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After Roald Dahl, Agatha Christie's novels revised by 'sensitivity readers'

The recent revisions to Christie's novels are part of a trend to edit the works of several classic writers. This includes names like Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming

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Raghav Aggarwal New Delhi

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Several works of Agatha Christie, including Poirot and Miss Marple, have been edited by "sensitivity readers" to remove offensive language and references to ethnicity. The changes to Poirot and Miss Marple novels are already visible in the digital versions of the new editions, a report by The Telegraph said.

The recent changes to Christie's novels are part of a trend to edit the works of several classic writers. In 2022, edits were made to the books by Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming to remove offensive references and to preserve their relevance to modern readers.

Several passages have been removed or reworked in the new editions. Some of these editions have already been released, while others will be released in the coming months by HarperCollins. According to The Telegraph, the publisher uses the services of "sensitivity readers".

These readers are hired by publishers to read a book and make editorial suggestions regarding content that many could consider offensive or stereotypical. The sensitivity readers have, of late, found themselves at the centre of the debate. Some publishers believe these amount to censorship, but others welcome the changes.

In Christie's 1937 Poirot novel, Death on the Nile, Mrs Allerton complains that a group of children are pestering her, saying that "they come back and stare, and state and their eyes are simply disgusting, and so are their noses, and I don't believe I really like children."

This has been changed to, "They come back and stare, and stare. And I don't believe I really like children."

Some words, too, have been replaced. "Native" has been changed to "local". In The Mysterious Affair at Styles, a young woman who was earlier "of gypsy type" is now "a young woman". In Miss Marple's Final Cases and Two Other Stories, the Indian judge earlier had an "Indian temper"; now he just has a "temper".

From several of Christie's works, comments on ethnicity and race have also been removed. For example, in the Mysterious Affair at Styles, an earlier description of a character as a "Jew" has been cut. In her other works, the N-word has been completely removed. 

Other authors whose works have been revised

Roald Dahl

Puffin Books, a division of Penguin Random House, made several changes to Dahl's novels. The description of Augustus Gloop from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has been changed from "enormously fat" to "enormous".

In James and the Giant Peach, The Earthworm no longer has "lovely pink" skin. It has "lovely smooth skin" in the new editions. In the same book, Aunt Sponge no longer has "fat arms". She has just "arms".

However, after a backlash, Penguin announced that they would not revise Dahl's work and keep the original text.  

Ian Fleming

2023 marks 70 years of Fleming's Casino Royale, the first book featuring James Bond. This year, the full set of James Bond books will be reissued but with a disclaimer, "This book was written at a time when terms and attitudes which might be considered offensive by modern readers were commonplace."

According to a report by The Guardian, in Live and Let Die, Bond's comment that African criminals are "pretty law-abiding chaps I should have thought, except when they've drunk too much". This has now been changed to "pretty law-abiding chaps I should have thought".

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First Published: Mar 28 2023 | 10:23 AM IST

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