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And then they went after Agatha Christie

- AMERICAN THINKER - Rajan Laad - MAR 27, 2023 -

Just yesterday, The Telegraph reported that Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries are being "rewritten for modern sensitivities."

Image: Peter via Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

Dame Agatha Christie became, and remains, the bestselling novelist of all time. She is best known for her 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections, as well as the world's longest-running play: "The Mousetrap."

Agatha Christie's most famous novels include And Then There Were None (1939), Murder on the Orient Express (1933), The ABC Murders (1936), etc.

But many of her beloved works are going to be altered now. Passages containing descriptions, insults, references to ethnicity, and physical descriptions (of non-Caucasian characters) will all be removed.

The following are some examples.

The 1937 novel Death on the Nile is mostly set in the African continent.

At one point in the novel, a character complains about a group of children pestering her as follows:

"[T]hey come back and stare, and stare, and their eyes are simply disgusting, and so are their noses, and I don't believe I really like children."

The above text was altered as follows:

"They come back and stare, and stare. And I don't believe I really like children."

Descriptions of a black servant, who is originally described as grinning as he understands to stay silent, is now described as neither black nor smiling, but simply "nodding."

References to the word "Oriental" have been removed, and so have references to the Nubian people.

In a new edition of A Caribbean Mystery from 1964, Miss Marple's musing that a West Indian hotel worker smiling at her has "such lovely white teeth" has been removed, and other references to teeth have been removed.

Even flattering descriptions were not spared because they apply to non-white people.

A female character described of as having "a torso of black marble such as a sculptor would have enjoyed" has been removed.

In Christie's 1920 debut novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Poirot notes the following about a character called Dr. Bauerstein:

"He is, of course, a German by birth, though he has practiced so long in this country that nobody thinks of him as anything but an Englishman. He was naturalized about fifteen years ago. A very clever man — a Jew, of course."

The reference to the character's Jewishness has been removed.

In the same book, all references to gypsies have been removed.

In the 1979 collection, Miss Marple's Final Cases, there is a reference to an Indian judge losing his temper. Christie refers to it as "his Indian temper." The nationality of the individual has been removed, and it now says "his temper." The word "natives" has been replaced with the word "local."

The "n-----" word is taken out of the revised edition, in both Christie's prose and the dialogue spoken by her characters.

This isn't the only time Christie's novels have undergone revision.

The famous mystery novel And Then There Were None was first called Ten Little N-----s when it was released in 1939 in the U.K. The U.S. edition had the title And Then There Were None. The same novel was also called Ten Little Indians in the U.S. between 1964 and 1986.

In recent times, the works of Ian Fleming and Roald Dahl were subjected to "sensitivity" reviews in order to remove the "offensive" content pertaining to mental health, violence, sex, and race. Now it is Agatha Christie.

In Dahl's case, even words such as "fat" and "small men" were deemed offensive and were replaced by "enormous" and "small people." Following the intense backlash over the changes, the publishers announced that they would release Dahl's original works along with the revised collection.

So what do we make of all this?

Having multiple versions of the same book is not unusual.

It is very much like a movie being shown on mainstream TV or in flight, where the sex scenes, violence, and strong language are removed or toned down.

I myself was introduced to Sherlock Holmes at the age of six, reading children's versions of Doyle's short stories. It caused me to read and enjoy Doyle's original works later.

The diluted versions could lead readers to the originals.

Also, there is a matter of personal choice.

If individuals choose to insulate themselves or their children from "offensive" content, publication houses can choose to cater to a segment of the market to reap profits.

But it is essential that all these altered works be explicitly labeled so the readers know what they are reading.

It is equally vital that the original versions of the works be preserved and remain available. This is because art and works of fiction often serve as the prism for the time in which they were created.

If these original works are replaced by reworked editions, it could result in an Orwellian rewriting of the past with subjective criteria applied.

Consequently, a small group of adults could end up deciding what others should consume.

Let's focus on the change.

Could the removal of descriptions of race or ethnicity or nationality be regarded as bigoted?

When Caucasian actors play non-Caucasian characters in film and similar performances, they are accused of whitewashing and creating worlds where non-white people don't exist. Johnny Depp was slammed for playing a Native American.

But the current changes to Christie's novels are doing exactly that.

In an attempt to be sensitive, they are erasing non-white people from the books.

Isn't that the definition of racism?

Let's focus on the subjectivity of these exercises.

Who decides that a woman described as having a "torso of black marble such as a sculptor would have enjoyed" is offensive?

How is such a description that refers to the physical beauty of the woman become rude because of the mention of color?

Isn't it racist to be offended by the mention of blackness?

Perhaps they will claim that it is sexist because it refers to a woman? Christie was a woman herself.

How else is an author supposed to describe a woman without being explicit about the anatomy?

Should an author refrain from describing a woman to avoid troubles?

That is strictly up to the writer. There can be no mandates here. This isn't a user manual, where a style guide is followed; it is a work of art, where no rules should apply.

Questions also must be asked about the future of contemporary works.

Will publishing houses order current authors to tone down their works prior to publishing their first editions?

Will first-time authors have the power to reject attempts to censor?

What a loss to the culture that will be if publishing houses subject new works to sensitivity reviews and alter them even before they are published.

The other risk is that if fiction can be revised, perhaps history will be amended to fit a particular narrative, too.

In the end, who controls the past controls the future.

It is essential that close attention be paid by all to these occurrences.


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