THE #MeToo campaign has taken many scalps, deservedly so. While some have leapt upon the bandwagon to air grievances so slight or imaginary they trivialise the entire enterprise, it remains a worthy venture, whose time is long overdue. If it makes even one potential abuser think twice, it will have achieved something.

Yet it is peculiar, not to mention troubling, that the latest victim of our vigorous new climate of female solidarity is neither a priapic movie mogul nor a lecherous boss, but a man who lives only between the pages of a novel. How strange a world some of us must be living in when purely imaginary individuals are viewed with the sort of disgust once reserved for those shadowy strangers lurking in the park, unbuttoning their raincoats in the dark.

The latest object of naming and shaming is no threat to anyone, yet he is to be updated, airbrushed and tamed, lest he disturb us too much. His name is Rabbit Angstrom, and he is the brilliantly complex, troubled protagonist of John Updike’s five-part masterpiece, Rabbit, Run, Rabbit Redux, Rabbit is Rich, Rabbit at Rest and Rabbit Remembered.

Andrew Davies, who is to TV adaptations what Michelangelo was to ceilings, has said that his forthcoming version of Updike’s novels will show that the author was not a misogynist. Davies has taken on board the reservations of a script editor over Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom’s decidedly unPC behaviour. To put her mind at ease, he intends to give Updike’s female characters greater prominence while at the same time making Rabbit less off-putting.

What next – Moby Dick without the harpoons? Flashman turned Quaker? To be fair, Davies is on Updike’s side, though I’d have preferred him to abandon the project when pressured to tone the books down. That, obviously, is not an option he’s prepared to consider. As he told an audience at Hay-on-Wye, “we do want people, if not to love Rabbit but at least to understand him. Some of the things have been a bit difficult for young intelligent females to cope with … but I think his insight into both men and women is just so extraordinary.”

If Updike were still with us, he would no doubt repeat what he always said of his spectacularly flawed creation: “My intention was never to make him – or any character – lovable.” That people cannot read books or understand literary invention, is bad enough. Even worse is that today’s female viewers – old as well as young – are clearly presumed incapable of understanding why a person is portrayed the way they are. How is it that the writers on Mad Men can create monsters of misogyny without being charged with sexism, yet Updike is assumed to be a woman hater for depicting an intensely believable, nuanced American Everyman? Why can Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace be hailed as a work of genius without her being confused or conflated with her fictionalised murderer, while Updike – and indeed Philip Roth and Saul Bellow – are castigated as chauvinist for showing us the unvarnished male?

Rabbit, whom we first meet in his mid-twenties when he is tired of his first wife and feeling over the hill, is the embodiment of post-war, small-town America in which lower middle-class males struggled to make sense of everything. They felt assailed on all sides, by domesticity, work, government and God. The travails of the women who fall into Rabbit’s destructive orbit are feelingly portrayed, but the focus remains on him. In Rabbit at Rest, as his demise draws close, this tormented salesman muses on the Lockerbie disaster, and his own mortality. He is not an unfeeling man. In some ways, he is over-sensitive.

So I’d like to know in what way bowdlerising Rabbit, and recalibrating the books, helps today’s women? Have we really become so squeamish or snowflake that we cannot bear to see men behaving badly – as they undoubtedly did and still do? And do we honestly think it acceptable to accuse an artist we have never even met of being a mirror image of his sometimes deplorable but mesmerising main character?

Softening the books in any way is insulting and patronising. The BBC’s editorial team might as well come straight out and say that they think women cannot tell fact from fiction. What a devastating indictment, especially since #MeToo’s credibility relies upon women hoping and needing to be believed. If we are not thought capable of making a fundamental distinction that children learn by the time they are two, why would our accusations against alleged abusers be taken seriously?

Updike was no self-censorer. He revelled in being explicit and expressing unpalatable truths. To think that his magnificent, rambunctious, thought-provoking, occasionally shocking work is to be sandpapered to make it acceptable for our vanilla times is really rather pathetic. How much better if we were given a version completely true to the original. Davies should stand up to the revisionists who want to rewrite literary history, and give us Rabbit Resists. After all, if we can’t cope with fiction, what hope do we have in real life?