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University issues bizarre trigger warning to novel Kidnapped to protect snowflake undergraduates

Even the least well-read could probably surmise that Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Kidnapped involves an abduction, but academic chiefs have nonetheless cautioned undergraduates that the 19th Century classic 'contains depictions of murder, death, family betrayal and kidnapping'.

The so-called trigger warning was issued by the University of Aberdeen, which also told students that Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar – written more than 400 years ago and set in 44 BC – features 'sexist attitudes' and has a plot that 'centres on a murder'.

Meanwhile, a warning about Charles Dickens's French Revolution novel A Tale Of Two Cities, which famously features the guillotine, says that it 'contains scenes of violence, execution and death'.

The University of Aberdeen have cautioned undergraduates that Robert Louis Stevenson's novel Kidnapped 'contains depictions of murder, death, family betrayal and kidnapping'

Documents obtained by The Mail on Sunday under Freedom of Information legislation show the university, which was rated 158th in the recent Times Higher Education World University Rankings, is urging its teaching staff to draw up trigger warnings for literary classics – despite admitting there is no conclusive evidence that they serve any useful purpose.

The university told lecturers that students had expressed 'a strong preference' for warnings on potentially 'distressing' and 'emotionally challenging' novels, plays and poems. 

Its staff guidance says: 'Consideration should be given to each and every element of the course, regardless of historical period, fictional setting, medium or any other potentially mitigating factor.'

It adds: 'Verge on the side of caution and don't shy away from providing warnings about what may be considered obvious.'

But it concedes that scientific evidence on the effectiveness of such warnings is inconclusive. Traditionally, universities use trigger warnings to flag up extreme violence and explicit sex, as well as content that might be considered racist, sexist or homophobic.

Critics insist that the warnings have helped created a generation of 'snowflakes' unable to cope with the complexities of life. 

Tory MP Andrew Bridgen said last night: 'It appears the University of Aberdeen has gone completely over the top with this and other trigger warnings on much loved literary classics. 

A warning for Jane Austen's Persuasion (right) read 'romanticised notion of military service in the Napoleonic Wars', while A Midsummer Night's Dream (left) warned it 'contains misogyny'

'Given this, do they actually allow their students to watch or read the daily news uncensored? Or are they advised to remain wrapped in the copious amounts of cotton wool provided by the possible well-meaning but misguided institution?'

The MoS revealed last week that the University of Warwick had even replaced the phrase 'trigger warnings' with 'content notes' because it was less 'provocative'. 

Aberdeen, which prefers 'content warning', has drawn up a particularly long list of topics it believes might be offensive or harmful to students, including childbirth, abortion and miscarriage, depictions of poverty, entitlement and classism, as well as scenes featuring blasphemy, adultery, blood, alcohol and drug abuse.

Some students have been told they can walk out of lectures 'without penalty' if topics are too upsetting.

It has also issued warnings for five other Shakespeare plays and two Jane Austen novels.  

A spokesman said: 'It is important that students are exposed to challenging material, but we have a duty to support them to engage with it.'

Lancaster University has warned students of gothic literature that the genre is known for featuring scenes of 'dread' and 'haunting'.

Its School of English Literature and Creative Writing has also applied warnings to classic films – Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window comes with a warning of 'sexist representations of women'.

A spokesman said: 'We take seriously the ways in which texts can sometimes have a negative effect on readers.'