Agatha Christie novels have been rewritten for modern sensitivities, The Sunday Telegraph can disclose. Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries have had original passages reworked or entirely removed for new editions published by HarperCollins.
Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries have had original passages reworked or entirely removed for new editions published by HarperCollins. The character of a British tourist venting her frustration at a group of children has been purged from a recent reissue. References to people smiling, and comments on their teeth and physique, have also been erased from the new versions.
Christie, the most successful novelist of all time and second only to Shakespeare in terms of copies sold, follows Roald Dahl and Ian Fleming in becoming the latest author to have their classic works posthumously edited by modern publishers.
The new editions of Christie’s works are set to be released, or have been released since 2020, by HarperCollins, a company said by insiders to use the services of sensitivity readers. Digital versions of new editions seen by The Telegraph include scores of changes to a range of texts written from 1920 to 1976, stripping the works of numerous passages containing descriptions, insults, or references to ethnicity, particularly for characters that Christie’s protagonists meet outside the UK.
The author’s own narration, often through the inner monologue of Miss Jane Marple or Hercule Poirot, has been altered in many instances.
Sections of dialogue uttered by often unsympathetic characters within the mysteries have also been cut.
In the 1937 novel Death on the Nile, 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”. Vocabulary has also been altered, with the term “Oriental” removed.
Other descriptions in the story have been altered in some instances, with one black servant, who is originally described as grinning as he understands to stay silent about an incident, now described as neither black nor smiling but simply “nodding”.
In a new edition of A Caribbean Mystery, the 1964 Miss Marple novel, the amateur detective’s musing that a West Indian hotel worker smiling at her has “such lovely white teeth”, has been removed, with similar references to “beautiful teeth” also taken out.
The same book described a prominent female character as having “a torso of black marble such as a sculptor would have enjoyed”, an observation absent from the edited version. Other descriptors have also been changed, with references to the Nubian people — an ethnic group which has lived in Egypt for millennia — removed in many instances from Death on the Nile, resulting in “the Nubian boatman” becoming simply “the boatman”.
Dialogue in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Christie’s 1920 debut novel, has been altered, so where Poirot once noted that another character is “a Jew, of course”, he now makes no such comment.
In the same book, a young woman described as being “of gypsy type” is now simply “a young woman”, and other references to gipsies have been removed from the text.
The 1979 collection, Miss Marple’s Final Cases, includes the character of an Indian judge who grows angry demanding his breakfast. The original text describes “his Indian temper”, a phrase changed to say “his temper”. References to “natives” have also been removed, or replaced with the word “local”.
Across the revised books, racial descriptions have been altered or removed, including an entire passage in A Caribbean Mystery, where a character fails to see a black woman in some bushes at night as he walks to his hotel room. The word “n-----” is taken out of the revised edition, in both Christie’s prose and the dialogue spoken by her characters.
Changes have also been made across her novels Final Cases and Sleeping Murder. It is not the first time Christie’s works have been altered. Her 1939 novel, And Then There Were None, was previously published under a different title that included a racist term.
The Sunday Telegraph, London