7.19.2012

Bowdlerized Bits

By Josh

Elizabeth and I included a feature in UNBORED on “Banned Books You Should Read.” In it, we explain why books like Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants, and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird appear on the American Library Association’s list of the most banned or challenged books of the past decade. While researching that feature, we decided that it would be fun to include bowdlerized passages from classic literature — that is to say, passages that have been altered or removed by censorious editors lest they offend readers.

We didn’t end up doing that, because it would have taken forever to research. (But we thought it might include: Oompa-Loompa stuff from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, for example.) Here’s an example of the sort of thing we’re talking about. This passage from Jonathan Swift’s famous 1726 novel Gulliver’s Travels has, over the years, often been excised from new editions because it’s sort of gross. Note that to “make water” and to “void” mean to pee.

The reader may remember, that when I signed those articles upon which I recovered my liberty, there were some which I disliked, upon account of their being too servile; neither could anything but an extreme necessity have forced me to submit. But being now a nardac of the highest rank in that empire, such offices were looked upon as below my dignity, and the emperor (to do him justice), never once mentioned them to me. However, it was not long before I had an opportunity of doing his majesty, at least as I then thought, a most signal service. I was alarmed at midnight with the cries of many hundred people at my door; by which, being suddenly awaked, I was in some kind of terror. I heard the word Burglum repeated incessantly: several of the emperor’s court, making their way through the crowd, entreated me to come immediately to the palace, where her imperial majesty’s apartment was on fire, by the carelessness of a maid of honour, who fell asleep while she was reading a romance. I got up in an instant; and orders being given to clear the way before me, and it being likewise a moonshine night, I made a shift to get to the palace without trampling on any of the people. I found they had already applied ladders to the walls of the apartment, and were well provided with buckets, but the water was at some distance. These buckets were about the size of large thimbles, and the poor people supplied me with them as fast as they could: but the flame was so violent that they did little good. I might easily have stifled it with my coat, which I unfortunately left behind me for haste, and came away only in my leathern jerkin. The case seemed wholly desperate and deplorable; and this magnificent palace would have infallibly been burnt down to the ground, if, by a presence of mind unusual to me, I had not suddenly thought of an expedient. I had, the evening before, drunk plentifully of a most delicious wine called glimigrim, (the Blefuscudians call it flunec, but ours is esteemed the better sort,) which is very diuretic. By the luckiest chance in the world, I had not discharged myself of any part of it. The heat I had contracted by coming very near the flames, and by labouring to quench them, made the wine begin to operate by urine; which I voided in such a quantity, and applied so well to the proper places, that in three minutes the fire was wholly extinguished, and the rest of that noble pile, which had cost so many ages in erecting, preserved from destruction.

It was now day-light, and I returned to my house without waiting to congratulate with the emperor: because, although I had done a very eminent piece of service, yet I could not tell how his majesty might resent the manner by which I had performed it: for, by the fundamental laws of the realm, it is capital in any person, of what quality soever, to make water within the precincts of the palace. But I was a little comforted by a message from his majesty, “that he would give orders to the grand justiciary for passing my pardon in form:” which, however, I could not obtain; and I was privately assured, “that the empress, conceiving the greatest abhorrence of what I had done, removed to the most distant side of the court, firmly resolved that those buildings should never be repaired for her use: and, in the presence of her chief confidents could not forbear vowing revenge.”

PS: In the recent (not very good) Jack Black version of Gulliver’s Travels, the peeing scene is one of the highlights.