Several months ago I had read a science fiction book from the 1960's which I had very much enjoyed but which was marred for me slightly by the condescending attitude towards the book's female characters. If this were a recent book then I would have probably stopped reading it because of this or I would have completed it just so I could write a scathing review of it afterward. But instead I took into account the time period in which the book was written and allowed myself to enjoy the rest of the story, just occasionally gritting my teeth in annoyance.
After finishing this book I wondered how other readers react to books with content that would be considered offensive by today's standards although it was completely acceptable at the time the book was published. Last week's uproar about the publication by NewSouth Books of altered versions of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn got me thinking about this question again.
NewSouth Books seem to feel that Mark Twain's use of certain offensive words, such as "nigger" and "injun," turn readers off from reading these classics. Their response is to publish edited versions of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, replacing these "politically-incorrect" words with more sanitized (though not completely accurate) versions.
Now I'm not judging if NewSouth Books is correct to do this or not but I am curious if there are actually people who are offended enough by Mark Twain's books to not read them. While I had easily enough brushed off the offensive behavior of the characters in the SF book that I read I'm pretty sure that if the content had been of anti-semitic nature I would not have been as forgiving. And perhaps if Tom Sawyer had included a Jewish character who was referred to in a derogatory manner that book would have been somewhat soured for me as well. It's hard for me to say but I do realize that my reaction to an anti-semitic slur in a book would be stronger than to an offense made against women, no matter when a book was published. And I'm sure other readers have their own sensitivities that affect where they draw the line, but does the fact that a book is older or a classic make it more likely to be forgiven for such offenses?
How about you? Are you less bothered by offensive content in a book if the book is older or would you judge it by the same standards as you would a modern book?