Jane Austen classic given ‘gender stereotyping’ trigger warning

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The Jane Austen novel Northanger Abbey has been given a trigger warning by a university in London for “gender stereotypes”. The University of Greenwich accused the 19th century classic of depicting “sexism” and toxic relationships and friendships”, despite being published over 200 years ago.

The book tells the story of a young woman coming of age in Regency England and has now been considered “potentially upsetting” for English Literature students, reported The Telegraph.

Jane Austen, who lived from 1775 to 1817, is widely considered as a literary feminist icon who rebelled against traditional roles for women by pursuing a career as a writer.

Northanger Abbey is on the syllabus for the university’s Gothic literature module, which itself comes with a content warning that the course contains “elements that students might find disturbing”.

The heroine of the novel is Catherine Morland, whose over-reading of Gothic novels leads her to suspect her suitor’s father is a murderer.

The plotline is a mocking of the popularity of the genre at the time.

Catherine also witnesses her friend Isabella being ruined by the rogue Captain Tilney and discusses this with her own love interest Henry Tilney.

As would have been expected at the time, she defers to him in his observations about the sexes, as he claims of women that “nature has given them so much, that they never find it necessary to use more than half”.

Yet he also says that in matters of taste “excellence is pretty fairly divided between the sexes”.

Austen’s commentary of society in the Regency period, wryly observing that “a woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can” has led some to argue the trigger warning is misplaced.

Professor Dennis Hayes, education expert at the University of Derby and director of the campaign group Academics For Academic Freedom, said: “Through her great wit, expressed through her characters, Jane Austen offends everyone in her novels. She is the mistress of offence. That’s why we love her work.

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“Students love her too. But some academics still seem to think their students are snowflakes and need coddling.

“How often do we have to remind them, and university management, that students are adults. They must stop infantilising them.

“Universities should put up one simple statement: Trigger warning – this is a university, you must expect to be offended.”

A Greenwich spokesman said: “Content warnings were first used in July 2021, in response to student requests relayed to the teaching team via their student representatives during the 2020/21 academic year.

“It was agreed that Content Warnings should be included in reading lists so that students would be able to take them into account before encountering each text.”

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