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From Here to Expurgation

Posted By Barbara Jones, FTRF Executive Director, Friday, July 20, 2012

This article was originally printed in the October 2011 issue of FTRF News. 

Ask any curator of literary manuscripts, and they will tell you how extensively some manuscripts are edited before publishing. Often the editing process catches factual errors or reins in verbose writers. Maxwell Perkins, a renowned U.S. literary editor, engaged in painful negotiations with Thomas Wolfe and persuaded him to cut over 50,000 words from Look Homeward, Angel. While it destroyed their friendship, critics agree that a better novel emerged.

But there are also instances of editing that constitute censorship: the intentional expurgation of words or topics feared to cause government censorship or public outcry. Expurgation can happen before or after publication. Of recent notoriety is a 2011 edition of Huckleberry Finn published by NewSouth Books, in which editor Alan Gribben replaced all instances of the word "nigger” with "slave.”

In the 1950’s, James Jones’s manuscript for From Here to Eternity was expurgated by his publisher, Charles Scribner’s Sons. According to daughter Kaylie Jones, also an author, all publishers were walking a fine line in that era. Before the famous Supreme Court obscenity trials starting in 1957, the U.S. Post Office acted prominently as a watchdog. Scribner’s alerted James Jones that they were going to excise the word "fuck” as much as possible, hoping that the published book would pass Post Office muster. (There are 36 "fuck”s in the 1951 edition.) There is no record of editor’s instructions regarding the gay- themed passages, but they were expurgated.

This 1951 best seller won the National Book Award, and the 1953 film garnered eight Academy Awards. Eternity is based on Jones’s experiences in the U.S. Army infantry—a group of soldiers serving in Hawaii before and during the attack on Pearl Harbor. Jones wanted to capture the life of the "ordinary” foot soldier—off duty drinking, boxing, playing cards, and cavorting with women. The book ends with the attack on Schofield Barracks on December 7, 1941. The book’s authenticity required barracks language and homosexual activity and references.

Like all censorship, there is historical context to the publication of Eternity. After World War II, the U.S. attempted to manipulate media of all types to frame the war as "total victory.” Film director and soldier John Ford was hired by the Army to shoot documentaries at the D-Day landing, and about such topics as PTSD. But then the Army suppressed them. They wanted a happy and noble ending. Homosexual activity, trauma, and salty language were not part of that vision.

When I worked at the University of Illinois, I used to look at their Jones Eternity manuscript and shiver to read the author’s pleading marginalia: "This needs to stay.” "Surely this is not censorable.” "Why can’t you leave this in if ‘the word’ is changed”? ("The word” is "fuck.”)

An original page from James Jones’s manuscript for From Here to Eternity, reprinted with permission of the Rare Book and Special Collections Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

In 2009, Kaylie Jones and her brother became the executors of their father’s estate. She revealed the expurgations, including gay references, and decided they needed to be restored in a new edition.

As she told The Guardian: "James Jones believed that homosexuality... in no way affected a soldier’s capability in the battlefield ... we think it’s relevant given the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell controversy.”

Happily as a result of Ms. Jones’s perseverance, the unexpurgated Eternity was published in May 2011 by Open Road Media, an e-book publisher. It is titled From Here to Eternity: The Restored Edition.

According to Robert Doyle’s Banned Books: Challenging the Freedom to Read, the book was removed from two libraries and, despite Scribner’s best attempts, the New York City Post Office banned it from the mails in 1955.

Only when advocates like Kaylie Jones take a passionate interest in the author’s original words, will these books be restored. Imagine how many lie in manuscript libraries right now—victims of fear.

Tags:  Barbara Jones  expurgation  From Here to Eternity  James Jones 

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