Often challenges are motivated by a desire to protect children from “inappropriate” sexual content or “offensive” language. The following were the top three reasons cited for challenging materials as reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom:
- the material was considered to be "sexually explicit"
- the material contained "offensive language"
- the materials was "unsuited to any age group"
As Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., in Texas v. Johnson , said most eloquently:
If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.
Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
I read this book several years ago, before I started blogging. It was a wonderful historical novel focusing on the relationship between the painter, Johannes Vermeer, and a servant girl who turns out to be the model for the famous painting "Girl with a Pearl Earring." The novel explores the household of Vermeer, with his scores of children and a wife who is perpetually pregnant. They live from painting to painting, so to speak. Relying on patrons for their livelihood and falling back on the mother-in-law's purse strings in between. Needless to say, the mother-in-law is very much in control in the household. Griet comes to work as a servant and slowly ingratiates herself with the master (Vermeer). He makes her his assistant and eventually, she models for him. As his assistant, she grinds the materials for the paints and this passage from the book shows how beautiful the writing is:
I came to love grinding the things he brought from the apothecary--bones, white lead, madder, massicot--to see how bright and pure I could get the colors. I learned that the finer the materials were ground, the deeper the color. From rough, dull grains madder became a fine bright red powder and, mixed with linseed oil, a sparkling paint. Making it and the other colors was magical.
However, Vermeer's wife is not happy about the arrangement because she senses his feelings for the girl, although they were never intimate, and things take a turn for the worse. Let's just say that Griet does not continue in the household. Griet does have a love interest her age and this is the only place in the book where a sexual encounter occurs so the book is not overtly sexual. I will say that it is sensual.
It is a wonderful work of historical fiction, albeit speculative. What if there really was a servant girl who posed for the painting and knew the intimate workings of the Vermeer household and was companion to the artist himself? Very little is known about Vermeer historically and there in lies the beauty of historical fiction. It allows us to imagine what his life might have been like. And Chevalier's descriptions of life in 17th century Delft come across very accurately. I will say that this book led me to Vermeer's art and he has become one of my favorite painters. I adore his paintings.
Girl with the Pearl Earring has not been challenged (or banned) in the United States, as far as I could tell in my research. However, it was banned in Iran. According to the Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom:
Banned in Iran (2006). "The new government intends to take positive steps for reviving neglected values and considering religious teachings in the cultural field." Source: Jan. 2007, p. 35.
Not really sure what that means, but I'm assuming that the sensual quality of the book and the one act of sexual intercourse are too much for their religious values.
I'm reminded of "Sex in the City 2" when Carrie and the girls travel to Abu Dhabi, a city with similar Muslim customs as Iran. They get into mischief because of Samantha's blatant promiscuity and demonstrative behavior. They are rescued by a group of Muslim women who share their sense of style under their black robes and these women also have a secret book club where they read books banned in their country. I can imagine these women reading Girl with a Pearl Earring in secret. *smile*
Read a full description of the book at Goodreads
A big thanks to Sheila at Book Journey for hosting this important event!