Academics at the University say the historical fiction ‘includes offensive depictions of people of colour’
By: Chandrashekar Bhat
Sir Walter Scott, one of Europe’s greatest novelists of his lifetime, has become the centre of a controversy with academics at the University of Warwick branding his novel Ivanhoe as “offensive” for its portrayal of racial minorities.
The university’s English department warns its students: “Amongst the aspects readers might find disturbing, this text includes offensive depictions of people of colour and of persecuted ethnic minorities, as well as misogyny.”
Published in 1819, Ivanhoe contains passages which show black slaves and Arab Muslim captives as being prejudiced against Jews. Critics also say some female characters in historical fiction, including Rowenna, are portrayed as pawns of male characters.
While Warwick defended the “academic freedom” exercised by the department, the novelist’s descendant Matthew Maxwell-Scott took exception to the trigger warnings calling them a “cowardly” response to “political fashion”.
He told The Telegraph: “Attacking those who cannot defend themselves has always been a coward’s charter.”
“Today, social media and the growth of academia provide new playgrounds for the modern bully. Long-deceased artists are a particular target. Often exhibiting the hated traits of maleness, paleness and, to some eyes at least, staleness, it is open season,” the Scottish novelist’s great-great-great-great-grandson on his daughter’s side said.
“News that the University of Warwick is warning that Ivanhoe, perhaps Scott’s most famous work, might somehow disturb its students is disappointing but no surprise,” he said.
“Scott, the father of the historical novel, used his meticulous research to transport readers of Ivanhoe to a different moral landscape, one alien to the Enlightenment world he was forged in, let alone that of today,” he said.
A Warwick spokesman said the university “does not ask departments to issue content guidance notices for course materials.”
“However, a small number of departments and academics choose to do so, making their own judgment and rationale for deciding on what guidance they feel may be needed for the coursework they set,” he told The Telegraph.
“We fully respect our colleagues’ right to exercise their academic freedom in this way,” he said, adding, however, that the practice was “rare” in the university.