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Agatha Christie novels reworked to remove potentially offensive language

Several Agatha Christie novels have been edited to remove potentially offensive language, including insults and references to ethnicity.

Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries written between 1920 and 1976 have had passages reworked or removed in new editions published by HarperCollins to strip them of language and descriptions that modern audiences find offensive, especially those involving the characters Christie’s protagonists encounter outside the UK.

Sensitivity readers had made the edits, which were evident in digital versions of the new editions, including the entire Miss Marple run and selected Poirot novels set to be released or that have been released since 2020, the Telegraph reported.

The updates follow edits made to books by Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming to remove offensive references to gender and race in a bid to preserve their relevance to modern readers.

The newspaper reported that the edits cut references to ethnicity, such as describing a character as black, Jewish or gypsy or a female character’s torso as “of black marble” and a judge’s “Indian temper”, and remove terms such as “Oriental” and the N-word. The word “natives” has also been replaced with the word “local”.

Among the examples of changes cited by the Telegraph is the 1937 Poirot novel Death on the Nile, in which the character of Mrs Allerton complains that a group of children are pestering her, saying that “they 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”.

This has been stripped down in a new edition to state: “They come back and stare, and stare. And I don’t believe I really like children.”

The new edition of the 1964 Miss Marple novel A Caribbean Mystery, the amateur detective’s musing that a hotel worker smiling at her has “such lovely white teeth” has been removed, the newspaper added.

Sensitivity readers are a comparatively recent phenomenon in publishing that have gained widespread attention in the past two years. They vet both new publications and older works for potentially offensive language and descriptions, and aim to improve diversity in the publishing industry – though some are paid extremely low wages.

Though this is the first time the content of Christie’s novels have been changed, her 1939 novel And Then There Were None was previously published under a different title that included a racist term, which was last used in 1977.

Agatha Christie Limited, a company run by the author’s great-grandson James Prichard, is understood to handle licensing for her literary and film rights. The company and HarperCollins have been contacted for comment.

Other midcentury authors whose works have been revised

Roald Dahl
Dahl’s publisher, Puffin, hired sensitivity readers to rewrite substantial parts of the author’s text to make sure the books “can continue to be enjoyed by all today”; however it will also continue to print the original editions.

On the chopping block were offensive descriptions of characters’ physical appearances, such as the words “fat” and “ugly”, as well as antisemitic references, for instance to the characters’ big noses in The Witches.

Gender-neutral terms were also added – where Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s Oompa Loompas were “small men”, they are now “small people”. The Cloud-Men in James and the Giant Peach have become Cloud-People.

Ian Fleming
To mark 70 years since Casino Royale, Fleming’s first book featuring the British spy James Bond, was published, a full set of the thrillers will be reissued. This time, they will contain the disclaimer: “This book was written at a time when terms and attitudes which might be considered offensive by modern readers were commonplace.”

Many changes are to remove racist language. In Live and Let Die, Bond’s comment that would-be African criminals in the gold and diamond trades are “pretty law-abiding chaps I should have thought, except when they’ve drunk too much” has been changed to “pretty law-abiding chaps I should have thought”.

Others are to remove sexist language; for example a scene where Bond visits a nightclub in Harlem, and a reference to the “audience panting and grunting like pigs at the trough” has been changed to “Bond could sense the electric tension in the room”.

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