Sean Wayman: ‘The Darling of Sensitivity Readers’

The Darling of Sensitivity Readers

Having read Mansfield Park as part of the structure of an expanding imperialist venture, one cannot simply return it to the canon of “great literary masterpieces”. —Edward Said


There was a time when novelists

would sport a ripping pair of fangs.

The scoundrel exploits of this crew

were unsurpassed by razor gangs.


And those who looked inside their books

found naught but vice and wickedness.

The ink in which they dipped their quills

was seething hate and prejudice.


Of course, these authors had their fans.

Their books exuded surface charm.

But all their specious elegance

disguised a wish to render harm.


The one who rode in Conrad’s boat

would come back burdened with regrets.

The jungle of this rascal’s prose

was strewn with racial epithets.


And many found—to their alarm—

in venturing to Mansfield Park,

that while the novel’s tread was light,

its subtexts lurked, plantation-dark.


At that time people dared not dream

that better books could ever be.

They thought the epoch of these rogues

would stretch out to eternity.


But after years of turpitude

morality found a new defence:   

the ethical way to read a book

was through a critical theory lens.


And what a breakthrough this would prove!

The game was up! The case was cracked!

The toxic cargo of these books

could now, in safety, be unpacked.


The righteous minded met the call.

The essays came like locust swarms.

Our best minds strove to deconstruct

a canon stocked with gender norms.


They proved the grip these writers had

was tighter than the hangman’s noose.

The very words upon the page

were instruments of cruel abuse.


Confronted with the harm they’d done,

most writers quickly changed their stance.

But then there was that other group—

the hardened old recalcitrants.



Inured to the bad old ways,

they wouldn’t take the higher path.

And then they had the nerve to whine

when activists expressed their wrath!


They couldn’t see the time had come

for language to be purified,

for every harmful word and phrase

to be dissected and decried.


At last, we had to drive them out.

They slunk off to their trollish caves.

Would that the gods of rectitude

could hasten them to early graves.


And then we had our best idea

to put a stop to all the sleaze:

we’d make new writers tip their hats

to sixty-four sensitivities.


We called some leading publishers

and asked them to assist our cause.

Our threat to boycott dissidents

was quite enough to give them pause.


At our behest, they set up teams

of Gender Studies PhDs.

They set to purging literature

of all the old iniquities.



And though our literary past

was whiter than the Arctic waste,

they swore to do their level best

to see the old regime replaced.


Attempts to steal another’s voice

would henceforth mean a world of pain.

Our readers did a sterling job

of keeping writers “in their lane”.


And thanks to their midwifery

a safer kind of book was born.

Unlike the beasts of yesteryear,

it sported neither fang nor horn.


Then soon there came a novelist

who said she’d leap through flaming hoops

in order to appease complaints

from any disadvantaged groups.


So great was her humility

that few had seen her stand erect.

She’d yet to hear a grievance claim

to which she wouldn’t genuflect.


At last we’d found our champion,

a hero in the truest sense—

a paragon of harmlessness

whose words occasioned no offence.

Sean Wayman

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