Goethe, Kafka, Hitler – bring on the contemporary new editions!

Afrom the British author’s James Bond series Ian Fleming Racist language should be removed. According to publisher Ian Fleming Publications, which is owned by Fleming’s descendants and holds the rights to the “Bond” novels, the new edition has removed or altered terms and references that might be found offensive today.

The series of novels that initially served as a template for the “Bond” films is not an isolated case. It was only announced in mid-February that the publisher Puffin Books (Random House/Bertelsmann) Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book such as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Matilda” wanted to change offensive or outdated formulations. For example, one of the offending passages in “Matilda” reads: “She sailed with Joseph Conrad on old-time sailing ships. She traveled to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyard Kipling. She traveled to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to California with John Steinbeck.” Words like “fat” or “ugly” are also to be removed from Dahl’s books.

The fact that the publisher announced after protests that it would continue to sell the original versions in addition to the new version is only a minor setback. After all, Fleming and Dahl are only the most recent examples of a tendency to revise literary works according to a contemporary language.

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But two and a half millennia of Western and Eastern literary production have created a mountain full of problematic literature that urgently needs to be revised. So a little preview of upcoming new editions that we can already look forward to:

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Adolf Hitler, “My Fight”: The main work of the Führer, now finally without any anti-Semitism, imperialism and without all this racial stuff that is no longer up-to-date. In the meantime, the publisher even considered choosing a less aggressive-looking title (“Meine Ambition”), but decided not to do so for reasons of historical authenticity. Guaranteed non-discriminatory and harmless. On compact 12 pages!

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “The Sorrows of Young Werther”: After the publication in 1774, the epistolary novel is said to have triggered a wave of suicides among young people who were unhappily in love. And Goethe himself wrote a trigger warning in his novel in the second edition. But that’s not enough: in the new edition, in which the traditional letter form is replaced by the contemporary chat form, Werther accepts Lotte’s rejection, takes a job in suicide counseling and lives a long, happy life. The novel ends with the conciliatory sentence: “Sensitive readers wore it. A cleric accompanied him.”

William Shakespeare, “Romeo and Juliet”: The fact that lovers cannot find each other due to hostility between their families violates the principle of sexual self-determination. The new version refuses to reproduce such patriarchal ways of thinking, but also eludes a heteronormative narrative. The recast follows Romeo and Juliet finding happiness in polyamorous, cross-gender relationships.

Jeremy Irons and Dominique Swain in Lolita (1997)

Jeremy Irons and Dominique Swain in Lolita (1997)

Source: picture alliance/United Archives/Impress

Vladimir Nabokov, “Lolita”: Pedophilia is a terrible crime that must not be tolerated under any circumstances, even under the guise of “art”. In the foreword of the new version, in which Humbert Humbert does not fall in love with 12-year-old Lolita but with her mother Charlotte Haze, the publisher apologizes to all victims of abuse for the insensitive publications of the past.

Erich Maria Remarque, “Nothing new in the West”: The fact that minors are used as soldiers violates the international ban on child soldiers, as stipulated in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In the new version, Paul Bäumer and his classmates, encouraged by their committed social studies teacher Mr. Kantorek, go to Africa as voluntary civilian helpers to build wells and return as colonialism critics. Another change: the protagonist Paul Bäumer no longer smokes, but has a slight weakness for salted cinnamon pears.

Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer) also fights his way through the trenches in the remake of

Paul Bäumer (Felix Kammerer) also fights his way through the trenches in the remake of “Nothing New in the West”.

Source: dpa/Reiner Bajo

George Orwell, “1984”: The fact check proves: 38 years have passed since 1984 without Orwell’s gloomy vision of the future of a totalitarian surveillance state having become reality. Instead, today conspiracy theorists and enemies of democracy like to use Orwell to embellish their fantasies of an alleged dictatorship. That’s why the new edition sticks strictly to the facts: Apple introduces the Apple Macintosh, the EC Commission takes legal action against the German Purity Law and Stevie Wonder sings “I just called to say I love you”.

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Construction worker

Salman Rushdie“The Satanic Verses”: The original version had led to protests worldwide – which ultimately, one has to say, also the author health disadvantages brought in. The new edition dispensed with all representations and statements that could be perceived as provocative, hurtful or controversial. The publisher hopes that Rushdie’s work can finally be published in Islamic countries.

Mark Twain, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”: The work is considered the roman à clef of American literature – and an indictment of the racist slave-owning society. In fact, the N-word appears 219 times in the original version – 219 times racist violence in the form of language! The edited version, on the other hand, emphasizes non-violent language. Not just the N-word, but any form of racism has no place in the new adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Franz Kafka, “The process”: The adjective “Kafkaesque” has long since made its way from a feuilleton fad to a battlefield word used by people who doubt the legitimacy of the rule of law. In a constitutional state, however, nobody is accused and convicted without a bill of indictment. Defamation, on the other hand, is a criminal offence. The revised edition is about how Franz K. filed a complaint against an unknown person for defamation.

And finally:

The Bible for all. For the sake of ideological neutrality, the new edition dispenses with everything that has anything to do with God, faith and religion. At the same time, any excessive depiction of violence that could have a retraumatizing effect on some of the readers (children, crucified) is avoided. You can already look forward to hearing about it soon: It’s done! The story of Jesus and his disciples now inclusive, value-neutral and kid-friendly!

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