Students given ‘trigger warning’ over ‘distressing’ Charles Dickens and Charlotte Bronte texts

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  • Charles Dickens
    English writer and social critic (1812–1870)
English novelist Charles Dickens (Getty Images)
English novelist Charles Dickens (Getty Images)

Students on a university course are being given a “trigger warning” that Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations contain “distressing” content.

The English department at Salford University warned undergraduates they could be confronted by “scenes and discussions of violence and sexual violence” in their studies, the Mail on Sunday reported.

Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen called the warnings “absurd”.

He said it was outrageous that adults “have to be protected from the stories that generations of children have been able to cope with without being damaged”.

The content warning accompanies a reading list given to students on the BA English literature course.

It states: “‘There are scenes and discussions of violence and sexual violence in several of the primary texts studied on this module. Some students may find the content of the following texts distressing.”

Great Expectation, published in 1861, follows the life of an orphan who comes into a large fortune from a mysterious benefactor and enters high society in London.

Published in 1847, Jane Eye charts the romance between Bronte’s eponymous hero and the troubled Mr Rochester.

Both works are considered canonical texts that are widely studied on literature courses.

Actor Simon Callow, who has appeared in several Dickens adaptations, added to the chorus of condemnation over the warnings.

He joked: “I don’t think the university authorities have gone far enough.

“A more helpful alert would be: ‘Warning – this book may make you think. In extreme cases, it may even make you feel.

“If you seem to be thinking or feeling, call our helpline, 24-hour service. Do not delay, thinking and feeling can rapidly become consensus-threatening.”

A spokesman for Salford University said: “We never issue trigger warnings for literature, only content notes. The wellbeing of our students is important to us. Some texts contain sensitive issues so we give students the opportunity to have a discussion with their lecturer in advance if they wish to.”

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