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Agatha Christie’s Books Are the Latest To Get Another Round of Changes to Offensive Language

A black and white photo of Agatha Christie sitting, holding a stack of papers, staring off wistfully

In the latest instance of news sure to upset people who didn’t care about this issue until just now, it has been reported that Agatha Christie’s novels are being edited to remove insensitive and offensive language.

According to The Telegraph, Christie’s iconic novels, including the Miss Marple serial and some Poirot books, have had passages rewritten or removed entirely by sensitivity readers for their publisher Harper Collins. These edits are being made to remove potentially offensive language used by Christie in her novels, which were published between 1920 and 1976, to describe characters that her protagonists meet, especially those they encounter outside of the U.K.

The edits, which began in 2020, are already evident in digital editions of her works and have either already, or will be made, in print.

Sensitivity readers are fairly new to the publishing world, but they are in a lot of cases necessary and can be a positive part in writing and editing a book. They help publishers determine aspects of books that could be deemed offensive to contemporary readers, both in new books and old. Unfortunately, the role is still largely undervalued (and often employed only cynically by publishers, to protect their bottom line) and thus generally underpaid. According to The Guardian, sensitivity readers are often paid little for their work.

When it comes to Christie’s work in particular, edits have been made largely as it pertains to her descriptions of race. These include heavy use of the N-word, as well as phrases like “Indian temper,” and depictions of Jewish people.

Other examples include the removal of the description of non-white children, because even when those descriptions are issued by characters we’re not meant to sympathize with, they were written in a way simply might not translate for readers—especially young readers—today.

Christie isn’t the only writer to have language in their books tweaked or removed. It was announced earlier this year that Roald Dahl’s books would have changes made to language that audiences might now find distasteful. Some of these changes include Augustus Gloop from Charlie and the Chocolate factory now being described as “enormous,” and Mrs. Twit from The Twits is now described as “beastly” rather than “ugly and beastly”.

The Road Dahl Story Co. addressed the edits, saying, “When publishing new print runs of books written years ago, it’s not unusual to review the language used alongside updating other details including a book’s cover and page layout. Our guiding principle throughout has been to maintain the storylines, characters, and the irreverence and sharp-edged spirit of the original text. Any changes made have been small and carefully considered.”

This isn’t the first time that Christie’s novels have had content changed or removed. As with Dahl, some of her best-known work underwent major changes decades ago. Her best-selling book And Then There Were None was re-titled and offensive language was repeatedly replaced over various editions from 1940 through the 1980s. Also, as with Dahl, this latest round of edits is being blamed on overly sensitive readers, when in reality, it’s a decision made by the authors’ publishers and estates to protect their profits.

Although Christie’s estate nor Harper Collins have made statements about the changes, both Roald Dahl’s Story Company and Puffin have.

On the copyright page in his books, it is noted, “The wonderful words of Roald Dahl can transport you to different worlds and introduce you to the most marvellous characters. This book was written many years ago, and so we regularly review the language to ensure that it can continue to be enjoyed by all today.”

(featured image: Bettmann / Getty Images)

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Brooke Pollock is a UK-based entertainment journalist who talks incessantly about her thoughts on pop culture. She can often be found with her headphones on listening to an array of music, scrolling through social media, at the cinema with a large popcorn, or laying in bed as she binges the latest TV releases. She has almost a year of experience and her core beat is digital culture.