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A century later, a Massachusetts library lifts its ban on a Mark Twain short story

Just in time for Banned Books Week, the Charlton, Mass., library reversed its ban on Twain's story "Eve's Diary."

By / September 23, 2011

"Eve's Diary," a short story by Mark Twain, includes an illustration of a nude Eve, which spurred a century-long ban of the book by one public library.

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A short story by Mark Twain titled “Eve’s Diary,” which was banned in Charlton, Mass., a century ago because of nude illustrations, was put back on the shelves Thursday as part of Banned Books Week.

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The Charlton library trustees banned the book in 1906 after one of them, Frank Whitefield, disapproved of the illustrations, which depict a nude Eve exploring Eden.

“After looking long and earnestly at one picture depicting Eve pensively reclining on a rock, Mr. Wakefield decided to act,” read a 1906 article on the original ban. The article refers to Eve’s dress as “summer costume.”

Richard Whitehead, a new library trustee, recently learned about the ban when he was reading information about the library and told The New York Times that the illustrations didn’t strike him as particularly indecent.

“There’s nothing outrageous about them,” he said. “It’s kind of a shame that for what seems to me like very good artwork, a great piece of literature was banned.”

Twain refused to comment for the 1906 New York Times article but later wrote in a 1907 letter to a friend, Mrs. F. G. Whitmore, that the ban seemed ridiculous to him, calling the library trustees “the freaks of the Charlton Library.”

Twain, however, managed to be characteristically humorous about the matter. “But the truth is, that when a Library expels a book of mine and leaves an unexpurgated Bible lying around where unprotected youth and age can get a hold of it, the deep unconscious irony of it delights me and doesn't anger me,” Twain wrote, signing the letter with his real name, Samuel Clemens.

The current library trustees voted unanimously, with one member missing, to restore “Eve’s Diary” to the shelves. A display in the building promoting Banned Books Week, which takes place the last week of September, now includes a first edition copy of Twain’s novel, found by Whitehead.

The library also acquired two paperback copies of the book as well as an audio book, and one of the paperbacks was checked out within hours of its placement on a shelf, library director Cheryl Hansen told Reuters.

Whitehead told The New York Times that his mission to lift the ban on “Eve’s Diary” came partly from the infamy Charlton had acquired from its library’s actions.

“Banned Book Week is about celebrating the freedom to read,” Whitehead said. “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.”

Molly Driscoll is a Monitor correspondent.

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