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Kaylie Jones: My Father, James Jones, and Censorship

Posted: 04/10/11 03:13 PM ET

2011-04-10-KaylieJonesHeadshot.jpgBy Kaylie Jones

In 1950, when my father realized that Scribner was going to cut a great many sexual references along with four-letter words from the manuscript of From Here to Eternity, he grew calm and focused and reasonable--that is, reasonable for a man who was known for his hot temper. He wrote thoughtful, equable letters to his editor, Burroughs Mitchell (later collected in To Reach Eternity: The Letters of James Jones, 1989), who'd taken over for Maxwell Perkins after Perkins died. Mitchell and the in-house lawyers had explained that the book would not get past the censors if they left it the way it was.

My father wrote back to Mitchell, "I don't know if I can make you understand. You think I put those things in arbitrarily, just for simple shock value. But it isn't that. You see, you were an officer. Officers are inclined to be a little more polite about such things. For instance, the word 'cunt-pictures' in Chapter 11. That word is as much a common term in the Army as 'latrine' or 'chow down' instead of 'eat.' . . . that term, and not the term 'pinups,' was the term used in the Army."

Another scene the publisher objected to was one in which a soldier has a wet dream. My father wrote, "I want that to stay in. I saw that, with my own eyes, and--with very little variation--I saw it a great many times. If it is illegal as written, then maybe I can cut it inside, a word or two here and there, to make it a little more palatable, but I want it in. Christ, Mitch, the people of this country don't know what the hell goes on in it. Maybe that's why they're such sanctimonious bastards. But if Joyce can have Molly Bloom remember how she tossed him off into a handkerchief, then I can have that about Red's wet dream."

The wet dream was cut.

A few months later, my father wrote to his brother, Jeff, that his lawyer, Horace Manges, "had a 'score sheet' he had kept while reading, and there were 259 fucks, 92 shits, and 5 pricks. He did not count the pisses for some reason. Well, Mitch [Burroughs Mitchell] and I went through later, working in the Scribner office, and cut the fucks to 146, the shits to 45 . . . Manges wanted, Mitch wrote me, to cut the fucks to 25 or 6. . . ."

2011-04-10-19Myfatherandme_EastHampton_1966.jpg
Me and my father, East Hampton, New York, 1966


And that's not even including the explicitly homosexual content, which had no chance at all of making it into the final published text. The cuts were made in order to get the novel past the censors. If a book lost its mailing privileges, it had no way to reach its audience.

My father despised censorship almost as much as he despised hypocrisy. I remember him turning red in the face and going off on any number of subjects that pissed him off, first and foremost the American Puritan ethic and sexual repression, which he fervently believed was at the root of most of America's problems. He wanted to blow the lid off the whole thing.

My father didn't think of homosexuality as sinful, and had a number of close friends who were gay--some openly, some not so openly, including Montgomery Clift--and he admired them greatly for their courage, for it was no small thing to try to be open about one's homosexuality in the mid-twentieth century, even in Paris, where so many American artists and writers went in order to live freer lives.

Proust said in Remembrance of Things Past that true artistic genius is generally about sixty years ahead of its time and almost never recognized. Well, it's been exactly sixty years since the publication of From Here to Eternity.

How I wish my father had lived long enough to see some of the advances we've made. There were a few things he said when I was a teenager that at the time seemed absolutely peculiar to me. He said, for example, that he knew one day the whole world would become so sophisticated and sexually accepting that same-sex couples would be able to marry and have children. He also said that one day scientists would discover other planets circling suns similar to our own--the day the first article appeared acknowledging this fact, I shed tears, to my husband's great bafflement.

In that same letter to his brother, my father told Jeff that he was insisting the jacket cover of From Here to Eternity include a black star, which was what magazines that had lost their mailing privileges stamped on their covers as proof that they had been "expurgated," and were therefore safe for public consumption.

2011-04-10-17Life_JJKaylie_1963.jpg
A candid moment in 1963.


The black star, of course, never made it onto the cover of From Here to Eternity. He had to give in on that count, too.


A new e-book edition of From Here to Eternity will include the profanity and mentions of gay sex that were left out of the 1951 version. The uncensored edition is being published by Open Road Media and Jones's heirs, including daughter Kaylie. Read more about Kaylie and her memoir Lies My Mother Never Told Me on Red Room.

 

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