Woke madness: Virginia Woolf classic novel added to ‘ludicrous’ trigger warnings list

National Portrait Gallery London undated handout photo of Virginia Woolf by Gisele Freund 1939

National Portrait Gallery London undated handout photo of Virginia Woolf by Gisele Freund 1939

Georgina Cutler

By Georgina Cutler

Published: 02/07/2023

- 13:59

To the Lighthouse from 1927 now features a warning that the book ‘reflects the attitudes of its time’

A Virginia Woolf book has been handed a trigger warning by publishers who raised concerns about its past attitudes and language.

The 1927 novel To the Lighthouse has been reissued with a disclaimer in a new edition intended for an American readership.

The publishing house Vintage, owned by Penguin Random House, made the decision to place the warning on the opening of Woolf’s classic novel about the Ramsey family and their Scottish holiday home.

It reads: “This book was published in 1927 and reflects the attitudes of its time.

“The publisher’s decision to present it as it was originally published is not intended as an endorsement of cultural representations or language contained herein.”

According to Woolf experts, there is no controversial content in the novel about the author's own childhood holidays to St Ives - sparking concerns that publishers are now worried about the general potential of past literature to offend.

Prof Mark Hussey, a professor at Pace University, in New York – who has edited various Woolf works – told The Telegraph that the “notion of a warning to readers of potential offence in this novel quite ludicrous”.

He said: “I wonder what date publishers are going to choose as their cut-off? ‘This book was published in 2022 and therefore…’

“I think it’s indeed bizarre to treat the past as a scary place.

“Such a blanket statement and attitude will quickly empty the discussion of any point or force.

“There’s also, of course, the perennial issue of people treating fictional characters as stand-ins for their creators, which is a very naive attitude to art.”

It is not the first book that Vintage US has recently reissued as work by Ernest Hemingway, including his 1926 debut novel The Sun Also Rises, now features warnings about language and attitudes from another time.

It is believed that the Vintage UK edition of Hemingway’s novel does not have the same warning.

To the Lighthouse has not been reissued in the UK since 2019, with that edition not carrying a warning.

Woolf wrote nine novels, including Mrs Dalloway and Orlando, before her suicide in 1941 aged 59.

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