From Jacob Stolworthy:
A new edition of Margaret Mitchell’s epic novel, released by Pan Macmillan, contains a caution at the start warning readers of its “problematic” content.
The note reportedly says the book has not been rewritten to erase the offensive material, but says it includes “racist” elements that are “hurtful or indeed harmful”.
I feel that this is an appropriate and adequate addition to the book. Assure the readers that nothing in the text has changed, give some historical context, and allow people to choose for themselves if they want to venture into a problematic book.
This is in contrast to the recent trend of removing or altering problematic language and themes in previously published works. New editions of the books of Agatha Christie, Ian Fleming, and Roald Dahl have had their texts changed in recent months. I can understand why the publishers have made their alterations, but I believe it’s the wrong tack to take.
It will surprise nobody to learn that I don’t own the rights to these books. I’m just some guy in Southern California, not some powerful publishing decision-maker. However, I don’t feel censorship is necessarily the correct decision to make with most things. Not only would Margaret Mitchell’s book be reduced to a slim and confounding thing, but trying to erase slavery from history, even in the context of a work of fiction, would be far more problematic.
It’s not a book ban, but a text ban is still an erasure. In the case of Gone with the Wind, removing any text relating to slavery would be akin to whitewashing the past. I’m glad the publishers haven’t made that decision. Context and education are important. Willful ignorance and turning a blind eye to the atrocities of the past are harmful.
UPDATE: Is there a word for book publishers who fall over themselves to alter the content of older works for “current sensibilities” because other publishers are doing it and they don’t want to be branded as politically incorrect or behind the times?
Penguin Random House has started changing “outdated” terms in the works of P.G Wodehouse. Jeeves and Wooster couldn’t escape this fate either. This time, they’ve also included a disclaimer at the front of the book. As I wrote above, an explanation of a book’s history and how it may be problematic today is an acceptable addition. Altering the content? I’m not as certain.
This is beginning to feel like reactionary jumping on the bandwagon. At what point do these actions go from feeling like they’re well-intended to an obvious fear of losing money?