Agatha Christie: Poirot and Miss Marple author’s books edited to cut offensive terms and racist references

Books written by best-selling novelist Agatha Christie are the latest popular works to be posthumously rewritten to remove offensive terms and racist references.

New editions of the Poirot and Miss Marple detective mysteries, some of which were first published in the 1920s and 1930s, have had original passages changed or entirely removed to reflect modern sensitivities.

The move comes following similar treatment for stories by Roald Dahl, who penned the likes of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda and The Twits, and James Bond creator Ian Fleming.

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According to reports in the Telegraph, publisher HarperCollins is reissuing a number of titles written between 1920 and the author’s death in 1976, with edits to passages containing descriptions, insults or references to ethnicity as well as descriptions of certain characters’ physiques.

Christie’s narration, often through the thoughts of protagonists Miss Jane Marple or Hercule Poirot, has been altered in many instances. Words spoken by other characters within the stories have also been cut.

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 cut from the revised edition, in both Christie’s prose and the dialogue spoken by her characters. References to “natives” have also been deleted or replaced with the word “local”.

In the 1937 novel Death on the Nile, the character Mrs Allerton complains that a group of children are pestering her, saying “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”.

Novelist Agatha Christie. Picture: PANovelist Agatha Christie. Picture: PA
Novelist Agatha Christie. Picture: PA

This has been stripped down to read: “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 reworked, including a scene where a black servant – originally described as grinning as he understands to keep quiet about an incident – is now described as neither black nor smiling, only “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.

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The same book described a prominent female character as having “a torso of black marble such as a sculptor would have enjoyed”, a passage that is missing from the edited version.

Many references to the Nubian people – an ethnic group that has lived in Egypt for millennia – have been removed from Death on the Nile, resulting in “the Nubian boatman” becoming “the boatman”.

Other examples include edits to Christie’s 1920 debut novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, where a comment by Poirot describing another character as “a Jew, of course” has been deleted.

In the same book, a young woman portrayed as being “of gypsy type” is now simply “a young woman”, with other references to gypsies also cut. Christie is the most successful novelist of all time and second only to Shakespeare in terms of the number of copies sold.

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