Jack Engelhard
Jack EngelhardCourtesy

Ian Fleming (James Bond) is among the writers undergoing posthumous editing for content unsuitable for today’s readers.

As he is dead, he has no choice in the matter.

We are all familiar with book banning and book burning. Can anything be worse? Yes, changing a writer’s intent, dead or alive, through sensitivity editing.

Some writers, nowadays, agree to go along to get along.

That’s too bad.

True writers value each word they write.

Hemingway spoke of the search for the “perfect sentence,” and quite often he clicked, if he can be forgiven for his mistreatment of Robert Cohn in “The Sun Also Rises.”

Often enough, a single word makes all the difference. There was consternation over Rhett Butler’s exit line in “Gone with the Wind.”

In the end, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” was kept as written, over “give a darn,” which had been offered to please the censors.

Imagine our cultural and literary loss had Margaret Mitchell or the producers relented for the sake of placating the guardians of “good taste.”

The effect would have been bloody murder in terms of our Literature.

A single word, kept true, and it’s a different world…a world we truly live in, warts and all.

Imagine telling Beethoven, as people did, in the beginning, that his music is too masculine… that he should write more like Haydn and Mozart…music that is pleasant and relaxing. For a start, then, the opening to his Fifth Symphony needs to be changed, not by much, but by altering or eliminating a single note.

That’s not asking too much, is it, Ludwig?

Fortunately, Beethoven was Beethoven, and as Haydn remarked about Beethoven’s Third Symphony, “Nothing will ever be the same.”

Nor can anything be the same when guardians of our culture make themselves judges and executioners of our poetry and prose.

They have still to get their hands on Charles Bukowski, but it’s coming. As it is, many books and movies now come with trigger warnings to alert the sensitive reader.

Sensitivity editors are busy combing through our books so that nobody gets offended, and to hell with the sensitivity of the writer, and the written word.

From the Russian/Jewish writer Isaac Babel: “No iron can stab the heart with such force as a period put just at the right place.”

Babel “rode with the Cossacks” yet still had time for the perfect word, the sublime sentence, the exact punctuation.

Steven Spielberg says he is sorry for changes he made in one of his movies, E.T., in order to conform to current sensibilities.

“That was a mistake,” he says by way of contrition. “I never should have done that because E.T. is a product of its era.”

So too are the works of Mark Twain, and Rabelais, and James M. Cain, and Machiavelli, and Mickey Spillane, and thousands more whose works test our indulgence.

But attention must be paid to the writers who produce our Literary Canon, and we cannot ask them to be saints, only to write truthfully.

What to do with Twain’s frequent use of the “n” word? Here’s a suggestion, Dear Sensitivity Editors. Leave it alone.

It is none of your business what transpires between the writer and his readers. We are big boys and girls. We’ll figure things out for ourselves.

Get out of the way, and so far as Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, save it for TV commercials.

Literature is different. Literature defines us.

Does Jake Barnes define Hemingway?

It hurts when a writer we admire goes off on a tangent…in Hemingway’s case, it is the antisemitism in “The Sun Also Rises.”

Ironically, the title is Jewish and Biblical…taken from King Solomon’s Book of Ecclesiastes. This is a holy work.

Not so Hemingway’s “Sun,” which is, however, groundbreaking fiction for its monotone plain-speak prose; its distrust of adjectives.

He learned this less from Gertrude Stein, but more, even he admits, from Hebrew Scriptures. Case in point, the Akeda.

A (Jewish) writer who ran with the Crowd, Peter Viertel, was asked if Hemingway was antisemitic.

“In those days,” he laughed, “weren’t they all.”

Color Hemingway, then, a product of his era.

As a Jew, nonetheless, I am offended, and disappointed. I feel betrayed.

But as a writer, I give him his freedom. I have no choice. We have no choice. His works are a crucial part of our literary heritage.

Are we to stop reading Shakespeare?

Hemingway was no Céline, nor anything like Roald Dahl, whose books were among the first to get re-edited.

I am against this, too.

He was a louse. But you have no right to tamper. This is breaking and entering.

Hemingway’s third wife, Martha Gellhorn was Jewish, and staunchly pro-Israel…and depending who you talked to, his antisemitism was only skin deep.

That is still no excuse.

I choose to think of him as what he is like on his best days, when it is all about the writing, and we all know how that feels, when the words drop from the sky.

But if I were to suggest that Hemingway’s offensive passages ought to undergo the editorial knife, for being insensitive, then tit for tat the sensitivity editors would begin digging into writers, like Leon Uris, and myself, for being disproportionally pro-Israel, thus grading us guilty on three counts…Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

None of those “virtues” exist in the novel Compulsive, in fact the hero Gil Gilels is a “flaming Zionist.”

Readers ask how, under the circumstances, I managed to get this book published.

The answer: I got there in the nick of time, a moment before the sensitivity goons knew where to find me.

Sadly, at this rate, a book like this will be the last of a kind, for this or any other writer.

The free spirit of fiction has been plunged in darkness, and the last word goes to the sensitivity editors who have shut the lights.

As it says in the novel, “If the casino is a mirror of life, it’s that you are not supposed to win, and if you do, something is wrong.”

New York-based bestselling American novelist Jack Engelhard writes regularly for Arutz Sheva.

He wrote the worldwide book-to-movie bestseller “Indecent Proposal,” the gambling thriller, “Compulsive,” plus the authoritative newsroom epic, “The Bathsheba Deadline,” followed by his coming-of-age classics, “The Girls of Cincinnati,” and, the Holocaust-to-Montreal memoir, “Escape from Mount Moriah.” For that and his 1960s epic “The Days of the Bitter End,” contemporaries have hailed him “The last Hemingway, a writer without peer, and the conscience of us all.” Contact: [email protected]

Engelhard books
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