it.

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One Response to The Evolution of the Written Word and Uninvited Censorship

  1. jan says:

    Rewriting for current sensibilities is wrong. Literature is a snapshot of past society.

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