RULE one of modern life: always question Culture War stories that sound too good to be true. As evidence: step forward Jane Austen.

Readers of The Express, Telegraph and Mail, as well as the few distressed souls who watch GB News, must have been horrified this week. ‘Stirling University ditches Jane Austen from English Literature course to ‘decolonise curriculum’, wailed the Mail. GB News, amid cries of “wokey-cokey”, reported Austen had been “cancelled”. Neil Oliver inevitably got in on the act rabbiting on about “tentacles” reaching into “academia” - making Stirling University sound like base camp for some sort of Lovecraftian monster.

In truth, Cthulu living in Stirling’s Halls of Residence makes about as much sense as the story - because Jane Austen is not cancelled. She hasn’t been binned to ‘decolonise the curriculum’. It’s not just a case that students at Stirling can study Austen - they must. She remains compulsory for all literature undergrads. So this story is complete and utter nonsense - and it’s a good example of how so many Culture War stories are cooked up. Ever wonder why all those folk who scream about being cancelled have newspaper columns, TV shows and book deals?

So here’s what readers and viewers were initially told: Austen was removed from Stirling University’s English Literature course to increase ‘diversity', and replaced with the African-American writer Toni Morrison. Shock in the shires. But reporting is a funny old business and words can be slippery.

I’ve taught English literature - as a poor struggling young writer many years ago - and I know plenty of professors and lecturers still hewing away at the coalface of poetry and prose. So the story just didn’t sound right to me. What English literature course would ever dump Austen.

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