Brunel bowdlerised
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Here is the picture of Isambard Kingdom Brunel that Heinemann, and presumably teachers, don't want children to see.  

brunelcigar.jpg (52825 bytes) 

It is one of the most famous images of the Victorian age.  The engineer, who modern Britons recently voted number two behind Churchill in a BBC poll of the country's great figures of the past, is standing in front of the launching chains of the SS Great Eastern at Milwall dock in 1857.   He is at the height of his power, cigar in mouth, commanding and confident, an icon of engineering history.   So what's the problem?   Here's a clue.

brunelcigar1.jpg (6526 bytes)   

Yes.  Horror!  The great man is smoking.  Apparently, modern teachers will not buy books for children if their covers feature smoking.  So Heinemann, the publishers of a new children's biography of Brunel "The life of Isambard Kingdom Brunel" by Leonie Bennett, have airbrushed the cigar out for their cover photograph.  Here it is.

brunel no cigar.jpg (41034 bytes)

Heinemann are not the first to censor history.  Thomas Bowdler 1754-1825 gave his name to Bowdlerisation, the censorship by arbitrary deletion of "objectionable" material from a work of literature to "purify" it.  

Rightly ridiculed today, Bowdler produced a Family Shakespeare in 1807 in which he "endeavoured to remove every thing that could give just offence to the religious and virtuous mind" and "in which nothing is added to the original text, but those words and expressions are omitted which cannot with propriety be read aloud in a family."   Most famously, in Bowdler's Hamlet, Ophelia dies accidentally rather than by suicide.  

Now apparently suicide is OK, but smoking is cannot even be pictured!  Which children's biographies of other top ten Britons will be censored next?  Will Winston Churchill's cigar be airbrushed out, will children be allowed to learn that Shakespeare, Princess Diana and Horatio Nelson all committed adultery, that John Lennon took drugs?  

This censorship is a particularly ridiculous piece of political correctness because Brunel was a heavy smoker - the strap across his waistcoat is holding his bag of spare cigars.  He suffered a stroke before the ship was finally launched and died the following year, aged 53.  He probably had his life cut short by his smoking.  That might be quite a good lesson.   


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Last modified: September 26, 2006