Melanie McDonagh Melanie McDonagh

The trouble with censoring Jeeves and Wooster

Jeeves and Wooster appear in a production of PG Wodehouse's 'Perfect Nonsense' at London's Duke Of York Theatre (Credit: Getty images)

It would take longer than I’ve got to comb through copies of Thank you, Jeeves and Right Ho, Jeeves, to find out the ways in which they’ve been edited, ‘minimally’, to remove offensive language, but I think we can work out which bits may have fallen foul of the thought police. Penguin Random House have informed readers of the latest edition:

‘Please be aware that this book was published in the 1930s and contains language, themes and characterisations which you may find outdated. In the present edition we have sought to edit, minimally, words that we regard as unacceptable to present-day readers.’ 

I can only say that, reading Young Men in Spats and a few other PGW stories lately, I found myself hoping that it wouldn’t occur to anyone to submit it to sensitivity readers. 

We wouldn’t have known that Wodehouse was being expurgated if it weren’t for the Sunday Telegraph. Good for them, and to the Daily Telegraph for spotting that Roald Dahl had been bowdlerised. Because it simply didn’t cross my mind, as a normal book buyer, that publishers might in fact regard their authors’ texts as so much raw material, to amend at will. In my desperate sunny optimism, I had assumed that what I was reading was what the authors had written. I suppose we’ll have to abandon that premise now.  

Printed books had seemed a safer bet. Not now.

But it turns out that the expurgation is more pervasive than we thought: Ian Fleming and Agatha Christie have been amended to take account of current sensitivities too. As for John Buchan, the only chance he has of being left well alone is that Penguin simply hasn’t got round to reading his stuff. There’s a reference to, I think, ‘a dirty Jew’ in one of the Richard Hannay novels; as for Prester John, let’s just hope that Penguin doesn’t realise it’s one of theirs and still in print.

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