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.