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Posted by: Nightingale ( )
Date: March 25, 2023 10:49PM

The Telegraph (March 25/2023): Agatha Christie classics latest to be rewritten for modern sensitivities

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2023/03/25/agatha-christie-classics-latest-rewritten-modern-sensitivities/


"Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries have original passages reworked or removed in new editions published by HarperCollins."


HC is said to “use the services of sensitivity readers”.


Excerpts:

“Agatha Christie novels have been rewritten for modern sensitivities, The Telegraph can reveal.”


“The character of a British tourist venting her frustration at a group of children has been purged from a recent reissue, while a number of references to people smiling and comments on their teeth and physiques have also been erased.”


“Sections of dialogue uttered by often unsympathetic characters within the mysteries have also been cut.”


The term ‘Oriental’ has been removed.


“… a [B]lack servant, originally described as grinning as he understands the need to stay silent about an incident [is] described as neither [B]lack nor smiling but simply as “nodding”.


In a 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 sculpture would have enjoyed’, a description absent from the edited version.”


In ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’ references to “gypsies” have been removed.


“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 name that included a racist term.”

-----

I had never heard the original title of Christie's book 'And Then There Were None'. That one I can understand needing a massive edit (an entirely new title).

I had a vague idea that some of the other terms have been updated in general usage but wasn't otherwise aware that some of the labels were or have come to be considered racist or pejorative.

My parents told us as kids that some of Dad's mother's family members were "gypsies". I've only fairly recently tripped over the fact that the term is now seen as pejorative.

Language naturally evolves of course but sometimes it needs prompting to speed up the process as more light and knowledge is received on the matter.

What I don't understand (please forgive my ignorance) is why references to lovely white teeth or a black torso of marble would have to be expunged. On the surface of it those seem like positive comments.

Even if it's apparently not done to describe a servant as Black any more, what's wrong with stating that they are smiling? Is that some kind of a racist observation?

I'm a bit on the fence at the moment about whether we should go back and edit literary works long after they were written. I wonder if we can't accept how and why some words and phrases (and attitudes) were part of books we otherwise admire and enjoy. And Then There Were None, for instance, is listed as the best selling crime novel of all time so its contents must have merit (although I agree that the title couldn't stand - much has changed, with good reason, since 1939).

It's just that generally it's considered that a creator's works are sacrosanct. Look at all the efforts that go into protecting copyright for instance, as well as coined phrases (in the positive sense) which are often, if not always, accompanied by credit to the originator.

So now we're protecting copyright but altering a writer's expression? I find it a bit wincey. Especially as some of the edits seem questionable (as in why is "smiling" as a descriptor apparently a negative now?).

Although perhaps there is much I have yet to come to understand.


For the record, the 'Modern Sensitivities' part of the title of my post is a quote from the article I linked above, not my assessment of the issues.


PS: I only after the fact wondered about the BoM. Excuse my ignorance again, please, but has it ever been edited? Even if so, maybe it could use a rethink and an update. A rebranding in effect. As long as we're wanting to edit old works that did or could cause offence. And, yes, I can see that in some cases that could be a very good idea.


PPS: Oh, whoosh. I forget what I came back to add. Sheesh...



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 03/25/2023 10:56PM by Nightingale.

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Posted by: elderolddog ( )
Date: March 25, 2023 10:54PM

  
  

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Posted by: Lot's Wife ( )
Date: March 25, 2023 11:31PM

This is a really tough subject.

When I first read that book, it was in a version entitled "Ten Little Indians." I later read it as "And Then There Were None," which was in my opinion more elegant. But the original title was "Ten Little N(word)s."

I am generally opposed to changing authors' titles and language to keep up with modern sensitivities. Writers are products of their times, and there is nothing wrong with viewing them in their contexts. I confess to waking from nightmares that some future editor has taken the "he" and "she" out of Shakespeare and replaced them with "they" and "their." I cannot wait until society has achieved some degree of uniformity on pronouns; and even then, I hope that the world will learn that bowdlerization is neither ethical nor socially desirable.

That said, "Ten Little N(word)s" strikes me as pretty awful. And at some point the question arises whether the linguistic idiosyncracies are so dated as to render the books unreadable or at least unpublishable. I've mentioned this before, but reading the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson in their original forms to kids would probably--and rightly--get one locked up for child abuse. Insisting on sanitized versions may be the right way to preserve the works at least when children are involved, and that realization may represent progress towards some sort of reasonable accommodation.

In answer to your question about the BoM, yes it has been revised many times. The original text was basically a Jack Kerouac stream-of-consciousness screed. Orson Pratt and others made thousands of grammatical--"I'm a-going to the store"--and spelling corrections, then divided the text up into verses and chapters and added the chapter headings. The Forward to the BoM has been changed at least a few times, and such infelicities as "white and delightsome" were changed to "pure and delightsome" lest the Most Interesting Man in the World take umbrage.

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Posted by: summer ( )
Date: March 26, 2023 07:38AM

I read the original Hans Christian Anderson stories as a child. A family friend brought back an English language version of a book of his collected tales from Denmark. I found the stories fascinating, like nothing I had read before. I liked that I was trusted to read them, and that they were not cleaned up, but instead, very raw, and even sometimes sad. As an adult, I remember doing a read aloud of his stories with my (then) roommates.

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Posted by: Soft Machine ( )
Date: March 26, 2023 04:18PM

...as a child in about 1968 - and the title shocked me then. I was 8. I think the current title is much better.

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Posted by: Nightingale ( )
Date: March 26, 2023 04:27PM

Soft Machine Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I think the current
> title is much better.

Oh yes. No doubt.

I'd never heard the original title.

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Posted by: Lot's Wife ( )
Date: March 26, 2023 05:13PM

And Then There Were None is an elegant title. I imagine AG must have approved it since she would have retained the copyright.

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Posted by: blindguy ( )
Date: March 26, 2023 09:13AM

Presumably the actual copyright holders (usually the children of the original authors) are on board with these changes; otherwise, the publishers would not have made them.

That said, I agree with Lot's wife--I'm not in favor of altering books--both fiction and nonfiction--to make the characters more compliant to modern sensibilities. Where I don't agree with Lot's wife is that older books should be sanitized for younger readers. We do enough sanitizing for children already--so much so that many ignore the lessons that the past can teach us when they become adults because they never learned about that past in the first place.

As proof of this point, when I was young, I received and read, an old grade school book on the history of California called "California; A History." It was in 5 braille volumes and was intended for use by the state's schools for the blind in the early grades. When discussing the Donner party and its disastrous trip to California, the book stated that things got so bad that the surviving travelers had to kill and eat a mule. It wasn't until many years later that I learned the whole truth--that the members of the Donner party had actually engaged in cannibalism. However, because I believed that that didn't happen, I was initially unwilling to accept the truth of the situation. What I'm saying is that when we don't tell children, especially grade school children, about real history, we are making it more likely that they'll either repeat that history themselves or not believe the actual truth when they become adults.

Treating adults like "innocent children," is what your former church did, and it is one of the many reasons that some people refuse to believe the church's actual history when it is told to them. Do we really want to perpetuate myths and social sensibilities in the short term for possible denial of facts in the long term? For me, the answer is no, and I apply that answer to both fiction and nonfiction books.

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Posted by: Brother Of Jerry ( )
Date: March 26, 2023 10:13AM

I believe A Chorus Line was the first musical I ever saw, and it is still my favorite, though there is competition. When I saw it again a few years ago, some of the scenes had been altered.

The Book of Mormon musical had some major modifications during the covid shutdown. I saw it twice, once two weeks after it opened, and maybe 4 years later. The second time the script had been toned down somewhat, and the changes during covid pause were things like removing the part where the Ugandan girl was clueless about how texting worked, and similar issues.

I asked someone who worked in theater about The Chorus Line changes and they said it was common to tweak plays when cultural references change or go out of style.


I'm waiting for the narrator of Our Town to acknowledge at the opening of the play that Grover Corners is built on unceded Iroquois land. <\s>

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Posted by: Nightingale ( )
Date: March 26, 2023 03:05PM

Brother Of Jerry Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I'm waiting for the narrator of Our Town to
> acknowledge at the opening of the play that Grover
> Corners is built on unceded Iroquois land. <\s>

Haha. That update might clang a bit.

But speaking of land acknowledgements, they occur nearly universally now in Canada in certain venues, including by government reps from all parties. I often wonder what is the next logical step. It also often hurts to hear them when you consider the meaning.

Here's a written acknowledgement (so it's longer than those that are commonly spoken now at most government events and many others).


From the site of Imagine Canada, a non-profit that works with Canadian charities and non-profits:

"Our physical head office is located on the traditional territory of many nations including the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishinabeg, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat (Wyandot). We acknowledge that these lands are covered by Treaty 13 and the Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt Covenant. We acknowledge that these lands are still home to many diverse First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people.


"We acknowledge that our ability to live and work on these lands today is a direct benefit of policies of expulsion and assimilation of Indigenous peoples during the time of settlement and Confederation, and since. The harms of these policies are many and are still being felt in Indigenous communities today. We express gratitude towards the Indigenous peoples who have and will continue to steward these lands. We commit to amplifying the voices of Indigenous peoples and working against the everyday forces of white supremacy and colonialism present in the nonprofit sector.


"Our team is actively engaging in training and education related to reconciliation and decolonization. We aim to listen, learn, establish meaningful relationships with our Indigenous sector colleagues, engage in courageous conversations, and take actions that advance reconciliation in the nonprofit sector."

-----

Ouch re the references to white supremacy, colonialism, expulsion and assimilation.


I can't get used to them no matter how often I hear or read them. I grew up on the myth that "we" came here to help "them".


The whole thing only recently really hit home to me (considerably late) when I saw the title of a TV documentary-style show called "Stuff the British Stole". I didn't watch it at first because the title startled me and bugged me.


Here's how the CBC describes the series:

"Throughout its reign, the British Empire stole a lot of stuff. Today those objects are housed in genteel institutions across the U.K. and the world. They usually come with polite plaques. This is a series about the not-so-polite history behind those objects."


I've only seen one program so far, showing the return of a chief's ceremonial garments to the people in Canada they rightly belong to.


I can't get used to the title and I found it hard to watch the program, for several reasons, but in the end I always want to know the truth.


The land acknowledgement above goes a lot further than the spoken ones you often hear now from government leaders. Usually they consist of a short statement at the beginning of a speech or event stating that we are on the unceded territory of [name of Indigenous Nation] etc.


Many groups include them on their web sites and literature etc too, such as:

"The Canada Council for the Arts acknowledges that our offices, located in Ottawa, are on the unceded, unsurrendered Territory of the Anishinaabe Algonquin Nation whose presence here reaches back to time immemorial."


I struggle a bit to remember, and correctly pronounce, the names included in the acknowledgements here in B.C. Fortunately, I don't have cause to state them publicly myself but still I'm trying to learn them.


Sorry - long answer to a short comment.

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Posted by: Brother Of Jerry ( )
Date: March 26, 2023 03:42PM

I have to suppress an eye roll when those acknowledgements are read. If they added “and we have no intention of giving it back”, it would be more honest.

And if they added “and as such, we pledge one quarter of one percent of our annual operating budget as reparations to X nation”, I’d be more impressed.

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Posted by: Nightingale ( )
Date: March 26, 2023 04:03PM

Brother Of Jerry Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I have to suppress an eye roll when those
> acknowledgements are read. If they added “and we
> have no intention of giving it back”, it would
> be more honest.
>
> And if they added “and as such, we pledge one
> quarter of one percent of our annual operating
> budget as reparations to X nation”, I’d be
> more impressed.

I know - that seems to be the missing element that's just hanging out there. We acknowledge we occupied your land and decimated your people and stole your stuff. Yeah but then what? Because with acknowledgement must come recompense you'd think.

Like if you punched me in the face and then apologized. Thanks for saying that but everybody knows you did it - they saw you! And they heard me scream. And they saw the blood. So thanks for acknowledging yeah, I did it. But we know you did.

It would mean more if you'd pay for the plastic surgery to straighten my crooked nose. And what are you gonna do about these two black eyes. Sure, they're temporary but it shouldn't have happened. And I'm the one in pain meanwhile, not you.


Not to make light of a truly appalling situation. But sometimes an example clarifies a point.

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Posted by: anybody ( )
Date: March 26, 2023 10:45AM

Indeed, this is a touchy subject.

Many of my favourite authors were racist, and many classic books and films have racist elements.

Even Jules Verne used the N-word.

The new "Dambusters" film ran into problems because the squadron's mascot, a black lab literally named the N-word, is part of the actual history of the mission — the code word to send back if the mission was successful was the dog's name.

Was it in a deliberate racist context? That's not so easy to answer.

Here's my take on this.

Editing titles is OK, but leave the content alone and bleep out offensive words only when absolutely necessary, or leave the original text alone with a content warning for modern readers who may be unaware of the racist context.


Going back to Agatha Christie, I like what Kenneth Branagh is doing with his interpretation of the classic Poirot stories. Same plot, but more inclusive and without Christie's overt racism and imperialism.

The original stories are still available for all to read.

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Posted by: Nightingale ( )
Date: March 26, 2023 02:30PM

anybody Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Many of my favourite authors were racist, and many
> classic books and films have racist elements.

It bothers me to think this. I wish it wasn't so.

But if people are products of their time and they use the prevailing language does that make them racist if the words have that connotation? Especially if they weren't aware or didn't mean it or wouldn't choose it themselves? If so, would they be racist just by using the language or is it a case of just doing what they're taught - until perhaps they learn differently?


> Even Jules Verne used the N-word.

This is my question: If it's how one is taught in the society they're born into, are they racist because they don't realize it's racist? Looking back now, of course to us it is. Many back in the day weren't taught any different so they didn't know. So I'm saying is it possible that yes, the language is now seen as decidedly racist but perhaps at least some of the people using it were not actually racist themselves?


> Was it in a deliberate racist context? That's not
> so easy to answer.

Yes - that's what I wonder. If not, is it fair or accurate to consider the authors and others racist who used the language that was prevalent in their day? Now we say yes the words, phrases, attitudes are racist. Was it meant that way by these specific people I wonder though. I mean, apart from using the language that was common in their time, was the individual actually a literal racist?


> Editing titles is OK, but leave the content alone
> and bleep out offensive words only when absolutely
> necessary, or leave the original text alone with a
> content warning for modern readers who may be
> unaware of the racist context.

Yes, I like this. It seems like a fair and useful way to handle it.


> Going back to Agatha Christie, I like what Kenneth
> Branagh is doing with his interpretation of the
> classic Poirot stories. Same plot, but more
> inclusive and without Christie's overt racism and
> imperialism.

> The original stories are still available for all
> to read.

This sounds like the perfect approach to me. It's bothering me to think of altering an original work based on changing times and sensitivities, even though yes, the language is regrettable and depending on the work, likely so are the attitudes and events.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 03/26/2023 02:33PM by Nightingale.

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Posted by: Lot's Wife ( )
Date: March 26, 2023 05:09PM

I have to giggle because I don't think anyone on this board has read the original Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson. Each went through dozens of editions, including several where the authors themselves changed their stories because they were too terrifying and hence unsuitable to children. Are those revisions--by the authors themselves and in deference to public sensitivities--permissible or not?

The original Brothers Grimm was not even available in English till 2014. In the early 19th century the two men had produced eight different versions; at one stage they removed over fifty stories because they were so horrific and sprinkled Christian aphorisms into the rest in order to make them more palatable. And first German and then English editors liberally changed every edition since then. So we are now debating whether it is appropriate to bowdlerize bowdlerizations, including many where the bowdlerizers were the original authors.

Just to give some persepective, here are a few examples of what the original original Brothers Grimm included. I'm using a newspaper article to do this because I don't have sufficient time, or sufficient alcohol, to go through the 2014 edition alone. Thus. . .

1) How the children Played at Slaughtering.
The neighborhood tots take turns being the pig and the butcher but then a boy slits the throat of his little brother. Their mother, in anguish, then stabs her surviving son in the heart and returns to their home, where she finds that her other children, whom she had left in the bathtub, had drowned. Distraught, the mother hangs herself. Upon returning from work and discovering the carnage, the husband promptly dies as well.

2) The Children of Famine
A mother threatens to eat her children because she has no other food. The children offer her slices of bread but that doesn't satisfy her. So she puts them to sleep "until Judgment Day." After they are asleep the villagers try unsuccessfully to rouse the kids while the mother slinks off "and nobody knows where she went."

3) Snow White
The wicked witch is actually Snow White's mother. It is therefore Mommy Dearest who orders the huntsman to stab Snow White "to death and bring me back her lungs and liver as proof of your deed. After that I'll cook them with salt and eat them."

3) Cinderella.
When the stepmother and stepsisters are trying to make the slipper fit, she brings out a knife and they lop off bits and pieces of the girls' feet. "If the slipper is still too tight for you, then cut off a piece of your foot. It will hurt a bit. But what does that matter." Sadly for the fashion-savvy girls, the prince sees the blood flowing out of the slipper and knows that they are deceiving him.

Is this stuff suitable for children? I don't think so. And neither did the Brothers Grimm.

Again, I am not in favor of censorship. But there are extreme cases as recognized even by the authors. My solution? Let the libraries carry all editions so freaks like me can read whatever we like but only put a few of the less traumatic editions in the children's section.

You know. Like the Brothers Grimm thought best.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/nov/12/grimm-brothers-fairytales-horror-new-translation

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Posted by: blindguy ( )
Date: March 26, 2023 09:35PM

From my perspective, the original authors have every right to change their works as they see fit and for whatever reasons they want. However, unless permission is given by the original authors or their heirs, others should not be allowed to change their works for whatever reason.

This, of course, is in compliance with current copyright laws which, if memory serves, last until 75 years after the death of the author, if memory serves. For this reason, there are some older works of both nonfiction and fiction, beyond religious texts, that are now available for anyone to do to them what they like.

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Posted by: Lot's Wife ( )
Date: March 26, 2023 10:06PM

> This, of course, is in compliance with current
> copyright laws which, if memory serves, last until
> 75 years after the death of the author, if memory
> serves. For this reason, there are some older
> works of both nonfiction and fiction, beyond
> religious texts, that are now available for anyone
> to do to them what they like.

Yes, and that applies to all of the originals we are describing since they are from two centuries ago, give or take, and hence long since entered the public domain.

In fact, the only versions of the books that would be covered by copyright are those that were so radically rewritten or retranslated as to comprise new literature. What that ironically means is that the 2014 translation of the original Brothers Grimm is copyright protected whereas the text from which it was translated is not.

What we are discussing is not the legal standing of the literature but whether it should be altered by others to accommodate modern social values. My answer, again, is that it should not--with the possible exception of things written for children, a view which was shared by both the Grimms and perhaps by Anderson in a more extreme form than I feel comfortable with.

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Posted by: kentish ( )
Date: March 26, 2023 05:57PM

During WW2 British children adapted the words of a popular sing along song (think 10 bottles of beer on the wall) changing the words to 10 German bombers, subsequently shot down by the RAF. In more recent times the song was sung by British football fans as a taunt whenever England played Germany.

A few years ago the FA, the governing body of English football, banned the singing of the song as an affront to German sensitivities. The ban was backed up with a threat to banish any offending singer from future games.

Today at Wembley, England played Ukraine in a European Cup qualifier (2-0 England). The many Ukraine fans passed out song sheets changing the words to 10 Russian bombers and it was heartily sung as a taunt to Putin. So far no word of comment or a ban from the FA.

A couple of takeaways for me. Firstly, time and circumstances can dictate what is appropriate. Secondly People acting in unison control usage. Pretty hard to band thousands.

I might add that WW2 was quite an assault on the sensibilities of my formatives years.

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Posted by: Nightingale ( )
Date: March 26, 2023 06:48PM

kentish Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Today at Wembley, England played Ukraine in a
> European Cup qualifier (2-0 England). The many
> Ukraine fans passed out song sheets changing the
> words to 10 Russian bombers and it was heartily
> sung as a taunt to Putin. So far no word of
> comment or a ban from the FA.

The human spirit.

> A couple of takeaways for me. Firstly, time and
> circumstances can dictate what is appropriate.
> Secondly People acting in unison control usage.
> Pretty hard to band thousands.

Good points, k.


> I might add that WW2 was quite an assault on the
> sensibilities of my formatives years.

No doubt. Understandable.

Memories are popping up unbidden in my head these days, making me wonder what my parents would make of the things I recall. Likely not what they'd think would stick or what they'd hope would never be forgotten. I remember our first trip back "home" as teens to see grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who had only known us as toddlers, my sister's eagerness to visit Stonehenge which she had a strange longing to see, my mum's dad taking us to Brighton for fish and chips, of all the times and experiences we had as a family. I remember getting lost right outside our house one day as a little kid and my mum rushing 'round to the neighbour's to collect me (to this day I have a terrible sense of direction). And Dad, always asking me to read Dickens to him (that never failed to send him off for a quick nap). Dad pausing in his yard work to call us kids to come watch a spider spinning a giant web in the sunlight and Ma making custard every Sunday to go with the obligatory roast beef dinner. No way Dad would expect me to remember that spider interlude but I sure do and it tells me a lot about the man he was. Instead of brushing the spider out of his way he stood back to let it do its work and used it as a memorable teaching moment.

Absolutely, kentish, with WWII as a backdrop to your childhood that would stick with you throughout life. It changed everything, for one thing, for everybody. When I see it portrayed in TV shows or movies and in documentaries I think how hopeless I'd have been, too clueless to be helpful, too picky to eat rations, too scared to be useful. Obviously, the experience would leave an enormous imprint on one's life, whatever age you'd been.

It changed world history certainly. And I sometimes wonder about all those who were lost. What may some of them have accomplished for the good of humankind except their lives were cruelly cut short. And their prospective descendants never born. But even if they were Joe or Jill Average, they deserved to live.

It's still very much living history even to those of us who weren't there.

I'm hoping you're still busy writing down your experiences for your family. What an interesting and important legacy for them to have and a precious gift.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 03/26/2023 07:12PM by Nightingale.

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Posted by: kentish ( )
Date: March 26, 2023 07:58PM

Thank you Nightingale.

Sometimes classics can be moved the other way with additions not in the original. I read today that a new version of Great Expectations by Dickens had its first episode aired in Britain. Among the criticisms was one that it had too much swearing.

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