In order to protect the public’s delicate sensibilities, conservative Netherlands-based Christian publisher WordBridge Publishing has reprinted Joseph Conrad’s The Nigger of the Narcissus as The N-word of the Narcissus. According to the publisher’s website, the past needs to [be] translated into the present.
The book, now on sale via Amazon for $9.99, includes this description from the publisher:
WordBridge Publishing has performed a public service in putting Joseph Conrad’s neglected classic into a form accessible to modern readers. This new version addresses the reason for its neglect: the profusion of the so-called n-word throughout its pages. Hence, the introduction of n-word throughout the text, to remove this offence to modern sensibilities. The N-word of the Narcissus tells the tale of a fateful voyage of a British sailing ship, and on that voyage the ability of a lone black man to take the crew hostage. The ability of this man to manipulate an entire ship’s crew can no longer be seen as a mere exercise in storytelling. Conrad in fact appears to have been the first to highlight the phenomenon of manipulation based in white guilt.
As hard as it is to swallow this latest version of Conrad’s book, author John G. Peters makes a good point in The Cambridge Introduction to Joseph Conrad (Cambridge University Press):
The unfortunately titled The Nigger of the Narcissus (titled Children of the Sea in the first American edition) is Conrad’s best work of his early period. In fact, were it not for the book’s title, it undoubtedly would be read more often than it is currently. At one time, it was one of Conrad’s most frequently read books.
Where to draw the line between public service and censorship? Is it better to read this strangely titled version rather than the original? Judging by the one-star Amazon reviews and the reaction of the online community, maybe not.