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Sherlock Holmes book banned in Albemarle County, Virginia

Astudyinscarlet Once, Virginia's Albemarle County School District was a standout: One of its middle schools was so good that educators from around the state would come to check it out. How do I know? Because suited people would suddenly appear when, say, we were mid-frog dissection, or running around the track in our green and yellow gym uniforms. I was a student in Albemarle County: I went to Jack Jouett Middle SchooI in Charlottesville, Va., for the seventh grade. The middle school included, as some do, sixth, seventh and eighth grade.

If I were there today, the sixth-graders I passed in the halls would be banned from reading the Sherlock Holmes mystery "A Study in Scarlet" by Arthur Conan Doyle.

A parents at one of the other middle schools in the district objected to "A Study In Scarlet," first published in 1887, on the grounds that it portrays Mormons in a negative light. According to the Daily Progress, Brette Stevenson said, "This is our young students’ first inaccurate introduction to an American religion."

USA Today found what it believes must be an objectionable passage:

(John Ferrier) had always determined, deep down in his resolute heart, that nothing would ever induce him to allow his daughter to wed a Mormon. Such marriage he regarded as no marriage at all, but as a shame and a disgrace. Whatever he might think of the Mormon doctrines, upon that one point he was inflexible. He had to seal his mouth on the subject, however, for to express an unorthodox opinion was a dangerous matter in those days in the Land of the Saints.

One ninth-grader at the Virginia hearing Thursday told the school board she objected to banning the book. "I was capable of reading it in sixth grade," said Quinn Legallo-Malone. "I think it was a good challenge. I’m upset that they’re removing it."

Nonetheless, the board decided to remove the book.

I've tried to remember what I read in my Albemarle County English classes, and I admit, it's a little hazy. I remember my math teacher Mrs. Necessary, who took off points if we spelled her name wrong on our tests and quizzes (ensuring that today I can spell "necessary" without error). I remember science labs. I remember the very shiny green and yellow outfits of the marching band. But the assigned reading for English -- it falls into a fog.

My classmates and I did read a lot, however. What we read was decidedly off-syllabus. A worn copy of "Flowers in the Attic" by V.C. Andrews, full of child imprisonment and sibling incest, was passed between students at lunch, as were its sequels. So was "Audrey Rose" by Frank De Felitta, a reincarnation psychodrama that centered on a girl's burning to death in a car. At lunch, I read the dirtiest pages of Judy Blume's book "Wifey," which described actual sex in more vivid terms than we were learning in biology class.

All those books, good or bad, were shared and dog-eared because they were exactly what we weren't supposed to be reading. Those books were forbidden in school, but they were shared with whispers at lunch, passed from hand to hand when no teachers were looking.

Sure, Albemarle County can tell some of its kids they can't read "A Study in Scarlet." But that doesn't mean Holmes won't join the ranks of whatever salacious, forbidden works students are sharing at school these days.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, in a 1922 photo. Credit: Associated Press

 
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