Published January 07, 2010
A classic turn-of-the-century English novelist whose works have been read by countless millions of people is having his work sanitized for a new generation of readers.
Joseph Conrad, whose "Heart of Darkness" and "Lord Jim" have been scrutinized by English students on multiple continents for decades, wrote a lesser known novel in 1897 called "The Nigger of the Narcissus."
Now, in what critics are calling a blatant act of politically correct censorship, a Netherlands-based publisher has reprinted the novel under a new name: "The N-word of the Narcissus."
The new version is the first installment of WordBridge Publishing's classic texts series, featuring "texts with a message for moderns, made accessible to moderns."
But some critics say updating a Conrad novel by replacing all mentions of the offensive term "nigger" with "n-word" is just as offensive as the word itself.
"It's outrageous," said Niger Innis, spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality, a New York-based civil rights organization. "Are they going to go to Mark Twain as well and take out all of those references?
"It's censorship, and to blacken over a word does not mean that you can blacken over the history."
Innis said it would be equally inappropriate for Alex Haley's "Roots" to be re-released with instances of the racial slur replaced with a more innocuous term.
"It's one thing if you were writing that book today, but it is quite something different to rewind history," Innis said. "It undermines the real history."
"I'm not going so far as to call the people who are doing this racist," Innis said. "But I will say that whites have to be very careful in being so sensitive to blacks or other minorities to not be guilty of paternalism and treating us like children. That would be tragic."
But Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP's Washington bureau and senior vice president for advocacy and policy, said he found the new version of Conrad's novel appropriate for readers.
"It offers an option," Shelton told FoxNews.com. "Keep in mind you can still buy the original."
He said the latest version of Conrad's classic is not an example of censorship because its original intent remains intact.
"You and I know what that means," said Shelton. "The word really is still there but it takes into consideration those who would rather not read such derogatory language."
In any form, however, Shelton said the offensive term has no place in modern society.
"It belongs in our history, it is part of our history," he said. "But it should be dead and gone."
Ruben Alvarado, owner of WordBridge Publishing, said he's received just one complaint regarding the book.
"As far as [the] 'n-word' is concerned, I decided to go with it after finally reading the book, and being astounded by its message," Alvarado wrote FoxNews.com. "Although a Conrad fan, I had never read it before, frankly because I was offended by the n-word and didn't like being confronted with it at every turn. So after reading it, I thought to myself, is this aversion to that word keeping other people from reading the book as well? Is it keeping the book from being discussed in the classroom?"
According to WordBridge's Web site, the renaming of Conrad's classic is a "public service" to readers.
"This new version addresses the reason for its neglect: the profusion of the so-called n-word throughout its pages," the site reads. "Hence, the introduction of 'n-word' throughout the text, to remove this offence to modern sensibilities."
A hardback version of the 170-page book — which chronicles a black man taking the crew of a British sailing ship hostage — is available for $9.99, including free shipping. It can also be found on Amazon.com, where some commenters blasted the renaming of the book as a "joke," and others claimed it represents a "transparent and pathetic attempt by conservatives" to appear politically correct.
"If we can't read the important documents of our culture in their original form, with some understanding of their context, we may as well stop trying to understand past artists and thinkers altogether," one comment read.
Another commenter said he was alarmed by the updated text.
"I can't help but be alarmed at these attempts to sanitize the world to the liking of any one group," the post read. "While I'm certainly NOT a fan of the specific word in question, it did, does and will probably continue to exist in our language and culture. I don't think anyone who's read Conrad would be a fan of this type of edit."