Oliver Twist gets a warning: University staff fear depictions of poverty will cause ‘distress’

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Please sir, I want less: Now even Oliver Twist is getting a trigger warning with the university saying his depictions of poverty and crime in London could cause ‘distress’

  • Staff at Royal Holloway, University of London issue content note alerting readers to topics of ‘child abuse’, ‘domestic violence’ and ‘racial prejudice’
  • One chapter that may be considered upsetting for some is the workhouse scene; the orphan Oliver says, “Please sir, I want more” – only to be slapped by the master, Mr. Bumble
  • Details of the warning about the MA course in Victorian Literature, Art and Culture emerged in a Freedom of Information request by mail on Sunday










Oliver Twist may have wanted more, but academics think the Charles Dickens classic is too much for some students.

The novel has become the latest recipient of a ‘trigger warning’ amid fears its depictions of poverty and crime in London could cause ‘anxiety’ or ‘distress’.

Staff at Royal Holloway, the University of London, have issued a content note for the book, alerting readers to themes of ‘child abuse’, ‘domestic violence’ and ‘racial prejudice’.

One chapter that might be considered upsetting for some is the workhouse scene, where the orphan Oliver utters the infamous phrase “Please sir, I want more” – only to be punched at ladle by the master, Mr. Bumble.

Details of the warning about the MA course in Victorian Literature, Art and Culture emerged in a Freedom of Information request by The Mail on Sunday.

The Oliver Twist novel has become the latest recipient of a ‘trigger warning’ amid fears its depictions of poverty and crime in London could cause ‘anxiety’ or ‘distress’. (Above is a scene from the 1968 film version, Oliver!)

Staff at Royal Holloway, the University of London, have issued a content note for the book, alerting readers to themes of 'child abuse', 'domestic violence' and 'racial prejudice'

Staff at Royal Holloway, the University of London, have issued a content note for the book, alerting readers to themes of ‘child abuse’, ‘domestic violence’ and ‘racial prejudice’

The book has inspired an Oscar-winning musical, a Disney animated film, and countless television and family film adaptations.  (Above, Tom Hardy, as Bill Sikes, and Sophie Okonedo as Nancy in a 2007 BBC TV version)

The book has inspired an Oscar-winning musical, a Disney animated film, and countless television and family film adaptations. (Above, Tom Hardy, as Bill Sikes, and Sophie Okonedo as Nancy in a 2007 BBC TV version)

Details of the warning about the MA course in Victorian Literature, Art and Culture emerged in a Freedom of Information request by The Mail on Sunday

Details of the warning about the MA course in Victorian Literature, Art and Culture emerged in a Freedom of Information request by The Mail on Sunday

Last night Royal Holloway defended the content note, saying it was sometimes necessary to alert students to ‘potentially sensitive topics’ which could cause them ‘anxiety or distress, perhaps due from past experience.

Set against the backdrop of the London underworld, the novel – published in 1838 – features some of English literature’s most colorful characters, including master thief Fagin, young pickpocket Artful Dodger and violent thief Bill Sikes.

While it does not hide the horrors of the time, critics have pointed to its enduring popularity with school children.

Jeremy Black, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Exeter and author of England In The Age Of Dickens, said: “All novels share the characteristics of life itself. an aspect of maturity.

‘Oliver Twist is a moral tale that, along the way, highlights the need for family and the dynamics of gang life. It is also part of our literary heritage.

The book has inspired an Oscar-winning musical, a Disney animated film, and countless television and family film adaptations.

Sir David Lean’s 1948 big-screen adaptation got a U certificate, and the 1968 musical Oliver! is rated PG.

The MoS revealed last week that staff at the University of Northampton had issued an alert over George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four - a classic that warns of the dangers of censorship

The University of Salford has issued warnings for the high expectations of Charlotte Bronte's Dickens and Jane Eyre

The MoS revealed last week that staff at the University of Northampton had issued an alert over George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four – a classic which warns of the dangers of censorship. The University of Salford has issued warnings for the high expectations of Charlotte Bronte’s Dickens and Jane Eyre

Royal Holloway’s tripping warning is the latest in a series introduced by universities across the country.

The MoS revealed last week that staff at the University of Northampton had issued an alert over George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four – a classic which warns of the dangers of censorship.

The University of Salford has issued warnings for the high expectations of Dickens and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

A spokesperson for Royal Holloway, University of London, said: “We recognize our responsibility to support the mental health and wellbeing of our students and the content warnings are part of this.

“Their use is standard and accepted practice in academia, and they exist to educate and inform students in advance about potentially sensitive topics that could cause them anxiety or distress, perhaps due from past experience.”

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