Classic EM Forster novel gets trigger warning for ‘offensive cultural representations’
EM Foster’s 1924 classic novel, A Passage to India, was given a trigger warning in its latest US edition by publisher Modern Library to make readers aware of “offensive cultural representation” and “language.”
In the opening pages of the 2021 US edition of the book it reads, “This book was published in 1924 and reflects the attitudes of its time.” The warning continues, “The publisher’s decision to present it as it was originally published is not an endorsement of any offensive cultural representations or language.”
According to the Daily Mail, The Passage to India is regarded by many as one of the greatest literary works of the 20th Century. In the book, a woman falsely accuses an Indian doctor of sexual assault, which causes racial tensions to grow.
It was highly regarded for its depictions of Indians and their British rulers as equals during the Raj and Indian Independence movement of 1920.
The trend of authors having their works tainted with disclaimers by American publishers has begun to concern academics. Carleton College professor Deborah Appleman told the Telegraph, the warning added to fosters work is “disheartening.”
She said, “One of the most troubling aspects of the current movement to either cancel literature or use trigger warnings is the way in which literature is completely decontextualized.” She continued, “A Passage to India is firmly located in a specific place and time, and to superimpose current United States sensibilities onto the novel seems wholly inappropriate to me.”
“It is an example of what I have called a kind of presentism, where contemporary readers superimpose their own current values and standards onto the world of a novel, even one as carefully wrought as EM Forster’s,” She concluded.
Founder of the Free Speech Union and British Writer Toby Young told the outlet, “It’s a shame that classic works of English literature are being dragged into a culture war that has little connection to their subject matter.”
“In the febrile, polarised atmosphere of contemporary America, uninformed readers will take one look at the trigger warning on the front of A Passage to India and assume it was written by a Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, rather than a liberal homosexual who was a critic of the British Empire,” he continued.
Young suggested, “It would be better to include a page at the beginning which says, ‘This book was first published in 1924 and contains language and attitudes that may not be the same as yours or your friends, but presumably that’s one of the reasons you picked it up.’”
The book’s publisher, Modern Library, is an imprint of Penguin Random House, which has previously been criticized for putting trigger warnings on other classics such as Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. The publisher has also removed words deemed unacceptable from novels by P.G. Wodehouse as well.