‘Books will soon need content warnings’ says Julian Barnes

Sensitive ‘snowflake’ students will soon need trigger warnings for some of the world’s most famous literature, an award winning author has claimed.

Julian Barnes was stunned to learn young university pupils had been critical of the behaviour of book character’s like Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.

Students in the US called the protagonist, Emma Bovary, a ‘bad mother’ based on her affairs, her lifestyle longing to escape dull, provincial life.

The 72-year-old told those gathered at the celebration of the Booker’s half-century on Sunday: ‘I don’t know where to begin to unpick that.

‘As for students asking to hear in advance the bad things that happen in Titus Andronicus,’ he said.

‘We might as well have a trigger warning on all great works of literature.’

Mr Barnes, winner of the Man Booker Prize, said: ‘I sometimes get exercised by our stories being put up for examination on non-literary terms, and trigger warnings and all that stuff.’

In recent years universities have added trigger warnings to course content, including world-famous Cambridge university, Edinburgh, the London School of Economics (LSE), Goldsmiths, Stirling and Central Lancashire.

Students had to be warned ahead of time they would be discussing underage sex, homelessness and religion in relation to the works they study.

As a result they have been referred to as a generation of ‘snowflakes’ over their fragility. The term became so popular it was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in January 2018 

In 2016 warnings were added to the faculty notes which said in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus and The Comedy of Errors, there would be ‘discussions of sexual violence’ and ‘sexual assault.’

Included in the play are depictions and descriptions of cannibalism, rape and murder.

The pointed response about the trigger warnings came after the author was quizzed on his latest book The Only Story.

A member of the audience asked why the woman in the book, a 48-year-old, does not enjoy her affair with a man aged 19, one summer in the early 1960s.

Mr Barnes said: ‘Because that’s what the story was.

‘Because that’s true of many people. It’s a 19 year old man and a 48 year old woman and it doesn’t end happily ever after.’

Julian Barnes was nominated three times for the Booker Prize, in 1984, 1998 and 2005, before winning in 2011 for The Sense of an Ending.

The Commonwealth-focused Man Booker Prize for Fiction was first awarded in 1969 and has been sponsored by Man Group since 2002. 


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