When mystery author Agatha Christie passed away in 1976, she left behind an impressive body of work. There are well over 2 billion copies of her books in print, as well as a slew of movies adapting them.
Now, some of her bestselling books are being edited to remove objectionable content and to better reflect contemporary standards.
The Telegraph was the first to report that several Christie novels featuring her most well-known detectives—Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple—are being revised by publisher HarperCollins to eliminate descriptions that would be interpreted as racially insensitive or xenophobic. This includes mentions of characters being “Oriental,” “a Jew,” or someone described as “Black.” Minorities characterized as having “white teeth,” “an Indian temper,” or having torsos “like black marble” have also been scrubbed.
HarperCollins has already re-released some of the works, which are believed to include the entire Miss Marple collection and select Poirot novels. Others are due to be issued in the future.
Christie’s work was first expurgated in her lifetime: When the Anti-Defamation League wrote to her publisher complaining about her depiction of Jewish people, Christie’s agent gave American editors blanket permission to remove any mentions they deemed offensive.
Nor is Christie the first writer to have their content posthumously reconsidered. James Bond author Ian Fleming and Roald Dahl have both had books revised to remove offensive descriptions. In many cases, publishers or authors’ estates employ the services of sensitivity readers, who review catalog titles for outdated references. The controversy over the practice, which some decry as censorship, led Dahl's publisher, Penguin Random House, to announce the unedited titles would remain available.
Born in 1890, Christie wrote her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, on a dare from her sister, Midge. The book was published in 1920 and launched her career as a mystery novelist. The last film to be based on her work, Kenneth Branagh’s Death on the Nile, was released in 2022.
[h/t The Telegraph]