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Conceived in Modernism: The Aesthetics and Politics of Birth Control
 9781501307133, 9781501307164, 9781501307157

Table of contents :
Cover
Half-title
Title
Copyright
Contents
Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. Modernism, Monsters, and Margaret Sanger
2. “God spoke with me to-day”: Prophecy, The Waste Land, and Marie Stopes
3. “Sentences Swelled, Adjectives Multiplied”: Orlando, Contraception, and the Life of the Mind
4. Southern Mother, Lethal Fetus; Or How Birth Control Makes a Modernist Out of Flannery O’Connor
5. Where Alien Abduction Meets Family Planning: Personhood, Race, and Reproduction in Octavia Butler’s Dawn
Coda
Notes
References
Index

Citation preview

Conceived in Modernism

Conceived in Modernism The Aesthetics and Politics of Birth Control Aimee Armande Wilson

Bloomsbury Academic An imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Inc

N E W YO R K • LO N D O N • OX F O R D • N E W D E L H I • SY DN EY

Bloomsbury Academic An imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Inc 1385 Broadway New York NY 10018 USA

50 Bedford Square London WC1B 3DP UK

www.bloomsbury.com BLOOMSBURY and the Diana logo are trademarks of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc First published 2016 Paperback edition first published 2017 © Aimee Armande Wilson, 2016 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers. No responsibility for loss caused to any individual or organization acting on or refraining from action as a result of the material in this publication can be accepted by Bloomsbury or the author. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Wilson, Aimee Armande, author. Conceived in modernism : the aesthetics and politics of birth control / Aimee Armande Wilson. pages cm Summary: “Offers a new perspective on the politics of contraception by showing that Anglo-American birth control rhetoric has roots in modernism”– Provided by publisher. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 978-1-5013-0713-3 (hardback) 1. Family planning in literature. 2. Pregnancy in literature. 3. Birth control–United States–History–20th century. 4. Birth control–Great Britain–History–20th century. 5. Modernism (Literature) 6. Feminism and literature. 7. American literature–20th century–History and criticism. 8. English literature–20th century–History and criticism. I. Title. PS374.B57W55 2015 810.9’3561–dc23 2015015858 ISBN: HB: 978-1-5013-0713-3 PB: 978-1-5013-3395-8 ePub: 978-1-5013-0714-0 ePDF: 978-1-5013-0715-7 Typeset by Integra Software Services Pvt. Ltd.

CONTENTS

Acknowledgments vi

Introduction

1

1 Modernism, Monsters, and Margaret Sanger

21

2 “God spoke with me to-day”: Prophecy, The Waste Land, and Marie Stopes 47 3 “Sentences Swelled, Adjectives Multiplied”: Orlando, Contraception, and the Life of the Mind 71 4 Southern Mother, Lethal Fetus; Or How Birth Control Makes a Modernist Out of Flannery O’Connor 97 5 Where Alien Abduction Meets Family Planning: Personhood, Race, and Reproduction in Octavia Butler’s Dawn 119 Coda

137

Notes 143 References 151 Index 165

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I am indebted to the many people who provided selfless and sage assistance during the composition of this book. Robin Goodman’s consistently thoughtful guidance, feedback on countless drafts, and willingness to ask the tough questions were invaluable. Special thanks to Caitlin Newcomer and Chris Higgs for helping me puzzle out answers to those tough questions, and to Mona for providing moral support. I am grateful to my editor, Haaris Naqvi, and to my colleagues and mentors at Florida State University, particularly Barry Faulk, Andrew Epstein, Aline Kalbian, Paul Ardoin, and Cheryl Price. My unending thanks go to my parents and brother for supporting me wherever I go and whatever I do, and to Josh Bolick for being my best friend. FSU and the Mellon Foundation/Institute of Historical Research at the University of London supported my research on Marie Stopes at the Women’s Library. A fellowship from Edward F. and Marie C. Kingsbury gave me time to write at a critical stage in the book’s development. Chapter 1, “Modernism, Monsters, and Margaret Sanger,” first appeared in Modern Fiction Studies, 59.2 (2013): 440–60; © 2013 The Johns Hopkins University Press. An early version of Chapter 4, “Southern Mother, Lethal Fetus; Or How Birth Control Makes a Modernist out of Flannery O’Connor,” was published in Genre: Forms of Discourse and Culture, 47.3 (2014): 407–30; it is included here by permission of Duke University Press.

Introduction

Conceived in Modernism: The Aesthetics and Politics of Birth Control is concerned with the ways modernist aesthetics affected the birth control movement in England and the United States from the early twentieth century on, as well as the role of birth control rhetoric in the development of literary modernism. The questions and experiments that modernist artists grappled with influenced the way activists framed the emerging politics of birth control, and since many of these frames still exist in today’s political rhetoric, we can better understand the stakes of current debates if we examine the rhetoric of birth control against modernism’s goals and aesthetic preoccupations. By looking back to the beginnings of the AngloAmerican birth control movement, this project contextualizes discourses of reproduction that, then as now, bear most heavily on poor women and women of color. Abortion notwithstanding, current debates over reproductive control can be surprisingly volatile. Consider the fact that 99 percent of American women who are at risk for pregnancy have said they used contraception at some point in their lives (Daniels 1).1 Among a similar population of British women, 75 percent admit to currently using some form of contraception (Lader 19). On the basis of these statistics, one might reasonably assume that arguments over access to and use of contraception would be relatively rare and quiet, affairs more akin to debate over benefits for veterans than abortion. Yet in these early years of the twenty-first century, contraception has sparked intense debate, showing us that, on this subject at least, public rhetoric contrasts sharply with private action. In the United States, thanks in large part to the Obama administration’s “contraception mandate,” divisive arguments over access to birth control flared up throughout the summer of 2012. The contraception mandate is a key aspect of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), signed into law in 2010 in efforts to provide comprehensive health care to every U.S. citizen. A provision of the ACA classifies birth control

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as a basic, preventative health care measure, similar to well-care visits or mammograms. This classification means that all insurance plans must cover contraceptives with no co-pay, coinsurance, or deductible (“Women’s”). Dozens of organizations have filed suit against the Obama administration on the grounds that the mandate is a violation of religious freedom since certain religious communities view contraception as sinful, and these cases are slowly working their way through the courts. Most recently, the Supreme Court decided in 2014 (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.) that corporations have religious rights in some circumstances, and that the rights of the Hobby Lobby corporation were violated by the contraception mandate. (This case is discussed in much more detail in Chapter 5). Without question, decisions in cases similar to Hobby Lobby will have significant ramifications with regard to access to birth control in the United States, and promise to keep the debate about contraception afloat in public discussion well into the future. The mix of fury and excitement over the contraception mandate made the issue particularly salient in Anglophone news media, yet England has seen its share of debates over government changes to birth control access. In 2008, England’s National Health Service (NHS) piloted a program allowing females at least sixteen years of age to purchase oral contraceptive pills at a handful of pharmacies without a prescription. Criticism of the program from religious organizations was impassioned. Mark Haughton of the Christian Medical Fellowship, for one, claimed that such a program “may be pouring petrol on the flames” by allowing teenagers to have “sex without responsibility” (qtd. in Jeffreys). Nevertheless, the program went forward and, in 2012, an NHS report recommended expanding the program to additional locations and suggested that experts consider lowering the minimum age to thirteen (“Widen”). Writing for the Catholic Medical Quarterly, Dr. Ian B. Johnston challenged further implementation of the program on the grounds that the pilot study: is just another in a long line of costly, poorly researched and enthusiastically promoted schemes, among which are enhanced sex education programmes, over-the-counter EC [emergency contraception] availability, and, in all likelihood, condom distribution schemes, that have failed to reduce teenage pregnancy rates while serving only to induct young women into sexual activity. (np)

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Johnston’s statement contains several assumptions commonly voiced throughout the twentieth century by opponents of increased access to birth control. First, Johnston implies that only female sexual activity is worrisome, despite the fact that the “enhanced sex education programmes” and “condom distribution schemes” he mentions are just as likely, if not more likely, to target young men. Second, he assumes that exposure to contraception leads directly to sexual activity (as opposed to exposure having no correlation to sexual activity, as statistics indicate (Sabia 785)). Third, Johnston implies that the young women in question are in need of rescue from the dangers of sexual activity, an implication reinforced by his later claim that the “target group of vulnerable young women . . . deserve more compassionate care than this ill-thought out, expensive, and poorly administered scheme” (np). In sum, Johnston’s argument manifests the belief that women should be living out the child-wifemother narrative that traditionally defined the ideal woman’s life, a narrative wherein women are guarded by the male figures in their lives (which here includes the male-dominated Catholic Church) and are sexually active only within the confines of marriage. In many more ways, the current tumult over birth control reflects that of a century earlier, when Anglo-American activism for increased access to birth control was beginning to coalesce as a social movement with defined leaders, organizations, and publications. In the early days of this movement, dating to roughly the second decade of the twentieth century, advocates of birth control faced stiff challenges regarding the morality of the decision to use birth control (which, for our purposes, will generally refer to female-directed contraceptives such as the diaphragm). Then as now, moral challenges extend beyond the question of whether exposure to birth control leads to greater sexual activity. On this front, birth control activists have most prominently clashed with religious institutions and been charged with eugenic designs. The claim that birth control activists promote birth control as a way to reduce the number of non-white citizens or poor workers is a common, and not always incorrect, refrain throughout the history of the Anglo-American birth control movement. The movement is not, of course, monolithic, and the accuracy of any accusation changes depending on the “who” and the “when” in question. For instance, British birth control advocate and author Marie Stopes promoted birth control in part on the premise that it could help prevent the British Empire from being overrun by “the diseased,

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the racially negligent, the thriftless, the careless, the feebleminded, the very lowest and worst members of the community” (Radiant Motherhood 236). Yet it would be inaccurate to accuse workers at her namesake clinics—more than 600 in locations around the world (“Where in the world”)—of harboring the same elitist and eugenic sentiments. Even still, despite differences among the various actors in the movement, and despite changes wrought over time, we can distinguish long-standing rhetorical themes in the way advocates fight for increased access to birth control. Indeed, it is my purpose in this book to demonstrate that the current rhetoric of British and American birth control activism has roots in the aesthetics of literary modernism. Not only did AngloAmerican modernism and the birth control movement come of age at the same moment and in many of the same cities (particularly London and New York); the politics of birth control often attracted the interest of modernist artists, and many birth control activists moved in literary circles. Drawing on a range of interdisciplinary methodologies (including feminist theory, gender studies, bioethics, and periodical studies), I argue that modernism’s concerns and experiments exerted a lasting influence on the birth control movement’s narrative constructions around race, gender, religion, and the body. The flow of influence was not, of course, one-directional; the birth control movement also had a profound impact on Anglo-American writers. This book simultaneously recovers the role of birth control in the development of some of modernism’s most innovative aesthetic concepts. These concepts include the rejection of subjectivity as stable and self-determining, the attempt to develop an aesthetic capable of conferring upon a work of art an autonomous existence, the deliberate positioning of art as the replacement for traditional grand narratives (such as religion or nationality) that fail to explain modern life, and use of the life of the mind as the main source of narrative momentum. This is not, of course, an exhaustive list of modernist concepts, nor is it an uncontested list. Indeed, my use of the lower-case “m” in modernism is meant to signal the existence of multiple strands of modernism, as Peter Nicholls compellingly demonstrates in Modernisms: A Literary Guide. Conceived in Modernism fits within what Douglas Mao and Rebecca L. Walkowitz have termed “the new modernist studies,” which they describe as scholarship highlighting, among other

INTRODUCTION

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concerns, the continuities between artistic and political movements, realms traditionally held separate in modernist scholarship. Feminist scholars have been a particularly powerful force in the new modernist studies, helping, as Jane Garrity succinctly puts it, to “extend the designation ‘modernist’ beyond such familiar figures as Pound, Eliot, Joyce, and Conrad and . . . facilitat[ing] transatlantic cultural study approaches that examine particular women writers within the context of national and local structures” (“Modernist” 16). This strand of feminist scholarship frequently touches on subjects that are closely related to those addressed in Conceived in Modernism, such as pregnancy, queer body politics, and, less frequently, reproductive technologies.2 Eugenics, which places the usually private subject of reproduction squarely in the public realm, also figures prominently in scholarship associated with the new modernist studies. Works such as Allison Berg’s Mothering the Race: Women’s Narratives of Reproduction, 1890–1930 and Daylanne K. English’s Unnatural Selections: Eugenics in American Modernism and the Harlem Renaissance are foundational texts for the study of eugenics in American modernist literature, while Donald Childs’s Modernism and Eugenics is an important study of British modernists and their varying degrees of engagement with eugenic thought. Conceived in Modernism draws on these studies to help theorize the reasons Marie Stopes and Margaret Sanger (her American counterpart) came to embrace eugenics. Nevertheless, the interaction between birth controllers and modernist artists is secondary in the books by Berg, English, and Childs. In contrast, this book places contraception at the forefront of discussion. Hence, it is most closely affiliated with a small but growing body of scholarship acknowledging the overlap between modernism and the birth control movement. Some of these scholars, such as Paul Peppis, discuss the importance of language and narrative in non-fiction texts (propaganda and sex manuals) that address birth control. Where the overlapping influences of modernist fiction and birth control are addressed, scholars either treat the movements as parallel rather than mutually influencing developments, as in Beth Widmaier Capo’s Textual Contraception (Balay 399), or discuss birth control as a thematic concern in literary works, as do Susan Merrill Squier in Babies in Bottles and Layne Parish Craig in When Sex Changed. Craig’s book, for example, takes

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a historicist approach to the study of birth control and transatlantic literature, examining the ways in which certain modernist writers incorporated birth control thematically into their writing. Valuable as these studies are, the lack of attention to modernism’s influence on the birth control movement is an omission of no small magnitude because uncovering the various discursive traces in the movement’s rhetoric allows us to develop a fuller awareness of the implications of current birth control debates. Conceived in Modernism begins to fill this scholarly gap by demonstrating that modernist aesthetics exerted a lasting influence on the rhetoric of the birth control movement. I surmise that part of the reason scholars have given so little attention to the relationship between modernism and the birth control movement is because modernism is typically seen as a transnational movement, while birth control activism is largely discussed as a movement defined by national borders. Yet birth control activism in England and the United States was as fundamentally transatlantic as modernism. As with modernist artists, a particularly close relationship existed between English and American birth control activists. Margaret Sanger, for instance, went to England in 1914 to delay prosecution for obscenity charges she faced in American courts; Marie Stopes began her birth control advocacy after meeting Sanger in London; and the Bradlaugh-Besant trial, a watershed moment in the history of birth control in England, involved a pamphlet written by a Boston physician. The organization of chapters in this project reflects this transatlantic flow of ideas. Whereas the first chapter focuses on the rhetoric of Margaret Sanger’s campaign in the United States, the subsequent chapter focuses on Marie Stopes and her advocacy in England. The following chapter stays in England but moves firmly into the world of literature with a discussion of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (1928). The fourth and fifth chapters move back to the United States and focus, respectively, on a short story by Flannery O’Connor and Octavia Butler’s science-fiction novel Dawn (1987). Regardless of the emphasis of individual chapters—birth control advocates or literary artists—each chapter strives to show that birth control activism in England and the United States was, like literary modernism, a fundamentally transatlantic activity. I begin by reading the short stories in Sanger’s Birth Control Review (BCR), a little magazine she edited between 1917 and

INTRODUCTION

7

1929, to reveal a critique of the high modernist idea of aesthetic autonomy. In this chapter, “Modernism, Monsters, and Margaret Sanger,” I contrast the concept of aesthetic autonomy espoused by Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot with that seen in the articles and short stories within the BCR. I argue that the narratives in the BCR depict autonomy as a ghastly punishment rather than a goal to be achieved. This reading simultaneously offers a framework for understanding why the dominant rhetoric of the American birth control movement shifted—within only a decade—from feminist revolution to patriarchal eugenics. “‘God spoke with me to-day’: Prophecy, The Waste Land, and Marie Stopes” continues the first chapter’s consideration of modernism’s lasting influence on the birth control movement, particularly its construction of the female body. The modernist concept most in focus, however, changes from aesthetic autonomy to the use of art as a replacement for failed grand narratives. This chapter argues that Marie Stopes’s birth control advocacy creates an image of early twentieth-century England as a wasteland that bears a striking resemblance to T.S. Eliot’s more famous depiction of it. In contrast to Eliot, Stopes asserts a distinctly female control over the body as well as the narrative of modernity. By inserting the discourse of birth control into modernism, Stopes’s narrative shows us that accounts of modernism centered on male authors overlook the extent to which control and coherence were central to women’s experiences of modernity. Staying in the realm of British high modernism, the third chapter centers on Virginia Woolf’s mock-biography Orlando. In this chapter, “‘Sentences swelled, adjectives multiplied’: Orlando, Contraception, and the Life of the Mind,” I argue that Orlando contains a metatextual commentary on modernism, showing us that the strand of the movement focused on the life of the mind is made possible in part due to the increasing availability of birth control. In Woolf’s novel, materialism characterizes the literature written in the Victorian era (that is, mimetic literature focused on the stuff of daily life), and this literature is a product of the inability to exercise birth control. Without it, the material body and its needs demand one’s attention to the exclusion of other thoughts. My reading of Orlando shows us that only once writers are able to control their reproductions can they begin to move away from materialistic themes and techniques and write the life of the mind.

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While these first three chapters discuss texts that are squarely in the time period traditionally associated with modernism, the fourth and fifth chapters illustrate changing attitudes toward birth control in the second half of the twentieth century. The fourth chapter, “Southern Mother, Lethal Fetus; Or How Birth Control Makes a Modernist out of Flannery O’Connor,” argues that the presence of birth control in a narrative interrupts generic conventions by giving rise to a modernist version of subjectivity in the narrative’s characters and to a modernist aesthetic in the writer’s style. As such, this chapter brings to the fore the concept of subjectivity, specifically the move away from the subject as stable and self-determining. I argue that the symbolic possibilities of birth control carry the promise and threat of discontinuity; in the case of Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Stroke of Good Fortune” (1955), these possibilities disrupt both a character’s identity and what we might call the identity of an O’Connor text. Most critics read the story as a failed attempt to portray the Catholic plea against, as O’Connor put it, the “rejection of life at the source” (HB 85). Recognizing the role of birth control in this story allows us to see it as a modernist text rather than a narrative failure. At the same time, this reading reveals a surprising argument in favor of increased access to contraception within O’Connor’s oeuvre. Whereas the fourth chapter addresses a mid-century text, the fifth chapter, “Where Alien Abduction Meets Family Planning: Personhood, Race, and Reproduction in Octavia Butler’s Dawn,” treats reproductive rights discourse of the 1980s by examining Octavia Butler’s Dawn (1987). Although scholarship considering this novel in light of reproductive rights issues is common, Dawn’s connections to birth control discourse are all but overlooked despite the novel’s deliberate reference to contraception. In this chapter, I read Dawn as a revision of a narrative I identify in Sanger’s birth control rhetoric, a revision that is more reflective of the experiences of African-American women. Similar to the chapter on Sanger’s Birth Control Review, this chapter’s aesthetic focus is the modernist concern with autonomy. By focusing on Dawn’s revision of tropes favored by early birth control activists, I demonstrate why personhood, so central to abortion debates, deserves greater attention in literary and feminist discussions about birth control for women of all races. For when we read Dawn as a modernist

INTRODUCTION

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text, we are compelled to see access to birth control as a necessary precondition of personhood in modern America. In the Coda, I build on the arguments developed in the previous chapters to illustrate the lingering presence of modernist aesthetics in twenty-first-century debates over access to birth control. In this chapter, I discuss the “Endangered Species Project,” a campaign begun in 2010 by an anti-abortion group in attempts to persuade black women to have fewer abortions. The most visible product of the campaign was a series of billboards proclaiming “Black Children Are An Endangered Species,” implying that the high rate of abortions in poor black communities endangers the race. I analyze this ad campaign as a particularly illustrative example of the lingering presence of modernist ideas about subjectivity in current birth control debates. By recognizing how literary aesthetics inhabit the political positions that still define birth control, I read these positions as much more mobile, tenuous, and unstable than they currently appear. The writers mentioned above represent a variety of sexualities— from heterosexual to lesbian to asexual—and this variety helps to illustrate the range of perspectives from which individuals approach the subject of childbearing and birth control. Among these writers, only Marie Stopes and Margaret Sanger had children; both were heterosexual. Sanger had one daughter and two sons. Stopes had a son and desperately wanted more children, but was unable to conceive (the family planning clinics she founded helped women with infertility problems as well as those who wanted to prevent conception). Virginia Woolf’s sexuality is, of course, the subject of much discussion, though scholars widely accept that she had an extramarital affair with Vita Sackville-West and that her marriage to Leonard Woolf was affectionate but largely sexless. Virginia and Leonard did not have children despite wanting them; Leonard, acting on the advice of her doctors, decided that childbearing would be detrimental to Virginia’s already fragile mental health (Lee 329). T.S. Eliot was likewise childless, presumably due to his wife’s bouts with mental illness (Gordon 218). Illness is most likely the reason for Flannery O’Connor’s childlessness, too. She never married and her battle with lupus prevented her from developing sexual relationships. As biographer Melissa Simpson puts it, O’Connor is often thought to have chosen “writing over a pursuit of a romantic

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relationship and, ultimately, marriage” because O’Connor “felt the physical limits placed upon her by lupus dictated a choice” (24). Finally, Octavia Butler did not marry, nor did she have children. Butler’s solitude was self-chosen; she described herself as “comfortably asocial” (Ulaby). These brief biographies show that birth control is not a subject of interest to only heterosexual individuals seeking to prevent or space children. Rather, interest in the concept of birth control as a means of controlling the body is one that cuts across sexual, geographic, economic, religious, and racial lines. Before turning to individual chapters and their discussions of the interplay between modernist aesthetics and birth control activism, it is important to have an understanding of the AngloAmerican birth control movement—fledgling and disconnected as it was—prior to the turn of the twentieth century. Only then can we recognize how modernist aesthetics altered the landscape of birth control advocacy. An examination of subjectivity as deployed by birth control advocates before 1900 should begin to make clear the importance of modernist aesthetics to the burgeoning movement.

Birth control advocacy in the nineteenth century Prior to the twentieth century, birth control advocacy in England and the United States was typically ancillary to other causes. Particularly in the United States, these efforts did not constitute a movement but rather a loosely affiliated network of activists promoting birth control methods as a means to achieve diverse, broader goals (to stem population growth, for instance, or to reduce one’s reliance on doctors). Even the term “birth control” was not coined until 1914. Margaret Sanger claims to have invented it as a more direct expression of the aims of her activism; commonly used terms (such as “Neo-Malthusianism”) “seemed stuffy and lacked public appeal” (Autobiography 108). Despite the relative newness of the term, knowledge of birth control methods of varying degrees of efficacy can be traced back many centuries. Historian Robert Jütte argues, “even in the long distant past, people possessed effective means of birth control and made use

INTRODUCTION

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of them when necessary, even if the same methods are no longer in widespread use today. Contraception should therefore be regarded as a universal phenomenon, to be found at different times and in the most diverse of societies” (4). In nineteenth-century England and United States, the most commonly used forms of contraception were abstinence, condoms, coitus interruptus, douching, spermicides, and pessaries. Mothers, sisters, friends, and sometimes midwives passed along folk remedies for contraception and even abortion (the distinction between them was not so firm as it is today; most people at the time grouped these methods under a common umbrella of family limitation (Brodie xii)). Such folk remedies included ingesting the plants pennyroyal, tansy, or rue. Evidence of use of these plants, as well as other birth control methods, in Victorian England and even colonial America is scant but does exist.3 Nevertheless, birth control has long been considered a taboo topic in these countries. Condoms, especially, were often seen as obscene or unwholesome objects since their use was typically associated with prostitutes and extramarital affairs (Brodie 38). In the latter half of the nineteenth century, birth control became the target of campaigns to censor discussion of “obscene” subjects. In the United States, the most salient result of these efforts is the Comstock Act. Carole R. McCann succinctly details the Act: Named for its author, Anthony Comstock, this 1873 amendment to the U.S. Postal Code prohibited the shipping of obscene materials on both public and private freight carriers. All information and devices that could “be used or applied for preventing conception” were included among the obscene materials proscribed under the law. (23) This law effectively made illegal the sale of birth control devices as well as the distribution of printed materials containing practical discussions of birth control methods. Doctors could not, by law, discuss birth control with patients. Similar legislation never passed in England, but attempts to censor the distribution of birth control on the grounds that it was obscene did occur. In a trial that will be discussed in greater detail later in this chapter, activists Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh were charged with obscenity in 1877 for publishing a pamphlet containing detailed information on birth control methods.

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These challenges to the dissemination of contraceptives and information about them arose in large part because activists and medical practitioners began giving more attention to birth control in the nineteenth century. Various groups including Neo-Malthusians, early sexual health advocates, and practitioners of what was called “sectarian medicine” advocated contraceptive methods as means to achieve diverse ends, such as stemming population growth or reducing one’s reliance on doctors. Importantly for our purposes, these activists tended to shape their arguments around a notion of the subject as self-actualizing. This is another way of saying that activists promoted birth control as a method by which an individual could become the best possible version of him- or herself. In the logic of this rhetoric, you need only yourself (and a little of the information offered by the activist) to improve your lot in life. As a result, these nineteenth-century advocates developed arguments that emphasized self-reliance, responsibility, and duty to the nation on the assumption that their readers or listeners were capable of making the recommended changes of their own accord. Not until birth controllers started interacting with modernist artists did the rhetoric of birth control advocacy begin to depict the subject as socially determined, in other words the subject as a malleable plaything of external forces who cannot improve his or her circumstances without the aid of new technologies and discourses. A brief discussion here of socially determined subjectivity as related to birth control discourse will help illuminate the difference between it and the self-actualizing subject that dominates the nineteenth-century birth control discourse. Historians of birth control sometimes refer to the “KAP-gap,” with KAP being an acronym for “knowledge,” “acceptance,” and “practice,” and the “gap” referring to an individual’s ability or willingness to move from knowledge of birth control to acceptance of the practice, and from acceptance of birth control to practice or use of it (Brodie 300). When nineteenth-century advocates imagined a self-actualizing subject, they assumed knowledge of birth control would and could translate directly into practice. The socially determined subject, however, accounts for the gaps between knowledge, acceptance, and practice by depicting women who are denied the ability to move from acceptance to practice by restrictive laws or social pressures. In the twentieth-century birth control discourse, the repeated childbearing that results for women who have accepted birth control use but are

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prevented from practicing it is so traumatic that it brings about a new subjectivity, one that is fractured because it lacks rational control over the body. In these narratives, fragmentation figures as a cause for anxiety and fear, as well as a source of nostalgia for a type of subjective wholeness imagined to exist prior to the modern era. Birth controllers depicted socially determined subjectivity as a problem to be cured rather than, for example, a productive multiplicity. This emphasis on “fixing” subjectivity—the idea that human activity can find a solution—makes these narratives better classified as modernist than naturalist, particularly when we consider the fact that the narratives studied here share an implicit belief that art and/or science will provide the fix. Marie Stopes and Margaret Sanger were the most salient proponents of this narrative of birth control in the early years of the twentieth century. Although these women came to view each other as rivals, their approaches to activism manifest many similarities. Both were shrewd publicists whose methods drew a mix of admiration and scorn from individuals within the movement and without. Sanger, based in New York City, and Stopes, in London, actively engaged in the artistic milieus in these cities and their activism eventually, as I am arguing, began to take on characteristics of modernist aesthetics. Sanger consciously enlisted the aid of artists in her endeavor to bring about social change. She mingled with New York’s avant-garde during her frequent appearances at Mabel Dodge’s salon, while her Birth Control Review published works by Olive Schreiner and Angelina W. Grimke. Stopes, for her part, considered herself to be a poet of the first-rank (though I have yet to find a serious critic who agrees). She interacted with Ezra Pound and had contact on several occasions with Virginia and Leonard Woolf, and followed T.S. Eliot’s career. Although she publicly, vehemently, disavowed modernist aesthetics, the concerns and experiments of modernism nevertheless made their way into Stopes’s rhetoric, as they did into Sanger’s. The rhetoric put forth by these two activists began, independently, to display an increasing affinity with modernist concerns. The clearest example of this affinity occurs in the depiction of subjectivity in their respective publications. Sanger began and ran the American magazine Birth Control Review (BCR), while Stopes founded the London-based Birth Control News (BCN). These publications depict women without access to birth control as fractured

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individuals incapable of ameliorating their terrible living conditions on their own (both publications are discussed in much greater detail in later chapters). For example, Sanger’s BCR often portrays women at the mercy of government policies that prevent them from accessing information about birth control alongside corporations that profit from their ignorance. In Figure 1, an image from the BCR from 1920, we see a frail woman reproducing an endless stream of children, all of whom work in an industrial factory. A fat, wealthy “exploiter” uses the words of Jesus to exhort her to continue reproducing as he welcomes her progeny into his workforce. The image implies that this woman is helpless to prevent her body’s ceaseless reproduction and the fate of her children because powerful business owners have a vested interest in keeping birth control information away from women. Deciding to use birth control is not here sufficient to change this woman’s circumstances. Presumably she would not continue having children and sending them into the exploiter’s employ if she could do otherwise, but outside forces prevent her from practicing birth control. Even abstinence is an unrealistic solution for most women in these circumstances since sex in marriage was typically seen as a woman’s “duty” and a man’s “right” (R. Hall 129). Thus, her mind and its decisions or desires are impotent in the face of her body’s seemingly involuntary reproduction. She is unable to ameliorate her circumstances on her own because poverty, laws, and the interests of big business have redefined her subjectivity, walling off her body from her mind’s control with dire consequences. The woman in this image contrasts sharply with the women portrayed by birth control advocates in the nineteenth century. Most of these early advocates relied on an idea of the subject as capable of self-actualization and positioned birth control use as a rational way to maintain or improve one’s lot in life. There was little doubt that their readers or listeners could begin using birth control once they accepted its use. For instance, Thompsonians and water cure specialists (“hydropathists”) advocated frequent douching as part of regimes that stressed individual responsibility, self-education, and rational planning as means to achieve greater health and vigor.4 Russell Thatcher Trall, a leading water cure specialist, emphasized self-improvement when he argued that people who were “thoroughly indoctrinated in the general principles of Hydropathy” could, by going a step further and becoming “aquainted with the laws of life and health, . . . well-nigh emancipate themselves from all need of

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FIGURE 1 “The Need of Child Labor” from the Birth Control Review, January 1920. The Factory “Exploiter” says, “Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not.”

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doctors of any sort” (iii). Trall’s statement implies that knowledge alone can improve one’s health, and elides the potential difficulty that might arise in moving from knowledge to practice. Despite the fact that frequent enough douching with even plain water can be contraceptive—a fact many female followers of the water cure likely discovered—these specialists generally touted douching as a hygienic rather than contraceptive practice (Brodie 149). Indeed, many practitioners of so-called “sectarian medicine” (unlicensed but often respected experts in various health care regimes) inadvertently introduced many American women to contraceptive methods (Brodie 144). There were some individuals, however, who were willing to recommend douching and other contraceptive measures as contraception. Nineteenth-century America saw the publication of several texts intended to educate married couples on human biology and reproduction. Most notable among these are Robert Dale Owen’s Moral Physiology (1830 or 1831) and Charles Knowlton’s Fruits of Philosophy (1832); both tracts were highly successful, and both were deemed obscene in courts of law.5 Owen, like Trall, advocated birth control in terms of its ability to improve one’s station in life. Indeed, he stresses that individuals using birth control “may gain competency for themselves, and the opportunity carefully to educate and provide for their children! How many may escape the jarrings, the quarrels, the disorder, the anxiety, which an overgrown family too often causes the domestic circle!” (22). Owen here focuses on middle-class individuals, people whose financial security would be jeopardized by the costs associated with frequent childbearing. Unlike later activists, Owen appears to assume that rational argument will convince his readers of the benefits of birth control, and that, thus convinced, these readers are capable of putting his advice into action. In other words, Owen assumes that his readers are self-actualizing subjects and therefore sees no need to dwell on the many factors that might prevent knowledge or practice of birth control. In England, Neo-Malthusians were the most salient advocates of birth control, though this advocacy was always secondary to the desire to educate the public on Malthusian principles of population control.6 Formed in 1877, the Malthusian League picked up Thomas Robert Malthus’s campaign to stem population growth before England’s population outstripped its food production. Unlike

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Malthus, however, the Neo-Malthusians, as they called themselves, thought late marriage, periodic abstinence, and celibacy were harmful to an individual’s health. The League instead promoted mechanical methods of birth control—pessaries, douching, condoms, and the like—as means by which to limit reproduction without the ill effects of abstinence or celibacy. The rhetoric of the Neo-Malthusians reveals that the leaders assumed their target audience was comprised of individuals who were capable of changing their reproductive behaviors, of moving easily from acceptance to practice. Notably present in their rhetoric promoting birth control is the sense that individuals can and should improve their own lot in life. Arguments are focused on acceptance, which means they are built on the premise that dispelling untruths with logic and rationality will be enough to change peoples’ behaviors (unlike the image in the BCR which depicts a woman who is helpless to change her circumstances). An article in the March 1879 issue of The Malthusian, the official organ of the Malthusian League, laments that young married couples often adhere to the “superstition” that reproduction cannot or should not be limited (Q. 10), as though beginning to use birth control is as easy and logical as realizing that black cats are not inherently evil. The League’s rhetoric, moreover, argues for the use of contraception on the grounds that it is a “duty” to the nation (“Lectures”). If a speaker believed his or her target audience was prevented from making the desired changes by external forces (poverty, laws, or social prudery, for instance), crafting an argument that relied on an increased sense of duty to motivate behavioral change would be illogical. The speaker might create the desire to limit reproduction, but the audience would be unable to convert that desire to action. Thus we can understand that the Neo-Malthusian emphasis on family limitation as a duty rests on an underlying assumption that British subjects are capable of changing behaviors on their own accord. In slight contrast to their American counterparts, however, the Neo-Malthusian focus on poverty seems to have pushed some activists to acknowledge the role of social forces in shaping subjectivity, and to recognize that these forces can get in the way of an individual’s desire to do her duty or improve herself. And so, for instance, we see an article written by Annie Besant (of the Bradlaugh-Besant obscenity trial) in which the author tells a

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hypothetical story about a woman whose many pregnancies left her a pale shadow of her former self. Besant acknowledges that “the Society which frowns on the limitation of the family” bears some of the blame for the wife’s ill-health (10). Nevertheless, society’s role in this deplorable situation is secondary; blame rests, first and foremost, with “the husband and wife themselves for their lack of conjugal prudence” (10). Thus Besant, like a few other NeoMalthusians, flirts with an idea of the self as socially defined, but, like most Anglo-American advocates in the nineteenth century, relies primarily on an understanding of the self as autonomous and capable of self-actualization. When Stopes and Sanger began in earnest their advocacy for greater access to birth control, they often developed arguments around this notion of the self-actualizing subject. Both constructed arguments with an auditor in mind who was in rational control of his- or herself. For example, in the first issue of Sanger’s short-lived periodical Woman Rebel (1914–1915), we are told the eponymous woman claims: The Right to be lazy. The Right to be an unmarried mother. The Right to destroy. The Right to create. The Right to love. The Right to live. (“On Picket Duty”) This statement evinces a belief in the ability to live, as the magazine’s tagline touts, with “No Gods No Masters.” A socially determined subject may desire to be lazy, for instance, but would scarcely be able to take advantage of that “right” if poverty prevents it. To be sure, we could read the Woman Rebel’s declaration as a sort of interpellation, a call to bring rebel women into being. Yet this rhetoric is still based on the assumption that addressing a declaration to that subject will prompt her to claim such rights. Stopes’s rhetoric of birth control often addresses similarly selfdirecting subjects. In her self-help manual Married Love (1918), for instance, she argues for birth control as a means by which couples could perfect themselves and their bond with each other. With the knowledge Stopes imparts, the joy of the married couple “will reach from the physical foundations of its bodies to the heavens

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where its head is crowned with stars” (106). Stopes here relies on a notion of the self as appropriately interested in and able to enact self-improvement through the use of birth control. The use of birth control presumably occurs in lock-step with acceptance of it; in other words, the leap from knowledge to acceptance to practice is assumed to be easily accomplished. The self-actualizing subject does not disappear from birth control rhetoric, and is even recognizable in contemporary debates. Yet, through interactions with modernist ideas and artists, birth controllers began to nuance their advocacy by depicting the gap between acceptance and practice, portraying women without access to birth control as modernist subjects, fractured individuals who are not in rational control of themselves until art, science, or technology shows them a better way. Thus, in Chapter 1, we see women whose minds are incapable of controlling their disconnected bodies in Rita Wellman’s “On the Dump” (1918) and Mary Heaton Vorse’s “The Magnet” (1921), both of which appeared in Sanger’s BCR. In Stopes’s BCN, we see women without access to birth control similarly fractured by their helplessness in the face of incessant reproduction; images of limbs detaching themselves from the maternal body and of minds incapable of comprehending the actions of the body appear throughout the BCN. Individuals without birth control are likewise at the mercy of external forces in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. Yet in this novel, once the modern subject gains reproductive control, he or she is newly capable of producing art based on the life of the mind. This novel thereby pushes us to consider not only the ways in which lack of access to contraception affects subjectivity, but also the ways it restricts artistic potential. Flannery O’Connor’s short story “A Stroke of Good Fortune” similarly offers a revision of the narrative of birth control as developed by Sanger and Stopes, in that the story positions socially determined subjectivity as a result of birth control use rather than birth control as a means to make a fractured self cohere (as Sanger’s and Stopes’s periodicals would have it). Although protagonist Ruby Hill has access to birth control, she does not wield the control denoted in the name. Her husband is in charge of contraception for the couple and uses that control to bring about a pregnancy Ruby does not desire. O’Connor’s narrative thereby functions as an important rejoinder to the narratives developed by Sanger and Stopes because her story reminds us that access to

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birth control is not a panacea. In the final chapter, my analysis of Octavia Butler’s Dawn pushes further into the topic of birth control’s harmful potential by investigating the reproductive abuses perpetrated on African-American women in the name of slavery and eugenics, thereby reinforcing the importance of individuals, not organizations, groups, or governments, wielding control over reproductive decisions. With an understanding of the rhetoric of birth control advocacy such as it was in the nineteenth century, the influence of modernist aesthetics on the various narratives of birth control explored throughout this book will be all the more apparent. It will become clear, too, just how important the act of narration, of storytelling, is to birth controllers’ ability to depict the plight of modern women without access to contraception. Given the high stakes and broad impact of debates surrounding birth control, such an understanding of the relationship between modernism and the narratives of birth control advocacy will bear on larger conversations about reproductive technologies and civil rights.

1 Modernism, Monsters, and Margaret Sanger

Tony Telura, the young protagonist of Mary Heaton Vorse’s “The Magnet” (1921), wakes up in a “spectral and dark” tenement hall to the piercing sound of a woman’s screams that “slithered through him” like “a slashing knife” (8). These screams do not arise because of a ghost, vampire, or any other supernatural demon despite the gothic overtones of the story. Rather, Tony’s nightmarish experience is occasioned by his mother in childbirth. A similarly disturbing picture of maternity develops in Rita Wellman’s “On the Dump,” a story published three years earlier in the same periodical, Margaret Sanger’s Birth Control Review. In Wellman’s story, a poor, pregnant woman allows herself to become human trash, slipping to her death on a pile of “tobacco cans, old pans, dirty ripped mattresses,” and one “obscene” corset (7). Mrs. Robinson’s desperation at her perpetual pregnancies—she has “faced death” ten times—leaves her thinking that death on a dump heap is a welcome release and fitting end for someone society has disregarded like so much trash (7). In these stories of madness and violence, indeed throughout the Birth Control Review (BCR), gothic aesthetics and contraception (or the lack thereof) combine to create a singularly modernist narrative of involuntary maternity, which I call the modernist conception narrative. This chapter explores the intersection of modernist aesthetics and the politicized narratives of the birth control movement in the United States. The processes by which the texts of Sanger, Vorse, and Wellman depict the maternal body—doubling, fragmentation, and linguistic iteration—illuminate a particular method by which

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modernist writers came to construct the pregnant female body as an aesthetic object. Through this construction, we see a side of aesthetic autonomy that is anything but autonomous: although artists may attempt to create a work of art that is complete onto itself, disengaged from politics and ethics, the narratives in the BCR show that the impulse toward autonomy obscures a critique, an underside to autonomy that engages the material world. Simultaneously, the doubled aspect of these narratives, the way they show the other as the same, suggests a way of understanding how the dominant rhetoric of the birth control movement could shift, within only a decade, from one of personal freedom and feminist revolution to the patriarchal version of eugenics it later promoted. Thus, this chapter also helps illuminate one of the shadowiest corners of the birth control movement, Sanger’s embrace of eugenics. The importance of storytelling and narratives to the birth control movement should not be underestimated. Both advocates and critics used literary techniques and referred to literary traditions in framing their positions because fiction offered a way of moving between private sentiment and politics. Storytelling and personal experiences, argues communications scholar Jennifer Emerling Bone, “became the primary rhetorical tactics used to transform a private discussion of birth control into dominant public forums” (17–8). She goes on to say, “the use of storytelling as a rhetorical strategy (by women) helped bridge the tension between norms of femininity and the expectations that existed for public discourse” (30). In the early twentieth century, birth control raised concerns on a number of levels for many Americans struggling with the advent of a postVictorian society since birth control gave women the potential for greater control over reproduction, made people acknowledge that couples sometimes had sex for reasons other than procreation, and meant talking about sex in general. Discussion of contraception in the early twentieth century was severely restricted due to the Comstock Act, which, as you will recall from the introduction, prohibited shipping “obscene” materials. These prohibited materials explicitly included birth control devices and instructions on how to practice birth control. Despite the Comstock Act, knowledge of effective contraceptive practices was relatively common among the upper classes by virtue of their access to private clinics with physicians who were sometimes willing to bend the rules, and the lower classes were aware that such methods

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existed even if they were not privy to the necessary practical knowledge. Thus, part of Sanger’s advocacy campaign required transforming birth control from a private practice into a public conversation, a shift in which storytelling takes a central role. This point has been made by scholars such as Emerling Bone, and yet, inexplicably, the role of short stories in Sanger’s various publications is largely left unexamined, although these and other literary works appear throughout Sanger’s longest running publication, the BCR. So, this chapter makes the logical next step in the conversation: examining the role of fictional storytelling in developing rhetoric of the birth control movement.1

Eugenics and the birth control movement The scholarly conversation surrounding the birth control movement in the United States is transparently uneasy with the movement’s eugenic turn. In the earliest days of the movement, the 1910s, Margaret Sanger pitched birth control as the key to women’s liberation. Even more radically, she argued that birth control would allow women to enjoy sex for pleasure without fear of becoming pregnant. Consistent throughout her early arguments was the sense that women deserved individual choice in their reproductive decisions, whether or not they were currently able to exercise it. Manifesting an implicit awareness of the socially determined subject, in 1920 she declared, “no woman can call herself free who does not own and control her own body” (Woman and the New Race 94). As the 1920s progressed, however, Sanger’s rhetoric in speeches and in the pages of the BCR increasingly promoted birth control as a way to achieve eugenic, rather than individual, goals. And, unlike other birth control activists such as Mary Ware Dennett, Sanger argued that birth control should be dispensed by physicians, a position that placed an additional barrier between a woman’s knowledge of birth control and her ability to practice it (Baker 212–2). Undoubtedly, scholarly anxiety over the movement’s adoption of eugenics is due in part to the unsavoriness of eugenics to our postHolocaust sensibilities. In addition, I argue, this discomfort is due to an inability to square the paternalism of most eugenic discourse with Sanger’s insistence (sometimes concurrent) on birth control

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as a tool to liberate women. As a result, the critical conversation tends to reduce the complexity of the situation to willful ignorance, contradiction, or hypocrisy on the part of Sanger. In other words, analyses typically begin with the assumption that yoking together these discourses does not make logical sense. Claire M. Roche, for instance, calls eugenics and birth control “strange bedfellows” and concludes that Sanger “was either unable or unwilling to recognize the complicated nature of the association. Sanger marketed herself and her movement as, at times, liberal, leftist, Socialist, and progressive, while she supported and made use of the increasingly elitist views of the eugenicists working in the United States and England” (262). Leaning toward hypocrisy as an explanation, Dorothy Roberts argues that what was formerly a discourse of freedom became one of control: the “language of eugenics . . . defined the purpose of birth control, shaping the meaning of reproductive freedom. Birth control became a means of controlling a population rather than a means of increasing women’s reproductive autonomy” (80). Rather than hypocrisy, pragmatism seems to explain the movement’s shift from feminist rebellion to deference for tradition for Beth Widmaier Capo. Capo argues that eugenics offered the birth control movement “another way to downplay the potential threat to patriarchy that contraception offered: reproductive control belonged not directly to women but to a wise and fatherly society who would oversee its implementation” (123). These statements by Roche, Roberts, and Capo rest on the assumption that freedom and control, feminist and patriarchal, and elitist and pluralistic are mutually exclusive positions whose junction must be explained by some underlying and unstated rationale. Yet the eugenic turn does not have to be contradictory. Besides the fact that eugenics was thought at the turn of the century to be a progressive idea, the eugenic turn is also a manifestation of the impossibility of fixing a single, stable meaning to any aesthetic concept. The tendency of the critical conversation to cast the eugenic turn as either pragmatic or hypocritical narrows the interpretive possibilities of the birth control movement. If we reject such dichotomous arguments, we will start to see the ways in which aestheticization (by which I mean turning political rhetoric into an art object) produces a narrative of birth control that can signify freedom, on the one hand, and restriction on the other. The particular narrative of poverty constructed in the pages of the BCR reduces the

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political autonomy of poor women while it simultaneously argues for their increased independence. The symbolic possibilities of birth control literalize this ideological doubling by locating it in a maternal body that is split between an impotent mind and an independently reproducing body. Looking at the birth control movement through a modernist lens provides a new way of interpreting the movement’s eugenic turn because it offers a more nuanced explanation than pragmatism, willful ignorance, or hypocrisy. I do not want to be read as excusing the most egregious practices of eugenics or thinking that there was nothing more than strategy behind Sanger’s use of its rhetoric. Rather, I want to show how Sanger’s deployment of eugenic rhetoric calls into play certain types of modernist techniques that deviate from dangerous racial essentialism even while working within a eugenic paradigm. As aesthetic creations, neither the narrative I describe here, the modernist conception narrative, nor its central trope, the vitalist maternal body, can be reduced to a single, stable meaning. Movement between “adopting” and “shying away,” to use Roche’s terminology, is not so much contradictory as it is embodied in the very same idea. And its mutability is its efficacy: the aestheticized narrative can appeal to various factions, conservative and revolutionary, at the same time. Thus the modernist conception narrative is best understood as a product of the tensions extant in the passage between Victorian norms and modern ideals.

The modernist conception narrative To further explain Sanger’s aestheticized rhetoric, I need to first elucidate the modernist-gothic narrative of maternity as it is constructed in the BCR. If, as Rachel Blau DuPlessis has argued, the task of women writers in the twentieth century is to imagine new narratives for the lives of women (Writing 4), the stories in the BCR demonstrate that this task was undertaken in earnest in the intersection of modernist literature and the birth control movement. Challenging the traditional child-wife-mother narrative, the modernist conception narrative reappropriates gothic tropes to show the maternal body as an organism with an autonomous will to reproduce. This form of vitalism, although evolved from gothic

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traditions, is no longer linked to the return of the dead directly or literally. Instead, the modernist conception narrative invokes a type of aestheticism that gives corporal bodies an autonomous, at times mechanistic, existence. Zombies are a close but inexact analogy. Similar to the zombie, the maternal body here has a single purpose which it pursues unthinkingly and in a way that confuses the border between life and death. Yet these women have not returned from the dead. They are brought to the brink of death by a body that has too much life: the vitalist body’s fertility, coupled with the incessant drive to reproduce, wears the body out and frustrates the mind with efforts to control it. The body’s autonomy is shown through various linguistic techniques, revealing gradually over the course of each narrative the independent workings of a body that is no longer under the mind’s control. Thereby, this vitalist body participates in aesthetic as well as political realms because the autonomy that typifies this body develops through language. To put it another way, the writer’s words and aesthetic choices are the means by which the maternal body manifests its vitalism, while the critique of outmoded, Victorian ideals of motherhood implicit in the depiction of the maternal body as vitalist makes the modernist conception narrative participate in the political realm. Because aesthetic autonomy in the modernist conception narrative draws an explicit connection between the art object and politics, it is a far cry from depictions of autonomy usually associated with modernism. The traditional, and at one time monolithic, interpretations held that modernists were obsessed with the art object’s removal from the daily, modernized world. In William K. Wimsatt and Cleanth Brooks’s archetypal, New Critical, understanding of aesthetic autonomy, art establishes “its own kind of intrinsic worth . . . apart from, and perhaps even in defiance of, the rival norms of ethics and politics” (476). In a different vein, Georg Lukacs famously criticized high modernism’s experimentation for failing to “pierce the surface to discover the underlying essence, i.e. the real factors that relate their experiences to the hidden social forces that produce them” (36–7). Just as famously, Theodor Adorno countered that experimental literature is not removed from the material world, but rather that experimental, fractured forms are representative of the fractured reality of modern life (“Reconciliation”). Adorno’s argument notwithstanding, the dichotomous model of art and politics persisted until recently in discussions of literary

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modernism, particularly Anglo-American modernism, probably because the most commonly studied modernists—Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, and so forth—were themselves keenly interested in maintaining and fortifying the division. In reaction against the persistence of the art–politics split, much of the new modernist studies attempts to show just the opposite, that modernism was a movement deeply engaged in mass culture, politics, and material reality. This chapter suggests an alternative to this either/or rhetoric by reading the narratives of Sanger, Vorse, and Wellman as modernist texts that foreground the Adornian doubling of autonomy—that what was thought to be disengagement is actually critique—and by changing the critical focus from the intention behind autonomy to the impact of such a desire. Thus far, I have discussed autonomy as if it referred to the same concept at all times and for all people. In truth, the way scholars use this term is anything but stable. Wimsatt and Brooks, for instance, are concerned primarily with the autonomy of the art object from political utility. Yet this denotation eschews the sense in which autonomy might refer to the art object’s independence from meanings ascribed to it by the viewer/reader, as Lisa Siraganian argues in Modernism’s Other Work, or in which autonomy might refer to the individual artist, as Peter Nicholls contends in Modernisms. My main concern will be the art object’s dissociation from the politics and ethics of the daily, material world. As such, my argument wrestles with ideas of autonomy in the vein of Wimsatt and Brooks. Nevertheless, Nicholls’s argument is worth further comment because it contains a concept that is useful for understanding the modernist conception narrative. Nicholls identifies a disruption within modernism that rejects the autonomy of the artist. H.D. and Gertrude Stein developed what Nicholls describes as a poetics “founded not on autonomy but on the continuities between self and world” and “preoccupied with what seems other but turns out to be the same” (Modernisms 200–2). In other words, the works of H.D. and Stein interrogate the autonomous individual, the self-contained “I,” to explore the possibilities of the self (respectively, to open the self to new explorations of desire, and to use emotion to forge a poetics based on the materiality of language). Nicholls identifies this “doubleness” as a critique of the impersonal, object-based poetics hailed by the “Men of 1914” (Pound, Eliot, and Lewis). The

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sense of doubleness as an aesthetic position from which to critique autonomy is a useful concept for understanding the modernist conception narrative. In sum, this narrative implicitly critiques autonomy by depicting it as physically and symbolically doubled as a result of the fact that the work of art is necessarily created by a historically situated artist. As an example of autonomy’s doubleness, we might consider how one of Nicholls’s selected texts, Tender Buttons, undermines the separation of the art object from politics (my concern) instead of the autonomy of the artist (Nicholls’s concern). At first blush, Tender Buttons appears far less engaged in politics and ethics than, say, Three Lives, which presents an overt critique of power, friendship, and sexuality. Yet, I argue, any move toward autonomy results also in critique, which means that even Tender Buttons’s “autonomy” is actually engagement. The rejection of stable meaning in Tender Buttons condemns the very human desire to stabilize meaning. Stein’s prose portraits frustrate our desire to link a signified to its signifier, thereby highlighting the arbitrariness of the English language system and encouraging more playful, malleable, and unrestricted uses of language. This argument—that autonomy is revealed as engagement through doubling and language play—has distinct affinities with Adorno’s 1957 essay “On Lyric Poetry and Society.” In this essay, Adorno argues that the lyric poem’s gesture toward autonomy “implies a protest against a social situation, that every individual experiences as hostile, alien, cold, oppressive” (39) and that “the work’s distance from mere existence becomes the measure of what is false and bad in the latter” (40). In the gesture toward autonomy, Adorno sees an opening for critique, which is where the parallels between my argument and Adorno’s end. The modernist conception narrative depicts autonomy as a problematic move rather than a productive potentiality. Within the narratives of Sanger, Vorse, and Wellman, aesthetic autonomy is a goal whose attempt leaves only a distorted, grotesque solipsism. Further, whereas Adorno’s lyric poem must “eschew . . . the relation of self to society as an explicit theme” (28–9), the narratives within the BCR emphatically make the opposite gesture: these narratives depict the lives of individuals in order to connect their tragic realities to the injustices of society. These differences arise because the modernist conception narrative is not an example in fiction of the lyric poetry Adorno discusses.

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Rather this narrative exemplifies Adorno’s point that autonomy is also involvement, which allows us to see the political effects of aesthetic autonomy. In other words, the narrative is a translation of this aspect of Adorno’s theory into art. My argument thus traces a new version of autonomy at the intersection of modernist aesthetics and political discourse. Autonomy in the BCR signifies a practice rooted in rather than dissociated from political, cultural, and historical critique. Because the modernist conception narrative rejects boundaries between politics and art, this chapter works in part to show that the modernist embrace of autonomy has been overstated. On its own, this point is hardly new; as Lisa Siraganian has argued, the idea that autonomy has been misunderstood is “as old as modernism itself” (15). Yet this chapter goes further; it makes a new contribution to an old debate because it shows a modernist narrative that foregrounds the uneasy relationship between autonomy and engagement, directing our attention to the political ramifications of autonomy as an aesthetic goal. These ramifications are exemplified in the maternal body vis-a-vis a trope that invokes aesthetic and political autonomy. Historically, the maternal body is often aestheticized out of history and politics altogether, granting it a veneer of autonomy. Consider, for instance, certain nineteenth-century aesthetic traditions that explicitly gender concepts such as the modern, the city, and the home. Although not discussing autonomy, Rita Felski notes that Romanticism explicitly genders the concepts of the modern, the city, and the home. She states that these aesthetic traditions displace women from the public sphere: “less specialized and differentiated than man, located within the household and an intimate web of familial relations, more closely linked to nature through her reproductive capacity, woman embodied a sphere of atemporal authenticity seemingly untouched by the alienation and fragmentation of modern life” (16). Political arguments against birth control in the twentieth century often followed the same line. Opponents relied on ideas of the maternal body as sacred and timeless, and birth control (with its requisite discussions of sex) as obscene, to argue that the issue was simply too private, too embarrassing, and too immoral to discuss in public. Indeed, the aforementioned Comstock Act rests on the idea that contraception is too obscene for public discourse. As Jennifer

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Emerling Bone puts it, the Comstock Act “ultimately provided the means necessary to forbid public discussion on the topic of reproductive health” (21). The sentiment behind the Comstock Laws, first established in 1873, persisted throughout Sanger’s tenure as editor-in-chief of the BCR. Members of the 1929 U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly refused to discuss birth control with Sanger because they were embarrassed to broach the issue with a woman, or because “[i]t is revolting to interfere in people’s personal affairs” (qtd. in Baker 207). Coventry Patmore’s “angel in the house” lurks behind these sentiments. Women, and especially mothers, were narrativized into timeless, private, and pure beings, a depiction that shaped political policy as much as it did literary aesthetics. These arguments, then, are not so much against birth control as they are against the attempt to bring discussions of maternity and female sexuality into the public sphere. Thereby, this type of argument strives to make the maternal body autonomous by removing it from the public realm of historical and political action and relegating it to the supposedly changeless private home. The modernist conception narrative gives lie to this gesture: disregarding the historical, political, and social situatedness of the maternal body does not make it autonomous, but instead makes it grotesque, distorted, and senseless. Instead of achieving autonomy, the artistic creation (here, the maternal body) becomes nothing more than grotesquely distorted, self-referential solipsism. The narrative I am describing critiques political and aesthetic impulses to make the maternal body autonomous by abstracting it from politics, history, and the public sphere. Vorse, Wellman, and Sanger, this chapter argues, employ autonomy’s doubleness to demonstrate the impossibility of reducing an aestheticized creation to a single, stable meaning outside of messy, mercurial modernity.

Gothic and modernist influences To exemplify the overlap between birth control politics and modernist aesthetics that I have thus far sketched, I begin with a discussion of Rita Wellman’s “On the Dump” alongside selected

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examples of non-fiction in the Birth Control Review. “On the Dump” appears in the December 1918 issue of the BCR. Set in the outskirts of a tenement neighborhood, the story begins as the protagonist, Mrs. Robinson, is walking home from the store with bread for her family’s dinner. Distracted by the sight of something sparkling on the dump heap, Mrs. Robinson thinks of her wedding ring (“real diamonds were too expensive so they chose one produced by science” (7)), which then leads to thoughts of her disintegrating marriage, recently discovered pregnancy, and weary resignation to the increased poverty a new baby will bring. As she contemplates her life of ceaseless work, pain, and despair, Mrs. Robinson comes to the conclusion that “the prize of life” is death (7). She then loses her footing on a slippery, “obscene” corset and slides down the dump toward a river below, barely managing to catch hold of a tree stump on the way. But then, feeling that “some strap in her mind had loosened” and realizing that death would be an end to the “nausea and torture and work, forever and ever,” she lets go of the stump. Mrs. Robinson realizes too late that she does not want to die this way and calls out for help, but her pleas go unanswered and she drowns in the river (7). The story concludes with an alternate, synchronous ending in which a birth control reformer answers Mrs. Robinson’s pleas for help. In a gothic twist reminiscent of zombie lore, the second ending effectively brings Mrs. Robinson back from the dead. The gothic elements in this narrative are not incidental. Interplay between gothic and modernist elements occurs frequently within the narratives of the BCR. The overlap between gothic and modernist aesthetics has been convincingly detailed by John Paul Riquelme, Andrew Smith, Jeff Wallace, and David Punter, among others.2 Rather than repeat their lists, I focus on two overlapping thematic concerns. As I have already begun to explain, the modernist conception narrative bears traces of the gothic obsession with doubling and employs the gothic tradition of invoking ideology to critique it. As Riquelme describes this tradition, the gothic aesthetic “is frequently a vehicle for staging and challenging ideological thinking rather than a means of furthering it” (588). Similarly, the invocation of autonomy, rather than serving to promote autonomy as a goal to be achieved, functions as a warning against the kind of solipsism it can engender. In the narratives in the Birth Control Review, as in many gothic texts, this critique is brought about

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through the frequent use of doubling, uncanny automatons, and other characters who make it difficult to distinguish between death and life. Through repeated and undesired childbirth, women’s bodies in the modernist conception narrative take on a life of their own, reproducing “hordes of unwanted children” (a term that appears frequently in the BCR) that bring on poverty, ignorance, and war. As I will demonstrate, the aesthetic object—here the maternal body—is not disengaged but rather usurped by repressive political forces. The resultant narrative is one at odds with the traditional maternal narrative. Instead of childbirth being a fitting conclusion to a justly lived life, in Wellman’s story it signifies “facing death” and neverending work. By preventing women from becoming inevitably (and incessantly) mothers, birth control disrupts the traditional narrative of maternity. Ironically, then, Mrs. Robinson’s suicide is a fitting reprisal of the “self-sacrifice” performed by Patmore’s angel. As such, this new narrative struggles against residual, glorified, nineteenthcentury ideas of maternity, ideas that endeavor to make the maternal body autonomous. The horror that gives lie to Patmore’s vision of motherhood is palpable in the narratives of involuntary motherhood throughout the BCR. Sanger’s own essays in the magazine characterize the maternal body as a “breeding machine” and “dumb instrument,” descriptions that are also characteristic of the modernist obsession with mechanization (“Woman”). Modernism’s distinct influence on the rhetoric of Sanger’s birth control movement is due to reasons both general and specific. First, the concerns of literary modernism—the questions asked, ideas championed, and values held—were salient throughout the educated Anglo-American world at the turn of the twentieth century. Modernism and the birth control movement were responses to much the same social, political, and cultural milieu: both movements had roots in New York City, both were responses to (and attempts to take advantage of) radical social upheavals, and both were influenced by thinkers such as Freud, Nietzsche, and Darwin. Second, and more specifically, Margaret Sanger hailed from New York’s avant-garde community. Raised in Corning, New York, Sanger moved to the city with her first husband, William Sanger, and their three young children. In these early years, both parents were active in anarchist and socialist groups. She was later a vital part of the Heterodoxy Club and Mabel Dodge’s salon, where

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she mingled with artists and radicals such as Djuna Barnes, Carl Van Vechten, and Alfred Stieglitz (Barnet 139–46). Even among Dodge’s coterie, Sanger was seen as a revolutionary, preaching open relationships, “sex-expression,” and the role of contraception in female liberation (Baker 62–3).3 Mary Heaton Vorse, whose story “The Magnet” will be discussed later, was among the literary figures moving in this progressive set. Vorse, a founding member of “that Greenwich Village nursery of modern feminism, the remarkable Heterodoxy Club” as biographer Dee Garrison describes it, grew up in a wealthy New England family, which she rejected in favor of the avant-garde artist communities in Paris and New York (xiii). Garrison explains that Vorse later became an ardent labor activist and journalist, often focusing on the plight of poor women and children (her involvement with the birth control movement is thus a logical extension of her journalism). Along with her many news articles, Vorse wrote hundreds of short stories, and published sixteen books and two plays. Rita Wellman, too, often wrote in genres other than fiction. In truth, she is better known as a playwright than a fiction writer. As a member of the Provincetown Players, the loose-knit group of playwrights and theater supporters co-founded by Susan Glaspell in 1915, Wellman saw four of her plays produced by the group. In 1918, her play The Gentle Wife opened on Broadway. Despite her obvious talent as a playwright, Wellman soon turned her attention away from the theater and began publishing novels, short stories, and non-fiction works (Barlow 8–9). Although Sanger’s affiliations with radical, avant-garde figures such as Vorse, Wellman, and Dodge waned over time, Sanger stayed connected with liberal-minded communities throughout her years as a nurse (her profession) and later as an activist. While working as a nurse in New York City in the 1910s, Sanger saw firsthand the squalid living conditions of the city’s laboring communities who could not afford to support more children. Abstinence, as Sanger and the women in these communities knew, was not a feasible option for birth control. Besides Sanger’s personal belief that “sex-expression” was necessary for healthy adults, she also saw that these women could not have stopped their husbands from sleeping with them even if they wanted to. Sanger claims that these experiences launched her into a life of advocacy despite her scant knowledge of or training for it (Autobiography 86–92).

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Eventually, her advocacy became centered on publishing, editing, and writing for her own little magazines. Her primary aim revolved around amending the Comstock Act to at least allow physicians to prescribe birth control. The little magazines edited, published, and often financed by Sanger conscientiously merged artistic texts with propaganda. The Birth Control Review, the second magazine run by Sanger, began in 1917 and did not cease publication until 1940 (though Sanger stepped down from the position of chief editor in 1929). The BCR was a non-profit organization and had a circulation of 15,000 by 1924 (Autobiography 392). The first of Sanger’s two periodicals, Woman Rebel, closed in 1915 after only one year due to charges of obscenity under the Comstock Act. To avoid a similar fate for the BCR, the magazine eschewed explicit discussions of contraception. Instead, it worked to gain support for the cause, which could—and eventually did—result in the loosening of the Comstock Act.4 Although the magazine’s primary concern was political, its editors also deliberately positioned it as an artistic endeavor. Between 1918 and 1921 the editorial staff included several art editors. Moreover, the second issue of the BCR, from March 1917, contains a letter from a reader that states, “I have just read the first number of the Birth Control Review. It is brilliant. It is artistic with the restraint all real art shows. And it is convincing” (Hope 16). The inclusion of this note within the second issue implies that the magazine’s editors agreed with—and wanted to promote—the idea of the magazine as an artistic as well as political endeavor. The reader had good reason to call the first issue “artistic,” a label the magazine continued to embrace in subsequent issues. The March 1917 issue emblazons the lines “Stone walls do not a prison make,/Nor iron bars a cage” from Richard Lovelace’s “To Althea, From Prison” (“Stone Walls” 3). This same issue also features a pen and ink drawing titled “Breeding Men for Battle” followed by a fictional vignette by Olive Schreiner. Another typical issue, September 1919, features a “One-Act Play of Negro Life” by Mary Burrill and a short story by Angelina W. Grimke. Many artists published works in the Birth Control Review at the same time that they published in magazines like The Masses, The New Republic, The Modernist, and The Crisis. The inclusion of stories, plays, and poetry tapered off in the later years of the magazine, but formed a significant part of each issue throughout the 1920s

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(Capo 149). Viewing the BCR through a literary as well as political lens highlights the aesthetic—instead of only propagandistic— qualities of the poems, drawings, and stories in the magazine, which emphasizes the degree to which this magazine was an artistic creation rather than a neutral scientific conversation (the ostensible aim).5 At a fundamental level, the narratives in the Birth Control Review demonstrate the ways in which art can dispel the idea of a unified, objective self. In these narratives, psychic disintegration manifests in the body of an incessantly pregnant woman who, to use James Joyce’s words from another context, cannot “keep body and soul together” (qtd. in Wallace 111). If the pregnant body is often characterized as a site of hybridity (in that it is both hers and not hers; the fetus is living and yet not fully alive), involuntary motherhood in the modernist conception narrative goes further still by literalizing that hybridity. The body operates independently of the mind but the two are still yoked together in an ostensibly, uncannily, recognizable person. This hybridity is not immediately apparent in Wellman’s “On the Dump” but rather develops over the course of the narrative through a series of linguistic processes that reveal the body’s autonomy. The first sign of such aesthetically developed autonomy occurs when we are told that some “strap” came loose in Mrs. Robinson’s mind. This mental slippage happens just before her foot slips on the corset on the dump heap, so, here, body and mind are in accord, but not for long. The loosening strap reveals the extent to which Mrs. Robinson’s mind has lost control over the body. A corset, an article of clothing that straps in the female body in an attempt to shrink the waistline, can be seen as regulating and minimizing the so-called excesses of the female body, including the swelling belly of pregnancy. But the straps have come loose; Mrs. Robinson’s mind does not have the ability to contain the body’s autonomous will to reproduce excessive numbers of children. Through this process of “unstrapping” the body, Wellman imaginatively closes off the body’s animation from the mind’s control. In line with a tradition of “Gothic modernism” identified by Jeff Wallace, this narrative features a “diagnosis of a failure of life, the signaling of lack or absence” (122). Importantly, however, it is only one aspect of life that has failed: Mrs. Robinson, like

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all women figured in the modernist conception narrative, loses (control of) her physical life paradoxically because the maternal body has too much life and her mind lacks the ability to control it. As a contributor to the Birth Control Review puts it, involuntary motherhood is a “curse” that leaves the woman “blank, empty, a grey automaton, a mere shell” (Hoyt 11). These automaton bodies still cook, clean, and reproduce, but the woman’s mind has nothing to do with it. Nor does male sexuality play a role. The bodies reproduce, not men and women together. The vitalistic functioning of Mrs. Robinson’s body begins to develop early in the story, indeed even before the linguistic unstrapping of the body. We are told Mrs. Robinson had hoped to prevent pregnancy through“little inherited wisdoms”(7), presumably contraceptive methods that the women in her community whisper among themselves. In other words, she attempted to use knowledge to control her body but failed. Wellman enhances this dissociation between mind and body when, in free indirect discourse, Mrs. Robinson thinks, “there was always another [child] growing within her body, the body that must care for the living child, the body that must clean and cook for those running around, the body that must always be at the disposal of her husband” (7). “Her” body becomes “the” body, an organism that runs on its own. Through language, then, the body becomes self-animated. The repetitive quality of this excerpt is worth comment as it is not the only instance of repetition in the story. In the initial ending, Mrs. Robinson slips into the river but begins to second-guess her decision: “She was choking. She wanted air. Help! There was no one to help. What was that word? Science. Science . . . Funny word. Meant something. And then down again. Peace. Peace and Death. Thank God!” (10). Mrs. Robinson’s vacillations seem to end with acceptance of and relief from suicide, though it is plausible to read her repetition of certain words as indicating a lack of control, an “inability to stop imitating, stop repeating, stop watching, but also an attempt to retain or gain control” (Riquelme 599). That “science” should figure into an attempt to regain control is key. Earlier in the story, Mrs. Robinson remembers the day she and her husband bought her wedding ring: “The young man who had sold it to them had said something about science. The real diamonds were too expensive so they chose one produced by science. Mrs. Robinson always remembered that. Her diamond and science? It

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had seemed very important” (7). Thus the seemingly odd inclusion of “science” in her last moments is actually part of a refrain in her thought patterns. On a political level, repetition of “science” implies that a lack of birth control prevents Mrs. Robinson from bringing her body back under her mind’s control. On an aesthetic level, Mrs. Robinson’s fixation on the word “science” encourages us to see the materiality of language. With each repetition of “science,” the word becomes more absurd. The first reference connects it to a definite object—a ring—though Mrs. Robinson cannot explain why, exactly, science seems important in this context. In the later instance, immediately preceding her drowning, the word science has lost all connection to its signified and is now simply a sound, a “funny word” that used to mean “something.” The emphasis shifts from the word’s meaning to its materiality. Science, once “something” that could help Mrs. Robinson participate in the traditional narrative of romance, is iterated into a free-floating, autonomous signifier. Combined, the aesthetic and political significances of “science” open up a space to read the story as a comment on the role of language and narratives in political discourse. Because “science” is disconnected from any particular political, social, or cultural meaning, it is useless to prevent Mrs. Robinson’s dissociation of mind and body. We can see here how the modernist conception narrative complicates aesthetic autonomy by depicting the arbitrariness of language—the ability of a word to become detached from the concept—as a potential moral failure rather than liberating playfulness (as Gertrude Stein might have it). In debates over reproductive rights, then as now, linguistic uncertainty figures as trouble rather than potential. Discussions of abortion often boil down to a single question: is a fetus also a person, and how do we know for sure? The answer to this linguistic quandary would seem to solve the debate, but the question points to its own unanswerability. Language here is incapable of expressing the liminal status of a fetus (particularly since the characteristics of that status are constantly changing as the woman’s term progresses), and with it the impossibility of fixing the fetus’s right or claim to life. The same questions—what is life? what is value? how can we tell alive from dead, blessing from curse, waste from woman?—operate within debates about birth control. Consider, for instance, the relevance of the question “what is life?” in the debate surrounding the emergency contraceptive Plan B. For some

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individuals, Rob Stein notes, Plan B blurs “the line between abortion and birth control” because various factions question “whether the drug could prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb.” In other words, Plan B raises questions over when life begins (at fertilization? implantation? birth?). As for questions about value and human waste, consider Rush Limbaugh’s comments in 2012 about birth control activist Sandra Fluke. Limbaugh sparked a firestorm of debate concerning the way society views women who take birth control. The terms he used to describe Fluke—“slut” and “prostitute”—implicitly shift Fluke out of the imagined category of “mother” (Limbaugh claimed that “mothers who use contraception” is an illogical and non-existent phenomenon) and into the category of women valued only for sex (he suggested that women who receive birth control with no copay should have to post videos of their sexual encounters online for everyone to watch). While commentators in the mainstream generally condemned these comments, most of the radio stations that carried Limbaugh’s show continue to do so (Friedersdorf). Because questions of categorization are central to debates over reproductive rights, they are intimately connected with the linguistic uncertainty that forms a major part of the modernist literary aesthetic.

Linguistic iteration and political discourse Linguistic iteration, understood in this light, can undermine more than just the idea of a coherent self. If linguistic iteration functioned in “On the Dump” to show Mrs. Robinson’s inability to control her own body, in Vorse’s “The Magnet” it reveals the mind’s inability to control or even understand the grand narratives and institutions that benefit from the reproductions of the vitalist maternal body. As the opening paragraph of this chapter describes, Vorse’s “The Magnet” is the story of a ten-year-old boy dealing with the realities of unwanted pregnancy. The story opens with Tony Telura pondering the wonders of a magnet. He is interrupted by two neighbor girls who tease him because his mother is always crying. The reason for her tears is twofold: first, she is pregnant, and second, her husband is not working due to a labor lockout.

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(The poverty of the characters in this and Wellman’s story is central to the modernist conception narrative in ways I will return to.) One of the girls exclaims, “Babies is awful any time, but in lockouts, Jeze! they’s fierce” (8). Soon thereafter, Tony’s mother goes into labor. Tony, in bed in another room, spends the night listening to screams “like nothing human, rending the night, rending him” (8). His father is thrown into a different, but no less terrifying, state by the new baby. Desperate for work and facing eviction, Robert Telura hits upon an awful idea. “There are asylums for orphans,” he thinks, “widows with week old babies—are taken care of” (16). Seeing this as the only way to provide for his family, the elder Telura shoots himself. Since Mrs. Telura is reduced to a comatose shell at the story’s close, Tony is actually fatherless and essentially motherless. Nevertheless, Tony’s magnet, a symbol of science and wonder, provides a faint sliver of hope. As Tony places a nail a little distance from the magnet, the nail, we are told, “leaped the gap” (16). The absence of Tony’s parents creates an emotional gap in his own life, but the science of birth control, this story implies, can prevent such a gap in others’ lives. The future implied by this narrowly hopeful ending is no help for the Teluras. Tony’s mother changes in an instant from “wife” to “widow,” but this new label, thought by Robert Telura to be salvation, only serves to devalue her and her children. The family’s priest tells them he will do the best he can for the family, but the four children are “too young to be adopted easily—not old enough to work” (16), implying that society values orphans for their labor potential. The shift from “wife” to “widow” and “child” to “orphan” happens in an instant and, though the people labeled by these words are essentially the same, their places in society are radically different. Vorse reinforces this linguistic shiftiness with her deft use of homonymy. “Father” becomes uncoupled from its signified, switching from “priest” to “male parent” to an unidentifiable referent. When the priest arrives at the Telura apartment, a neighbor asks, “What are you going to do, Father?” (16). Not only does this question signal another possible significance for the word “father”; it also indicates that this is the male figure who will make decisions for the Telura family. The role of head of the household is displaced from Robert Telura to the local priest.

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The significance of “father” is further troubled when Vorse, six short sentences later, shifts the definition back to “male parent” by stating, “Tony stood between the room where his father lay under the sheet and the room where his mother lay in bed staring at nothing” (16). The meaning of “father,” already loosened, is completely detached by the subsequent sentence. Tony thinks, “Where had his father gone?” (16). Staring at his father while thinking these words, the boy is depicted as being immersed in linguistic uncertainty brought on in the first place by the slippery significance of words like “life” and “value.” The inability to know, which is attendant upon an inability to categorize, is thereby invoked through linguistic iteration. The stories by Wellman and Vorse question the boundaries between the civilized and savage (what kind of civilization makes its people disposable?), life and death (is Mrs. Telura’s numbness all that different from Mr. Telura’s death?), natural and unnatural (how natural is an unwanted creature invading a woman’s body?). By removing women from the public sphere, the drive to keep women autonomous stifles their participation in the legal and moral discussion of such questions and thus makes them (and their families) vulnerable to the grotesque punishment of incessant pregnancy as depicted in the BCR. Linguistic iteration, the repetition with variation as I have discussed it here, is a kind of doubleness. As previously mentioned, these stories are part of a modernist literary tradition that questions aesthetic autonomy by using a technique Peter Nicholls refers to as “doubleness,” showing that what is thought to be other is actually the same. Doubleness is, of course, a key aspect of the gothic as well, and gothic aesthetics complicate the modernist conception narrative by invoking the reverse of Nicholls’s formulation, so that what seems the same turns out to be other. Indeed, the husbands in these stories can be read as exemplars of “the doubled men of Gothic fiction,” what DuPlessis describes as the “bland nice man who is unmasked as the villain, cruel moody man who is revealed as the hero” (45). Mrs. Robinson and her husband were once in love, and Mrs. Telura once laughed as often as she now cries, but the constant cycle of pregnancy turns husbands into villains, marriage into violence, and lovers into inadvertent murderers. Since these stories do not displace the gothic into foreign, exotic lands but rather modernize the narrative, the characters represent our mothers, husbands, and marriages.

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The apparent nonsense of this kinship system is Tony Telura’s chief concern, which leads him to ask unanswerable questions: “What made us be born? People got married and then had babies— but why . . . none of them could tell him—why. No one knew …. Tony asked how it all began in school. They couldn’t answer him there” (16). These questions signal a nascent distrust in traditional kinship systems such as marriage and family, but more importantly Tony’s inability to find answers implies that perhaps they do not exist. This story undermines stable identities, narratives, and morals, leaving answers rooted in such ideas in the lurch. Consider, for instance, the open awareness of human waste in this story. Even the children recognize that additional babies are unwanted. The vitalist body, incessantly reproducing human waste, is nonsense—inexplicable, illogical, and unnatural. That does not mean, however, that it is value-neutral. Through this narrative, the children produced by the vitalist body become tools for oppressive systems. Each new pregnancy exacerbates the Robinsons’ and Teluras’ poverty, and the Telura children seem destined for economic servitude. Whereas Wellman’s “On the Dump” is shaped by the tragedy of human waste, Vorse’s “The Magnet” portrays characters who live with the daily reminder that some people are disposable. The casualness with which the children talk about unwanted people implies that this is a familiar, even routine, reality. Human waste, in this latter story, is emptied of the tragic overtones Wellman attaches to it. Vorse’s story, then, falls in line with modernist-gothic tales that Smith and Wallace identify as having a “fascination with the potential erosion of moral value, and with the forms that amorality can take” (3). The modernist conception narrative here deploys the trope of disposable people to demonstrate the various types of amorality that exist in politics, law, and economics.

Poverty in the BCR Amorality hinges on a similar fulcrum in the non-fiction of the BCR: that of a woman’s inability to prevent the transformation of her body into an autonomous, mechanical organism. In Sanger’s words, the vitalist maternal body “grind[s] out a humanity which fills insane asylums, almshouses and sweatshops, and provides

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cannon fodder that tyrants may rise to power on the sacrifice of her offspring” (“Woman”). More often than not in the pages of the BCR, the lower classes generate this human waste. Although the desire for birth control spans across all classes, marital statuses, and attitudes toward motherhood, the BCR frames the issue as one of class by foregrounding the plight of poor women. The characterization of unwanted maternity as a curse linked to poverty is echoed throughout the BCR. The second issue, March 1917, proclaims, “Birth-control provides a most natural and effective means for the reduction of poverty, with its disease, vice and crime, and for the production of a superior race” (“Capital Resolutions”).6 Here, as elsewhere, poverty is linked with inferiority. The poor mother, already marked by her monstrous maternal body, becomes doubly stigmatized because her poverty makes her unfit to have more children until (or unless) she is able to escape poverty. Implicitly, the issue is also an aesthetic one. The combination of the gothic with poverty produces a particularly unsettling aesthetic. Poor women’s bodies are narrativized into abundantly alive organisms that continually produce hoards of inferior creatures. Reading the BCR for any length of time leaves one with the impression that poor women are a wretched sort of halfhuman creature. Their fecundity marks them as closer to nature, to death, and to their animal instincts than any middle- or upper-class counterpart. To be fair, the BCR argued that everyone, regardless of income, should postpone parenthood until both parents are financially and emotionally “fit.”7 Further, the BCR occasionally printed materials that suggest class is mutable and not innate, such as the story of “Mrs. F” who could not afford to have children until her husband finished dental school, which implies that her poverty is temporary (“Do Women” 80). Nevertheless, the dominant narrative in the magazine links poverty with inferiority, dehumanizing poor women who continue to have children they cannot afford while granting affluent women more latitude in their family planning decisions by virtue of their increased wealth. This narrative thus fights for the rights of poor women by appealing to elitist stereotypes of the poor as socially determined subjects, inferior creatures in need of help from the more enlightened upper classes. In this paradox, we can see that Sanger’s narrative is doubled, and, interestingly, that its rhetorical persuasiveness derives in part from the fact that the narrative escapes

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any single, fixed meaning. It simultaneously appeals to divergent audiences, reflecting the turn-of-the-century cultural shift by paying homage to both radical and conservative aims. Nevertheless, as revolutionary as Sanger’s ideas about birth control might have been at the time, the BCR does not extend this activist zeal to other feminist causes. The magazine does not, for instance, take up the argument that poverty would be alleviated by less unemployment and underemployment, or by alternative child care arrangements that would free up women’s time. Rather, the BCR reduced the issue of poverty to the need to control the body and its narratives. The rhetoric of the birth control movement was not always connected to such a limited discourse. As mentioned, Sanger in her early days as an activist argued that birth control offered a way to free women from what she called “sex-bondage” (“Woman” 5). Implicit in this argument is the idea that motherhood should be voluntary—that women should be able to renounce motherhood entirely should they so choose, even as they enjoy the pleasures of sex. This idea drastically undercut the traditional notions of family and woman (since “mother” could not be automatically linked to “woman” as an eventuality). As the movement grew, however, the rhetoric moved away from this radical ideology of sex and increasingly aligned birth control with eugenics. Given the spirit of independence in much of the BCR’s rhetoric, it might seem incongruous that the movement embraced a paternalistic ideology of eugenics, a point Sanger’s critics hasten to make. Indeed, the narrative of the vitalist maternal body— deployed throughout the BCR—makes overt the consequences of a lack of autonomy, as well as the oppressive uses to which the vitalist body’s reproductions can be put. Yet in a turn that echoes totalitarian politics, Sanger’s definition of “freedom” also seems to signify control, particularly for the already oppressed women of lower classes. But the idea of doubleness shows that the eugenic turn is not all that incongruous or paradoxical. Rather, the BCR deploys a narrative that is doubled: it overtly argues against the waste of human life, but implicitly argues that unwanted pregnancies happen to poor, degenerate women. This implicit argument opens the door for eugenics without commanding a change of the explicit argument. The BCR’s embrace of the “progress” promised by eugenics is unexpectedly logical since it is rational, in this context,

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that “individual liberty” would double back on itself to become “state control.” Important to my argument is the fact that this rhetorical doubling happened despite many of Sanger’s intentions. Indeed, Sanger was sometimes dismayed by the direction the movement’s rhetoric took, particularly in the later years of her involvement. A conference she organized in 1925 provides a telling example. While organizing the event, the Sixth International Neo-Malthusian and Birth Control Conference, Sanger deliberately encouraged the participation of eugenics experts. The conference was well attended and received heavy press coverage, but nevertheless demonstrated Sanger’s inability to control her own creation. Biographer Jean H. Baker explains: The conference represented a high point of Sanger’s advocacy, though her courting of the eugenicists backfired. On the last day the conference voted for a resolution favoring ‘the general eugenic idea,’ and encouraging larger families among the ‘persons whose progeny gives promise of being of decided value to the community.’ For years Sanger had vehemently opposed such a position. Now she must either offend her principal supporters—a member of her advisory board, Dr. Roswell Johnson, had introduced the resolution—or surrender her convictions …. the woman rebel of an earlier decade learned a painful lesson on how realized ambitions bred caution, and success encouraged diplomacy. (193)8 Ultimately, then, the narrative got away from Sanger before she had a chance to realize what was happening. Doubleness—that uncanny slippage between same and other—made a successful event also a “painful lesson.” Thus, Claire M. Roche’s declaration, referenced at the beginning of this chapter, that Sanger “was either unable or unwilling to recognize the complicated nature of the association” between eugenics and birth control is at least partly true. Sanger could not have anticipated the direction her early, tentative alignment with eugenics would ultimately take, nor does it seem this supremely confident and independent woman would be willing to acknowledge the possibility that the movement’s narrative could be written without her. Without question, the movement’s eugenic turn is troubling from our modern perspective. Yet critics like Angela Franks who

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believe that Sanger championed “an ideology ultimately destructive of the ideals of female liberation” (8) understate the importance of birth control. Access to female-controlled contraception is an extraordinary advance for the feminist cause because it allows women individual choice in reproductive matters. Further, Sanger was fighting against powerful social forces, and had she not cloaked her rhetoric in dramatic language the movement might have been delayed by decades or longer. But this advance did come at a heavy cost, particularly because this way of framing the debate appears in an ostensibly feminist publication. One goal of this chapter has been to illuminate such messy political slippages in an attempt to better understand them. Examining gothic and modernist influences demonstrates the utility of doubleness as a lens through which to understand the movement’s rhetoric. As discussed, the movement’s narrative took on a life of its own, but so, too, did Sanger’s legacy: she is variously seen today as a champion of feminist causes and the founder of a movement that is “destructive to the ideals of female liberation.” In a sense, then, the narrative that is Sanger’s life has become vitalist, spawning limitless variations, often without regard for the woman herself. In the version of Sanger’s life I have told here, we can see shades of the system builder, the modernist idea of the artist as an architect who builds frames to organize the chaos of modern life. Yet the artist’s system invariably fails: W.B. Yeats declares that “the centre cannot hold” (189); T.S. Eliot is left with only “these fragments I have shored against my ruins” (The Waste Land 431); and Ezra Pound, at the end of the Cantos, laments that he “cannot make it cohere” (816). So rather than seeing Margaret Sanger as either hypocritical or elitist, as much of the scholarship does, perhaps we are better off thinking of Sanger as a system builder who could not make the center hold, a person trying to control an ultimately uncontrollable narrative. And rather than thinking of modernism as either apolitical or engaged, the narratives at the intersection of modernism and the birth control movement re-focus the conversation about autonomy by delivering a nuanced and nightmarish version of it. The narratives studied here deliver a modernist view of the daily world that is not a simple rejection of autonomy but rather a re-working of the concept, a new way of seeing modernist aesthetics that moves beyond the fight between engagement and

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autonomy. The modernist conception narrative instead shows how autonomy’s doubleness obscures the political ramifications of the desire to abstract “Woman” from the realm of politics and ethics. Narratives constructed and disseminated by birth control activists also inform the following chapter. Moving across the Atlantic to examine Sanger’s British counterpart, Marie Stopes, this chapter continues my consideration of modernism’s lasting influence on the birth control movement’s construction of the female body. Whereas Sanger’s devotion to birth control activism dominated all other pursuits in her life, Stopes was a passionate—if critically unsuccessful—artist who wrote hundreds of poems in addition to her writing related to reproductive rights. This artistic sensibility suffuses her propaganda, making her work particularly illuminating in regard to the overlap between modernism and the nascent birth control movement.

2 “God spoke with me to-day”: Prophecy, The Waste Land, and Marie Stopes

In the first decades of the twentieth century, activists on both sides of the Atlantic predicted momentous changes if women gained easy access to contraception, but few were as exuberant as Marie Stopes.1 Economist Irving Fisher commented that “birth control is today the greatest new factor affecting the future character of the human race” (qtd. in “Eugenists Uphold”), and physician William J. Robinson said there is “no other single measure that would so positively, so immediately contribute towards the happiness and progress of the human race” (qtd. in Engelman 35). Yet even these predictions seem conservative by comparison to Stopes’s. She believed birth control held the power to change the very fabric of humanity: it would eliminate unhappy marriages, cure cancer, and, most strikingly, bring about a race of god-like humans. According to Stopes, who held a doctorate in paleobotany, eugenically applied birth control would “bring forth an entirely new type of human creature, stepping into a future so beautiful, so full of the real joy of self-expression and understanding that we here today may look upon our grandchildren and think only that the gods have descended to walk upon the earth” (qtd. in Garrett xlvi). Stopes styled her public persona in the vein of a modernist prophet, positioning England as a dysgenic wasteland and herself as a prophet whose message of birth control would save the British population from itself. This persona would seem to corroborate the account of modernism and religion offered by Pericles Lewis.2 Lewis argues

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that growing doubts about traditional Christian doctrine—brought on by the familiar actors, such as Darwin and Nietzsche, as well as not so familiar ones, such as historically minded Biblical scholars— caused artists to search for a “substitute to religion,” something that would allow them to continue to probe “traditional religious questions about the human condition, the nature of historical experience, sexuality, death, and ultimate realities” (“Religion” 20).3 For Stopes, birth control was the substitute religion, the alternate prism through which to view modern life. To Lewis’s credit, his discussion of religion in modernity addresses the work of several women writers, but these women generally come up as additional examples of an already identified aesthetic of a male writer. This method of analysis, one that is all too common, presupposes that women’s experiences of modernity occurred in lock-step with men’s. Similarities exist, but so do stark differences. The rapid social, economic, and technological changes of modernity were often experienced by men as a loss of control and authority, whereas many women felt they represented opportunities to exert greater control over their lives. As Anne E. Fernald argues, “work on women writers abounds but definitions of modernist studies consistently neglect or underserve women” (230). Indeed, Lewis’s discussion of religion appears in a book—A Companion to Modernist Literature and Culture—that claims to provide a “broad grounding in the essential texts and contexts of the modernist movement” (“Description”). In a similar vein, we might consider Leon Surette’s The Birth of Modernism: Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats, and the Occult. Surette’s emphasis on aesthetic autonomy, which he claims to be the “echt modernist principle” (3), can be read as indicative of a failure to take adequate account of female modernists when defining the movement. The very idea that art can be detached from or antecedent to history and politics is one predicated on the artist as male. For, as Sowon S. Park has demonstrated, aesthetic autonomy “requires the writer to have an aesthetic knowledge of the world that comes from detachment,” and “women’s writing and political engagement have always been evidently mutually dependent” (172). Thus, greater attention to female modernists in Surette’s study would likely have led to a revised definition of modernism (a de-emphasis on autonomy) and a necessarily different picture of the relationship between modernism and the occult. It is my contention that we need a better account of

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how modern women experienced the changing ideas about religion in the early twentieth century, a fuller picture of the “substitute religions” available to them and what these substitutions can teach us about literary modernism. By focusing on Marie Stopes’s use of prophecy, this chapter allows us to see how analyses of modernism centered on male authors and their relationships to religion overlook a key aspect of the way many women experienced modernity. I argue that Stopes’s writing on birth control exhibits an overtly female engagement with the themes, tropes, and issues that constitute T.S. Eliot’s modernist masterpiece, The Waste Land (1922). Of principal interest is the section “A Game of Chess,” with its account of a failed sexual encounter and depiction of a woman exhausted by excessive pregnancies. Stopes’s texts, principally the Birth Control News (BCN) between 1922 and 1924 and her essay A New Gospel for All the People (19224), create an image of early twentieth-century England as a wasteland that bears a striking resemblance to Eliot’s more famous depiction of it. Although Stopes’s narratives fall far short of the aesthetic virtuosity Eliot displays in The Waste Land, both The Birth Control News and A New Gospel display Stopes’s rhetorical prowess, that is, her skills of persuasion and propaganda, which make them valuable documents for the ways in which they help nuance our understanding of the relationship between women, modernity, and religion. In the first part of this chapter, I discuss how both writers construct narratives wherein incoherence—in the sense of disintegration and unintelligibility—causes England to be a wasteland: an incoherent population (racially, intellectually, and physically diverse), incoherent people (fractured identities and subjectivities), and incoherent relationships between men and women (in which people fail to connect emotionally), make modernity a chaotic wasteland of emotional discontentment and cultural degradation. In the latter part of this chapter, I demonstrate that Stopes and Eliot both posit artistry and language as the best available means for constructing a conceptual framework to control the chaos of modernity. But whereas The Waste Land implicitly positions control and coherence as masculine attributes needed to shield against the “feminine” chaos of modernity, Stopes’s prophetic narrative of birth control provides an important counterbalance by asserting a distinctly female control over the body as well as the narrative of modernity.5 By inserting the discourse of birth control into the modernist aesthetic, Stopes’s

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narrative shows us that the male-centered, high modernist tradition obscures the extent to which control and coherence formed the basis of a substitute religion available to modern women. Stopes considered herself an author, poet, and playwright of the first caliber (although most scholars disagree). She wrote several plays, one novel, and hundreds of poems. Stopes’s vision of herself as a prophet appears throughout her works, but A New Gospel offers the clearest distillation of it. Meanwhile, the Birth Control News is relevant primarily because it targeted other birth control advocates. Her books, such as Married Love (1918) and Wise Parenthood (1918), had great popular appeal. Nevertheless, the newspaper is more appropriate for analysis in this context because it provides a recurring account of the rhetoric aimed at birth control initiates, the people most likely to duplicate and disseminate Stopes’s narrative. Although A New Gospel and the Birth Control News are packaged as factual accounts, both can be read as fictions that develop a carefully constructed narrative that bears traces of modernist influence. That Stopes’s rhetoric should be influenced by modernist aesthetics is not surprising when we consider her intimate awareness of the people and ideas circulating within the movement. At various times throughout her life, Stopes came into contact with modernist writers. She knew quite well the work of Eliot and Ezra Pound, whose editing of The Waste Land famously shaped the poem into the work as we know it today. Mutual interest in Japanese Nô plays brought Stopes and Pound into the same orbit.6 Early in her career, Stopes spent two years in Japan as part of her work in paleobotany. While there, she became enamored of Japanese theater. Along with Jôji Sakurai, she produced Plays of Old Japan: The “Nô” (1913), one of the earliest translations of Nô theater into English. Pound and Stopes were certainly aware of each other’s work in this realm and they may have corresponded regarding it. In a 1914 letter to Harriet Monroe, Pound obliquely references the translation done by Stopes and Sakurai (Letters 69). Moreover, after the publication of Pound’s translation, Stopes, in a letter to a friend, claimed that he asked her to collaborate on a project regarding the plays and that she refused on the grounds that his understanding of the works was incomplete (Ewick). At some point later, Stopes began to follow Eliot’s career. Christina Hauck notes that Stopes attended the opening night of his play Family Reunion on March 21, 1939, and suggests that Stopes’s

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play Our Ostriches may have been written in response to The Waste Land (“Through a Glass” 111). In 1950, Stopes penned a letter to the Sunday Times lamenting Eliot’s recent Order of Merit award, stating, “T.S. Eliot misled a number of miniature men by novelty out of harmony with the essence of our national speech” (R. Hall 315). Her dislike notwithstanding, the concerns and experiments of these two high modernists seeped into Stopes’s own writing. Few scholars have seriously considered Stopes’s literary ambitions. (Christina Hauck, whose work I further address below, is an important exception.) Discussion generally focuses on the elitist and eugenic sentiments that course through her writing. As Lesley Hall said in a 2011 speech, “An accusation often hurled at Stopes is that she was a rabid eugenicist, and questions about this almost inevitably crop up when one gives a paper on her (probably even if one gave a paper on her dire poetry this question would come up in discussion)” (n.p.). Conversations about the lasting impact of Stopes’s eugenic beliefs are important, and Jane Carey is right to note that failure to address the birth control movement’s eugenic history would allow it “to become the preserve of contemporary pro-life movements and ‘scholars’, who use it simply to support their anti-contraception agenda” (747). Nevertheless, there is much benefit in considering all the discursive traces in the movement she spearheaded. Stopes almost single-handedly made female sexual pleasure an important public issue. Her 1918 book Married Love argued that marital sex should be pleasurable for men and women, and that female frigidity was often due to a man’s insensitivity to her desires. Biographer Ruth Hall states that, at the time of publication, “when the majority still thought of the sexual side of marriage in terms of man’s ‘rights’ and woman’s ‘duties’, [Married Love] had explosive force” (129). The book was an international success and secured Stopes a wide audience (as well as a fair amount of infamy). It sold 2,000 copies within the first two weeks and more than a million copies by 1939, eventually being translated into a dozen languages (Soloway 211). Hall explains that, in 1935, Married Love was named one of the most influential books of the previous half-century by a panel of American academics; it ranked alongside Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams and Marx’s Das Kapital (128). More than a decade ago, Paul Peppis demonstrated that Married Love should be considered a key modernist text because, in it, Stopes

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developed “new idioms of female sexual experience by adapting established vocabularies, conjoining in different ways scientific and literary language” (564). Specifically, Peppis argues that Married Love represents an attempt to “modernize gender” by merging together “antagonistic, and differently gendered, vocabularies of [feminine] sentimental love and [masculine] rationalist science” (566). Married Love is one of Stopes’s most influential texts, but it is nevertheless a single, early element in Stopes’s oeuvre. Since Peppis’s study, little has been said about Stopes’s longstanding engagement with literary figures and trends. Her staunch support for eugenics is one plausible reason for the scholarly disregard; another is that much of Stopes’s literary output was simply bad, and she was often too egotistical to listen to friends who told her so. For example, when Lord Alfred Douglas tried to steer Stopes away from the florid erotic poetry she favored (“Life’s hot stream of love in me/Floods into the love of thee/Till our throbbings gently cease/Till our breathing is at ease”), Stopes responded with more of the same effusiveness: “surely there can be no good reason why the deep pools of the love experience of the human heart should be denied a poet” (qtd. in R. Hall 285). Yet Stopes’s important role in shaping British modernity is undeniable. Like Margaret Sanger, Stopes was the face of the birth control movement in her country at the beginning of the century. As Richard Soloway puts it, “even her fiercest enemies, and they were legion, never denied her effectiveness as the principle advocate of birth control in Britain during the postwar decade” (220). Many others participated in and shaped the movement, but because of Stopes’s salience, her actions and arguments became conflated with the movement’s and had a lasting impact on its rhetoric. Christina Hauck compellingly demonstrates that Stopes’s position as a well-known and influential activist can tell us much about the origins of literary modernism, even though Stopes publicly derided the movement. Hauck contends that Stopes’s “work as a birth control advocate helps to make sense of the modernist (male) obsession with genealogy—and may even have influenced it . . . her name was virtually synonymous with the crisis in sexual reproduction” brought on by England’s declining birth rate, which crisis Hauck describes “as constituent not only of twentiethcentury life but of modernism itself” (“The Poetry” 40). While not disagreeing with Hauck’s broader claim, this chapter argues that

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the reverse is also true, that Stopes’s writing is, at a fundamental level, influenced by modernism. The result is a prophetic narrative that argues for the importance of control and coherence in the lives of many modern women.

An incoherent wasteland: Eugenics and subjectivity If prophetic writing “is born out of disaster or the threat of disaster, out of the human need to believe in more than destruction” as Louis L. Martz argues, Marie Stopes’s prophetic voice, like Eliot’s, emanates from a population crisis.7 In the late 1870s, demographers began to notice an unprecedented drop in England’s birth rate. According to Richard Soloway, the birth rate in England in 1876 was the highest on record at 36.3 births per thousand. Thereafter, the rate decreased unabated until, in 1901, England recorded just 28.5 births per thousand, the lowest then on record (49). Many theories were proposed and summarily discarded until experts had to admit that the largest causal factor was increasing use of contraceptives (and this use was in turn driven by women’s increasing desire for education, by general economic worries, and by growing public faith in the efficacy and safety of birth control). As Soloway demonstrates, the birth-rate decrease was class-based, with the upper and middle classes producing far fewer children than the lower classes. A census taken in 1911 indicates that fertility among middle- and upper-class couples married in the 1870s and 1880s was 23 percent lower than fertility among couples married in the two decades prior (Soloway 44). This differential birth rate led to widespread fears that the British nation would be overrun by the so-called inferior stock since poor families reproduced at a higher rate. Eliot’s poem both responds to and promulgates fears that link culture with class, thereby suggesting a relationship between poverty and coherence. Namely the poem implies that poverty intensifies the incoherence that is, as we will see, supposedly germane to women. The clearest example of this linkage occurs in “A Game of Chess.” In this well-known section, a woman named Lil sits at a bar discussing her many pregnancies with a friend, explaining that “she’s had five already, and nearly died of young George” (160).8 Lil

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and her friend are depicted as decidedly working-class, uneducated, crass, and dirty. As such, Lil’s many children were likely to invoke contemporary fears of Britain being overrun by inferior progeny of the lower classes. The world of the Birth Control News is similarly rife with descriptions of a eugenically unhealthy British population. The November 1922 issue is typical in its representation of widespread “dysgenic” breeding. The issue includes, for example, an article, “The Cost of Feeble-Minded Children,” which lists the current number of supposedly tubercular, crippled, blind, and feeble-minded children in England and warns of their numbers increasing (1). The corrective measure Stopes advocates most strongly is, of course, eugenic-minded contraception. At base, this measure aims for a more homogenous—we might say coherent—population because it encourages a certain small set of individuals to pass on their genes, while a larger set is discouraged from contributing to the future population. Without these changes, the BCN implies, the British population will continue its undesirable diversification and the crisis of coherence will only get worse, making civilized life scarcer than it already is. An article from the December 1922 issue of the BCN is particularly revealing in this respect. The article, “Constructive Birth Control or Murder—A Lesson from China,” is a review of W. Somerset Maugham’s collection of travel notes and observations, On a Chinese Screen (1922). The article quotes at length from a section of Maugham’s text, in which he investigates a stone tower: It stood on a hillock, quaint and rather picturesque against the blue sky, amid the graves …. Suddenly I understood what the queer little building was. It was a baby tower. The baskets were the baskets in which the babies had been brought . . . The odour was the odour of putrefaction. A lively little boy came up to me while I stood there and made me understand that four babes had been brought to the tower that morning. (2) The baby tower stands over a pit into which women—“grandmother, midwife or obliging friend”—drop unwanted children (2). Comparing England’s society to this particular depiction of Chinese society encourages the idea that the eugenic minority must do something about the dysgenic English masses or risk the gothic reality of a society that casually murders infants. Through articles

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such as this one, the BCN implicitly argues that the supposedly incoherent cultural values of racial others could infect the British population, thereby suggesting that England is degraded by racial mixing. The Waste Land likewise engages eugenic ideas to suggest that the modern population is racially incoherent. Mr. Eugenides is perhaps the most memorable figure of racial othering in The Waste Land. His name, like the term “eugenics,” comes from the Greek words for “good birth” or “good breeding.” The name could be read as purely ironic because he fits into many categories typically deemed dysgenic: by virtue of race (he is from Smyrna9 (line 209)), sexual orientation (he suggests a tryst at a hotel favored by homosexuals (214)), and lack of culture (he is unshaven and speaks vernacular French (210; 212)). Juan Leon has suggested, however, that the name is deceptively accurate since the only sort of “good breeding” that could come from Mr. Eugenides is none, having no offspring, an eventuality accomplished by his homosexuality (173). By turns eugenic and dysgenic, his unintelligibility is a marker of the increasing incoherence—here signifying non-procreative sex—of the British population. The problem of an incoherent population was, for Eliot as for Stopes, a variation of the same problem that caused modern subjectivities to fracture. As Eliot phrased it, the “problem of nationalism and the problem of dissociated personalities may turn out to be the same,” and further argued that “the solution of one is the solution of the other” (“Religion” 112). This idea appeared at the end of a short essay on religion and humanism, but was little more than adumbrated (a point Eliot himself recognized). He did, however, suggest that the modern incoherent subject was both a product and a cause of incoherent societies. At one point he claimed that “analytical psychology . . . can do little except produce monsters; for it is attempting to produce unified individuals in a world without unity,” but then stated, “the social, political, and economic sciences” will inevitably fail to produce “the great society” because they are attempting to do so with “an aggregation of human beings who are not units but merely bundles of incoherent impulses and beliefs” (“Religion” 112). Although he provided no further illumination on the point in this essay, it is plausible to assume from Eliot’s other writings that the unified, great society he had in mind was one based on ethnic, racial, and cultural homogeneity.10

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In The Waste Land, England’s increasingly international population is made to represent this connection between national and individual identity. Indeed, the fragmented, polyglot speaker of the poem becomes metonymic of the incoherent British population and the “hooded hordes” (369) of foreigners migrating across Britain that are poised to exacerbate its incoherence (evoking a fear similar to that found in Stopes’s example of the baby tower). We can see this logic at work in the following passage from “The Burial of the Dead,” which gives voice to at least four different speakers but provides little to no warning of the shift from one to the next: I will show you fear in a handful of dust. Frisch weht der Wind Der Heimat zu, Mein Irisch Kind, Wo weilest du? “You gave me hyacinths first a year ago; They called me the hyacinth girl.” – Yet when we came back, late, from the Hyacinth garden, Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not Speak, and my eyes failed (30–9) The penultimate line of this passage ostensibly identifies the speaker (the “I”) as the man who gave flowers to the hyacinth girl, but, as Michael H. Levenson notes, the specific images and wistful tone of the speaker here jars with the confident, symbolic tone that begins the passage (171). Quotation marks provide a subtle cue that two of these lines are spoken by someone entirely distinct, the hyacinth girl. The lines in German seem unrelated to any of these speakers as they are placed paratactically next to, rather than integrated with, the surrounding lines. In discussing the poem’s discontinuity, Levenson argues that the “heterogeneity of attitude, the variety of tone, do not resolve into the attitudes and tones of an individual personality” (171). This incoherent voice reflects the population’s increasing heterogeneity as well as the unease that comes with being unable to identify the boundaries of the individual. As this example demonstrates, the poem shifts abruptly and often between various speakers: from a German individual of unknown gender, to the hyacinth girl, to a wistful young man. Among others, this poem also contains the voice of a gypsy fortune teller, a barman

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in a public house, a soldier of the First Punic War, and the currant exporter from Smyrna. Thus the poem’s form connects subjective incoherence with the population crisis: reading the poem is as difficult as reading the people one passes on the street. Stopes’s writing similarly reflects anxiety over subjective incoherence, but in her narrative a vitalist maternal body, similar to that seen in Margaret Sanger’s Birth Control Review, becomes the dominant expression of the crisis of coherence. In Stopes’s BCN, this body is uncontrolled (not contracepting), fractured (organs and limbs detach themselves), and unintelligible (the mind cannot comprehend or control the actions of the body). This trope of the vitalist maternal body allows her to connect the crisis of involuntary maternity with the more widely recognized population crisis, and to position her narrative of birth control as the framework necessary to understand and resolve both issues. Indeed, the letters printed in the BCN imply that without access to female-controlled contraception, emotional and sexual fulfillment is impossible because married women are caught in a monstrous nightmare of incessant pregnancy. A letter printed in the August 1923 issue makes clear the gothic horror that characterizes involuntary maternity within Stopes’s narrative of modernity. In this letter, a woman is brought to the brink of sanity by a pregnancy she neither desires nor, for a time, even realized: “you can imagine my horror at finding conception has taken place, unknown to either of us . . . If I do not get anyone with knowledge to help me, I shall try other means, as I feel I shall go mad if I have to go through it all again” (italics original, “A Frequent Evil” 4). Here, the woman appears neither responsible for, nor even an active participant in, the conception of a child. The phrasing (“conception has taken place”) suggests that pregnancy is something that happens to a woman rather than the result of an action in which she takes part. This conception occurred, quite literally, “right under her nose” without her realization. The body, then, is figured as acting of its own accord, without the woman’s desire or intent because her mind has become disconnected from her body. In other letters carried by the BCN, it is not just the mind and body that become disconnected through involuntary pregnancy; rather, the body itself disintegrates. The October 1924 issue contains an anonymous letter from a man stating that during each of his wife’s three miscarriages “her womb came right out, and had to be fixed up

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with a ring …. The Matron at the hospital told her that if she had a child again it would be certain death. Surely that is the most hellish farewell that a patient ever received leaving a hospital . . . I can hardly blame her if she has come to the conclusion that married life is one awful hell” (italics original, “A Desperate Appeal” 2). Significantly, this letter was written by a man who cares for his wife. From Stopes’s viewpoint, this is the sort of couple that should be reproducing: married, loving, and desirous of children. Yet childbearing is hellish business for them. The problem with this couple is not degenerate reproduction nor is it sterility of eugenic individuals. Rather, a lack of access to contraception makes this woman incoherent. Both of the aforementioned letters in the BCN depict the female body as incoherent in the sense that disparate parts do not stick together, the body detaches from the brain, and the body’s organs slide out of place. As in Margaret Sanger’s BCR, the inclusion of these letters in the BCN implies that Stopes approved of and hoped to propagate the idea that incoherence results not only from supposedly unfit breeding practices but also from uncontrolled fertility. The link between the vitalist maternal body and its heterogenizing effects on the population at large is clearly expressed in Stopes’s publications. A representative article from the December 1922 BCN claims that “[a]rmies of infants are streaming into an already overcrowded world . . . because the procreative instinct is being exercised with animal-like ferocity . . . There is no stipulation as to quality; it is the only form of production in which poor grade stuff is considered no disgrace” (“New Zealand” 4). If infants are the product, then women are the factories. In this example, women are twice dehumanized: first, by making her body into a factory; second, by making her into an instinctual animal. The vitalist body operates without forethought, humanity, or civilization. As before, this example depicts the body as unintelligible, unable to be understood or controlled by the mind, suggesting that uncontrolled reproduction is as illogical and ill-fitting as an army staffed by infants or as holding higher standards for commodities than for human beings. Like Eliot, who saw a degraded civilization in the “horns and motors” (197) that replaced Andrew Marvell’s “wingéd chariot,” Stopes sees “animal-like” societies producing “poor grade stuff” where we could have a race of god-like individuals. In cyclical fashion, the uncontrolled female body reflects and reproduces the incoherence of its offspring.

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The gender of coherence Perhaps more significant than expressing subjective and populational incoherence, the trope of the vitalist maternal body allows Stopes’s narrative to argue against the long-standing idea of the female body as inherently chaotic, an idea made manifest in The Waste Land. As is well known, “A Game of Chess” contains the story of Lil, a working-class woman suffering from the physical and emotional toll of incessant pregnancies. The speaker in this section tells us that Lil blames her toothlessness and premature aging on side effects from defective abortion pills, presumably the only ones she could afford: “You ought to be ashamed, I said, to look so antique/(And her only thirty-one)/I can’t help it, she said, pulling a long face,/It’s them pills I took, to bring it off, she said” (156–59). In this way, Lil’s physical incoherence is directly linked to her undesired pregnancies. If fertility leads to “certain death,” April is indeed the cruelest month (1). A different woman featured in this section of the poem, a wealthy woman whose “nerves are bad tonight” (111), is in a similarly strained marriage and perhaps suffers from mental instability, yet she is wealthy and this wealth mitigates her incoherence. For as many troubles as she might face, physical incoherence is not one of them. Lil, a decidedly poor woman, not only suffers from incoherence in her marriage and her mental state, but also in her physical state. Despite this depiction of Lil’s body as reproducing without her desire or intention, we are not encouraged to sympathize with her. Instead, the scene emphasizes the degeneracy of the rapidly reproducing poor masses. Lil’s poor health and lack of financial resources suggest she is dysgenic. And although we might read the speaker’s willingness to sleep with Lil’s husband (“if you don’t give it him, there’s others will” (149)) as an assertion of vitality, its association with the supposedly rampant fertility of the lower classes makes this a degenerate sort of vitality at best. Far from implying that Lil could achieve coherence if she had access to reproductive control (as Stopes’s narrative does), this poem depicts a woman who is incoherent despite an abortion. To put it another way, taking control over her reproduction did not make Lil coherent; rather, her incoherence only seems to have increased after the abortion, suggesting that this is an inevitable state for women.

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Eliot is but one example in a long line of thinkers who associates incoherence with femininity. Consider, for instance, several reactions to Britain’s population crisis. Fears about the declining birth rate among the upper classes combined with worry over the relatively independent status of the New Woman, which caused many Britons to worry that female emancipation would, in the words of physician Caleb Saleeby, “be carried to the point at which motherhood is compromised” (qtd. in Soloway 142). In the logic of this argument, if women are not fulfilling their maternal duty, the entire nation (if not the entire world) is compromised. Cardinal Francis Bourne, Archbishop of Westminster, employed this line of argument against Stopes in 1924. A reporter for the Times summarized Bourne’s statement: as a consequence of contraceptive use, “the population was dwindling, and they were faced inevitably with danger of attack from those [nations] who were stronger,” and that individuals who denounced birth control “rendered a national service to England and the Empire, and, indirectly, an international service to the whole world” (“Birth Control” 19). We can read the idea of feminine incoherence in this argument. Although the War and the later age at which people were marrying were both contributing factors to the population decline, women were blamed for the nation falling apart and for disintegrating kinship structures. And although birth control use was the greatest cause of the decline, men seem to have no role in the decision to contracept. After all, men were not accused of evading their “paternal duty.” Rather, these pundits argue that the nation was on the brink of collapse because of women. Stopes’s narrative literalizes these ideas of collapse and disintegration in the trope of the vitalist female body. She engages the idea that women are chaotic in order to critique it; if the feminine is somehow chaotic, her narrative suggests, it is not because women are inevitably, naturally chaotic, but because women have been prevented from exercising control by prudish reluctance to discuss birth control (leading to ignorance of it), and by doctrines that posit control as antithetical to femininity. Stopes refutes these doctrines by directly connecting incoherence to the uncontracepting female body (as we have seen), and by depicting birth control as a natural practice. Throughout her career, Stopes stressed the idea that “the highest expression of human life is the pair united in profound and complex union, who use the means which God now sends through

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science [birth control] to raise the race” (A New Gospel 103). Here, contraception is not only natural but holy, divinely sanctioned even. When the women in Stopes’s narrative have access to contraceptives, their bodies are not depicted as leaky, dirty, or second-rate as are women without access to birth control. Indeed, Stopes argues that, for the woman who has planned her pregnancy, “the perfection of her body is reached in the early days when she is first about to become a mother” (Radiant Motherhood 50). Yet these states of physical perfection and marital bliss were accessible to few Britons because, as Stopes puts it, the threat of incessant pregnancy “violates their inborn nature” (101) by repressing sexual desire. By positioning family planning as natural and the lack of access to birth control as a violation of nature, Stopes’s rhetoric implies that the current chaotic state of the English population has roots in the failure to recognize access to birth control as a central influence on the quality of that population. In this logic, continuing to ignore the importance of access to birth control will lead to greater numbers of incoherent women and a prolonged state of degraded marriages. This reading sheds new light on the unfulfilling relationships depicted in Eliot’s poem because it reveals a blind spot in Eliot’s diagnosis of the problems of modern culture. As is well documented, the sexual encounters in The Waste Land are animalistic, purely physical, and lacking any real human connection. In “The Fire Sermon,” the caresses of the “young man carbuncular” are “unreproved, if undesired” (231; 238). Viewing sex as a duty, the woman in this encounter thinks, “Well now that’s done: and I am glad it’s over” (252). Earlier, in “A Game of Chess,” opulence surrounds a woman as she awaits her lover: glittering jewels, “satin cases,” a “carved dolphin” on an “antique mantel” (84–97). Among these luxuries we find an allusion to the rape of Philomel, and, once the lover arrives, the conversation centers on their inability to communicate. We can presume, then, that if any sort of sexual encounter occurs between these two, it will be violent at worst and a business deal—sex exchanged for luxury goods—at best. Reading this section against Stopes’s narrative allows us to see that Eliot’s adherence to the idea of incoherence as a feminine trait led him to misdiagnose the ills of modern relationships; or, more properly, that he failed to diagnose all of them. By relegating women to the sphere of incoherence, the poem fails to address the threat of

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incessant pregnancies that will continue to make sexual relationships emotionally unfulfilling. Even if race and class boundaries are restored and religion is rejuvenated, women will continue to be subjects for whom body and mind cannot cohere because the fear and reality of undesired pregnancy renders them unable to maintain emotionally and spiritually fulfilling relationships. It is worth bearing in mind that Eliot and Stopes expressed contrasting views on the role of sex and the body within religion. The Waste Land contains no positive expressions of sexuality, which suggests Eliot’s misogyny could be linked to a more encompassing rejection of the body. Indeed, the poem implies that any spiritual quest requires an attempt to transcend the body. Conversely, Stopes saw sex as an act that draws humans closer to God, the primary means by which humans gain enlightenment. This latter ideal of spiritual enlightenment requires attentiveness to the body, which means that Stopes had to address the physical realities concomitant with the frequent sex she recommended. Eliot made no such recommendation; since enlightenment in The Waste Land brings with it disembodiment, the problem of incessant pregnancy will presumably disappear in a rejuvenated modernity. Thus Eliot’s and Stopes’s differing views of sexuality account in part for their differing views on reproduction and fertility control. Stopes’s vision of a rejuvenated modernity required women to have control over their bodies, while Eliot’s bypasses the need for such control because his idea of enlightenment is focused on disembodiment.11

Coherence through art To understand how Stopes’s rhetoric worked to ameliorate the degradation she saw in modern relationships, we need to move back to an area of aesthetic overlap in the works of Stopes and Eliot. The modernist prophet, Louis L. Martz explains, holds a firm belief in art as “a civilizing, a redeeming force, preserving the ‘gods’—that is, the ideals and beliefs and inspirations of the past that will convey an ordering power into the present and the future” (15). The narratives of both Stopes and Eliot imply that artistry and language are the best hopes for creating a framework that will make modernity coherent, even if neither ultimately achieves it. For Stopes, as for most modernists, linguistic experimentation was an artistic act. As Paul

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Peppis argues, Stopes “justif[ied] sexual relations by spiritualizing and aestheticizing them,” which often resulted in a conscious merger of the “vocabularies of lyric and religion” in her writing (566). We can detect Stopes’s aestheticization of sex as well as her belief in the power of language to order and civilize modern life in an undated radio address. She argues that a new vocabulary is needed to remove the taint of sin from healthy sexual relations: Let’s think what the ancient word “sex” denotes to the average mind. A swift, hazy kaleidoscopic series of half-blurred pictures of worse than bestiality, haunts of gray, degraded mankind, of the barbarities of the male savage toward his female, of the refined horror of modern prostitution, of the purely physical relation of the mating animal. We want a clean, new word for the modern relation between man and woman and for that new and elevated interplay between man and woman. (“Talk about”) Unlike the modernist prophet described by Martz, Stopes rejects the ideas of the past in favor of those of the future. She proposes the term “erogamic” to express—and to bring into being—a new type of love in the new century. Although she was hopeful that she could enlighten the masses to the joys of erogamic love, she also realized that most people’s experiences of sex were not up to such high standards. As mentioned earlier, more common were notions of sex as a duty for women and a right for men (R. Hall 129). In Married Love, Stopes argues that marital unhappiness is regrettably common as a result of ignorance about sex: “for crimes committed in ignorance of the dual functions of the married pair . . . the punishments are reaped on plains quite diverse, till new and ever new misunderstandings appear to spring spontaneously from the soil of their mutual contact” (25). These punishments and misunderstandings are more fitting in a description of the “ancient word ‘sex’” than the “elevated interplay” of erogamic love. The existing situation, as Stopes recognized it, was such that most people lived in an emotional wasteland when it came to sex. In truth, Stopes’s description of “sex” is a fitting summary of all the sexual encounters in Eliot’s poem. What Stopes calls “the refined horror of prostitution” is an apt description of the woman seated among luxury goods in “A Game of Chess.” Most critics agree that the “fragments” the speaker of The Waste Land has “shored against

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my ruins” (431) refer to the poem itself. As such, the poem ends with the implication that art, specifically language, can provide a bulwark, a sense of intelligibility, against an increasingly incoherent world. Thus Eliot, too, privileged language and narratives as central tools in the fight against the maladies of the modern British population. Just as Stopes’s introduction of the term “erogamic” is a testament to her belief in the power of language to renew modern society, so, too, are the BCN and A New Gospel. Both are deliberately crafted literary texts that play with the boundaries of genre and fact. The BCN bills itself as a journalistic publication, and some of its articles are indeed factual reports of laws passed, meetings held, and other events of interest to birth controllers. Yet the BCN is far from an objective news organ. This newspaper is actually a work of artful craftsmanship, positioning, and branding. Most of the pieces printed in the BCN put forth an aggrandized narrative of the birth control movement and of Stopes’s public persona. The July 1922 issue, for instance, carries a panegyric on Stopes, describing her as “utterly fearless, incorruptable by the worldly lures which tend to weaken and deflect most reformers, yet sane, scientific, and happy” (“A Friend” 3). Stopes overtly toyed with genre and fact in an earlier endeavor. In 1910, while working at the University of Manchester’s Botany department, Stopes began the Sportophyte, a whimsical journal that mocked the language and conventions of serious botanical journals (Chaloner 131). Stopes’s BCN similarly blurs the boundaries between fiction and fact, but without the comedic intent. Thereby, these texts manifest Stopes’s belief in the power of language and art to order and shape modern life. So although Stopes thought of Eliot as “the arch-boogie-man of the modernist project” (Hauck, “The Poetry,” 37), and although their attitudes toward efforts to merge science and religion differed in ways I will later discuss, Stopes’s attitude toward language and art was similar to Eliot’s, and she likewise used them as redeeming forces.

Modernist prophecy With texts such as the BCN and A New Gospel, Stopes crafted and disseminated a narrative of birth control as miraculous, as well as her sense that it is the duty of the “artist-prophet” to order the debris of art, history, and society “in such a form that its beauty

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is apparent and the vision can be seen by all the people” (Radiant Motherhood 246). Martz explains that the prophetic voice of high modernists such as Eliot and Pound followed the Biblical tradition of prophets who were engaged in reforming the present just as much as they were concerned with foretelling the future: “Prophecies of the future appear, but these are often prophecies of the disasters that will fall upon the people, or will continue to fall upon them, if they do not mend their unjust ways” (3). Accordingly, the character of Tiresias, who “foretold” and “foresuffered” all that has happened and will happen (229; 243), indicates a future as bleak as the present in The Waste Land. Likewise, Stopes levels criticism at British society in the aforementioned example of the baby tower by creating an image of what England could be if it continues its dysgenic breeding. But the prophet in these modernist works is not simply a recreation of the Biblical prophet. The modernist prophet has to work to gather the fragments of prophecy rather than receiving a coherent message directly from God. Like the narrator of The Waste Land, Stopes recognizes that she is piecing together a prophetic narrative from scraps and fragments rather than receiving her divine inspiration whole. Indeed, Stopes claims in A New Gospel, “Paul spoke with Christ nineteen hundred years ago. God spoke with me to-day,” and then positions herself as one of the many people who have “searched the mysteries of creation and piece by piece have won fragments of the new laws of life” (94). Yet a full revelation of God’s message, she argues, “has only been made possible in these later days through the revelation of His truths which have been won by Science” (93). Religious leaders, she argues, have much to learn from the wisdom of science, fragmentary though it may be. From Stopes’s perspective, the modern Christian church was ill-suited for the business of guiding modern subjects because of its disregard for scientific rationality and objectivity. She sought to regenerate Christianity (and England) by reconciling what she saw as outdated ideology with new knowledge offered by science.12 William Garrett, one of the few scholars to consider A New Gospel seriously, argues a careful reading of the text shows that the prophet was a persona Stopes created as a theatrical gesture in imitation and reform-minded critique of Church doctrine (423): God, she tells us, speaks not so much through Marie Stopes, but through science. This is a point reasserted throughout the brief

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text. The “Word of God,” we might say, is given to humanity through the scientific method. Marie really speaks for God indirectly—she presents herself as the voice of his authentic revelatory presence to humanity, science. What she is doing is something that anyone might do, and that in her view all of us should do: Try to understand the world and ourselves through science rather than through irrational hopes, superstition, and a dogmatic adherence to traditional authority. (xx) With this reading of the document in mind, we can understand A New Gospel as stretching the truth to the limits of believability (and beyond: some people thought she had lost her grip on sanity) in an effort to show that prophecy in the modern age functions differently than it does in the Bible. A New Gospel suggests that, in the modern age, we must construct prophecies ourselves from the seemingly incoherent scraps of modern life. The “modern prophet,” she argues, must sift through the “vast number of new [scientific] facts and truths” which “are scattered as . . . fragments not yet interwoven with our feelings, our social consciousness, our ethical and religious codes” (91). To arrive at a coherent vision, this new prophet must “select and transmute the truths given to the world through scientific discovery and weld them into our religious and social consciousness” (90–1). A coherent framework—one that merges science with religion and social consciousness—requires work on the part of the prophet, and accordingly becomes something like a collaboration between God and the individual. As George Landow notes, the twentieth-century prophet is distinct from the Victorian sage, or any earlier iteration, in that this more recent prophet “no longer speaks literally as the prophet of God” (np). Stopes, rather than relying solely on divine inspiration, argues that humans can approach an understanding of the world through the powers of scientific observation combined with an awareness of God. For Stopes, the narratives put forth by science and religion are not in competition but rather need to be combined to create a framework that explains and organizes modernity. The Waste Land similarly suggests that coherence is not immediately present in the modern landscape but rather takes effort on the part of the individual. The speaker of the poem shores together seemingly random bits of poetry, history, and pop culture,

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which allows him to stave off ruin. Thereby, the poem itself is a collocation of disparate elements that, together, strive to create a more coherent idea of modern society. (Whether the final section succeeds in creating a more coherent framework is, of course, one of the perennial debates surrounding the poem, but it does undoubtedly yearn for such coherence.) Unlike many modernists, neither Stopes nor Eliot abandoned the Christian narrative entirely, but they did see it as one of many fragments to be fit within a larger framework. It is worth noting that, for all their similarities in regard to language as a means for social change, Eliot would not have agreed with Stopes’s attempt to merge science and religion. In the essay “Religion Without Humanism,” Eliot disparages those who “suppose that by science yielding points to religion, and religion yielding points to science, we shall quite soon arrive at a position of comfortable equilibrium” (108), claiming that this union is a “delusion . . . Nothing positive is attained by reciprocal surrender” (109). Nevertheless, both Eliot and Stopes considered the act of piecing together a coherent narrative from bits and pieces of historic and poetic wisdom to be a holy one. Stopes, by declaring herself a prophet—arguing that a woman can understand how science through religion can make modernity cohere—suggests that coherence is an individual rather than a gendered value. In other words, her narrative implies that men, as much as women, are products of modern life and must work for coherence. Coherence is as inherent (or not) to masculinity as it is to femininity. This desire to correct misogynistic stereotypes runs throughout Stopes’s career. Indeed, Christina Hauck argues that “the intention underlying all [Stopes’s] propaganda and drama” is a selfimposed need to “supplement a deficiency in the male imagination” (“Through a Glass” 110). Hauck focuses on the play Vectia, in which Stopes “found it necessary to supplement a deficiency in men’s ability to imagine the lives of women, particularly the intermingling of women’s sexual and maternal fantasies and desires” (111). In the BCN and A New Gospel, Stopes seeks to supplement an inability to see coherence as compatible with femininity. Reading The Waste Land against Stopes’s writing highlights the extent to which this poem is constructed around such a bias. Pound’s comments in regard to The Waste Land demonstrate that his editing of the poem was guided by a sense that “the female is a chaos” (“Doggerel” 362), and poetry is a masculine pursuit of control over it. To be sure, at times he acknowledges that control

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could be achieved by women and that men could be chaotic, as this bit of doggerel poetry to Marianne Moore attests: “You, my dear correspondent,/are a stabilized female,/I am a male who has attained the chaotic fluidities” (spacing original; “Doggerel” 363). Nevertheless, his attitude toward chaos and control retains a gendered binary with regard to The Waste Land. In a letter to Eliot, Pound directly links poetic production to male anatomy when he refers to The Waste Land as “your erection” and expresses the hope that it should “never grow less” (631). In another letter, he reinforces the idea that poetry, particularly difficult, tightly ordered poetry, is a masculine endeavor: “[The Waste Land] is for the elect or the remnant or the select few or the superior guys, or any word that you may choose, for the small number of readers that it is certain to have” (qtd. in V. Eliot xxiii). Even Pound’s often-cited role as the midwife of the poem—stemming from a letter he penned to Eliot celebrating the poem’s publication—is more properly understood as a surgeon, for he says that “Ezra performed the caesarean operation” (qtd. in Koestenbaum 122). Nevertheless, Pound’s celebration of the poem’s masculinity has much to do with his own editing of it. Eliot himself saw the unedited poem as feminized because he claims to have suffered from hysteria while composing it and associated his poetry with menstrual blood (Koestenbaum 118). Pound, “the better craftsman” to whom Eliot dedicated the poem, was the masculine influence needed to shape what Eliot called “a sprawling, chaotic poem” into an ordered, masculine, finished product (qtd. in G. Smith 127). The two genders meet in Tiresias, a character Eliot describes as “the most important personage in the poem” (72  fn 218). While this statement might suggest that an androgynous admixture of chaos and control is desirable, The Waste Land nevertheless maintains a strictly gendered binary, positioning chaos as feminine even if it shows up in a man, and control as masculine regardless of the many women who exert it. It is tempting to think Stopes and Tiresias perform analogous roles. Stopes does, after all, argue that women can and should enjoy sex, and a suggestion of this sort led to both Tiresias’s blinding and his gift of prophecy. Moreover, Stopes augments a masculine narrative of modernity with a distinctly female one. Since Tiresias’s prophetic vision derives indirectly from having lived as a man and a woman, Stopes’s narrative, as a female supplement to the male imagination, seems to draw on a similarly bisexual or androgynous

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mentality for its prophecy. Unlike Tiresias, however, Stopes demonstrates not only that control and coherence are compatible with femininity, but that women need to be allowed ideological and physical access to control for the wasteland of modernity to regenerate. By considering the situation from a specifically female perspective, Stopes demonstrates that too much fertility, like too little of it, can have devastating consequences for the nation. The narrative of modernity Stopes developed through her birth control advocacy helps us understand why control and coherence were central to the lives of many modern women, and moreover illustrates why it is important for the critical conversation to attend to the ways in which gender affected the religious upheavals of the early twentieth century. Whereas many women might have experienced these upheavals as alienating, the enormous popularity of Stopes’s narrative means they had a “substitute religion” at hand, even if they did not consciously adopt it as such. And unlike the religions it replaced—even unlike those other substitute religions of spirituality and theosophy— Stopes’s narrative of birth control gave women license to enjoy sex and take control over their reproduction. Pericles Lewis argues that the development of literary modernism was greatly influenced by the search for such alternatives because “the most important substitute for religion that the modernists found was literature itself” (“Religion” 20). Yet for many women the ability to engage with literature—to have the time, money, and health necessary to write or even read it—was dependent on the ability to control their fertility. Therefore, a complete understanding of the relationship between modernism and religion, one which takes full account of the lives of women, necessitates an understanding of Stopes’s narrative of birth control. The various ways in which uncontrolled fertility impedes writers, particularly female writers, is addressed directly in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando (1928), the subject of the following chapter. In this campy novel, Woolf’s depiction of the eponymous character in the Victorian era draws readers’ attention to the relationship between physical and artistic creation. This depiction ultimately underscores my reading of Stopes’s narrative because it positions birth control as central to the development of modernist aesthetics; for, in Woolf’s narrative, artistic innovation is predicated on the ability to control the body’s fertility.

3 “Sentences Swelled, Adjectives Multiplied”: Orlando, Contraception, and the Life of the Mind

If a woman must have money and a room of her own to write fiction, she must have birth control to write modernist fiction. This extension of Virginia Woolf’s familiar maxim from A Room of One’s Own (1929) is implied in another of Woolf’s texts, the mock-biography Orlando from 1928. In A Room, Woolf draws a direct connection between abundant reproduction and the paltry state of the female literary canon. Childbearing, she argues, is an impediment to writing for women not just because it is an enormous burden on their energy and time, but because childbearing and childraising prevent women from amassing wealth, thereby impeding the establishment of schools for women: “to endow a [women’s] college would necessitate the suppression of families altogether. Making a fortune and bearing thirteen children—no human being could stand it” (22). Orlando: A Biography, written at roughly the same time as A Room, is similarly concerned with overabundant fertility and its impact on women writers. Although Orlando makes no explicit references to contraception, its conspicuous absence allows for the overabundant fertility that Woolf depicts in Victorian society and letters. This era is dominated by unrelenting dampness, a symbol of the Victorian era’s pervasive cultural pressure to reproduce. One result of all this dampness is greenery gone wild: cucumbers

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grow so fast they come “scrolloping across the grass” to meet one’s feet, and “[g]iant cauliflowers towered deck above deck till they rivaled . . . the elm trees themselves” (230). But it is not just the vegetables that grow in such profusion; language, too, expands and swells: “just as the ivy and the evergreen rioted in the damp earth outside, so did the same fertility show itself within . . . thus— for there is no stopping damp; it gets into the inkpot as it gets into the woodwork—sentences swelled, adjectives multiplied, lyrics became epics” (229–30). The dampness gets into Orlando, too, for soon thereafter she discovers that she is unwillingly and unwittingly pregnant. Her gestating body becomes an insistent presence, interrupting her thoughts and inhibiting—we might say contracepting—her intellectual (re)production. In this novel, the inability to control if, when, and how many children to conceive has a chilling effect on creativity. Orlando, I argue, contains an implicit metatextual commentary on modernist aesthetics, showing us that the strand of the modernist movement focused on the life of the mind is due in part to the increasing availability of birth control. A brief discussion of Woolf’s 1919 essay “Modern Fiction” should begin to elucidate the logic behind this claim. In the essay, Woolf argues against writers who focus on “material” matters such as houses, clothing, food, and the body in the belief that descriptions of these material matters convey character. She states, “It is because [the materialists] are concerned not with the spirit but with the body that they have disappointed us, and left us with the feeling that the sooner English fiction turns its back upon them, as politely as may be, and marches, if only into the desert, the better for its soul” (158). She then distinguishes the materialists from the later generation of “spiritualists,” writers who, like James Joyce, are “concerned at all costs to reveal the flickerings of that innermost flame which flashes its messages through the brain” (161). Material matters are relevant to the spiritualist to the extent that they reveal an aspect of a character’s emotional and intellectual life. Woolf, of course, strove to be a spiritual writer, attempting throughout her career to capture the life of the mind. By reading Orlando in light of contraceptive discourse, we see that such a shift in aesthetic attention from the body to the mind is facilitated by the increasing availability and use of birth control. Orlando implies that materialist literature is a product of the inability to use birth

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control; without it, the material body, its reproductive capacity, and one’s never-ending brood of children demand one’s attention to the near-exclusion of thought. The burden is, of course, heavier on women, charged as they were (and still are) with a larger share of childrearing responsibilities and the physical task of childbearing. This chapter thereby helps us understand how the increasing availability of birth control played a role in the development of the strand of modernism focused on the life of the mind, and encourages us to see lack of access to birth control as one of the reasons male writers dominate this strand of modernist writing. Despite Orlando’s emphasis on reproduction and its (lack of) control in Victorian society and letters, the importance of contraceptive discourse in this novel has been overlooked in the critical conversation. Far more attention is paid to Orlando’s depiction of lesbian, bisexual, and transgender relationships, which are certainly central to the novel’s plot and noteworthy for Woolf’s “positive” portrayal of them.1 After all, this is a novel in which the title character changes biological sex at thirty years of age and proceeds to enter into many non-normative relationships over the course of his/her four hundred year life—from cross-dressing trysts with prostitutes to a passionate romance with an androgynous Russian aristocrat—all without invoking authorial opprobrium. Even Orlando’s heterosexual marriage to Shel in the nineteenth century is revealed as gender queer. Their relationship is perhaps best characterized as heterosexual because Shel is biologically male and Orlando is, at this point in the novel, biologically female. Yet during their courtship, Orlando recognizes Shel as gendered female (“You’re a woman, Shel!” (252), at which point Shel recognizes Orlando as (for the moment) masculine). Their relationship thus continues to be heterosexual, though in a highly unorthodox way. Reproduction and fertility control in this novel are surprisingly disconnected from Orlando’s sexual relationships, which might account for the lack of attention given to fertility. For example, Orlando becomes pregnant out of wedlock (she meets Shel after discovering her pregnancy) and the father of the child is never revealed. Instead, as I will show, Orlando’s pregnancy seems to be brought about asexually, as a result of nationalistic ideologies. Thereby, reproduction for Orlando is divorced from her sexual encounters, a condition birth control advocates argued was possible with the use of reliable contraception.

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Christina Hauck, one of the few scholars to address Woolf’s engagement with birth control, directs her attention to Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and To the Lighthouse (1927). She demonstrates that Woolf was “deeply cognizant of both . . . [the] benefits and . . . limitations of contraception” (“Why Do” 119), that Woolf’s parents probably used contraception, albeit with limited success, and that Virginia and Leonard might have used a form of birth control besides abstinence in the first years of their marriage. Hauck convincingly argues that reproduction in Dalloway and Lighthouse sometimes figures as a detriment to intellectual ability, and at other times as a palliative for intellectual deficiencies (“Why Do” 116). One of the clearest examples of this occurs in Lighthouse. The narrator, imagining human knowledge ranged like the twenty-six letters of the alphabet, claims that Mr. Ramsay’s “splendid mind has no sort of difficulty in running over those letters one by one, firmly and accurately, until it had reached, say, the letter Q . . . Here, stopping for one moment by the stone urn which held the geraniums, he saw . . . his wife and son, together, in the window. They needed his protection; he gave it them. But after Q?” (33–4). Here, Mr. Ramsay’s ability to access certain spheres of knowledge is hindered by his family. Despite Hauck’s attention to reproduction, birth control, and their influences on the mind in Dalloway and Lighthouse, she does not discuss birth control in Orlando, chronologically the next novel in Woolf’s oeuvre. By using control in birth control to signify prevent as well as shape or mold, Orlando shows us that birth control has as much to do with creativity as it does with pregnancy and childbirth. After pausing to offer a more detailed explanation of “material” and “spiritual” literature, I will address the relationship between a lack of birth control and “materialistic literature” in the Victorian era. Thereafter, the chapter will move on to “spiritual literature” and the role of birth control in its development.

“Material” and “spiritual” literature In the essay “Modern Fiction,” Woolf admits that she struggles to provide a clear explanation of what she means by “materialist” and “spiritualist” literature. We can nevertheless arrive at definitions

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that will suffice for the purposes of this essay by reading “Modern Fiction” alongside a later iteration of Woolf’s thoughts on the subject, the essay “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown” (1923). Her argument in “Modern Fiction” against materialist writers is that “life escapes”: their characters “live abundantly, even unexpectedly, but it remains to ask how do they live, and what do they live for?” (159). Ultimately, she declares, “whether we call it life or spirit, truth or reality, this, the essential thing, has moved off, or on, and refuses to be contained any longer in such ill-fitting vestments” as the materialist writer provides (159). What, exactly, are the materialists’ vestments? “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown” is more explicit. In this essay, Woolf imagines readers responding to a modern writer (whom she contrasts with the materialists Arnold Bennett, H.G. Wells, and John Galsworthy). She states: Here is the British public sitting by the writer’s side and saying in its vast and unanimous way: ‘Old women have houses. They have fathers. They have incomes. They have servants. They have hot-water bottles. That is how we know that they are old women. Mr. Wells and Mr. Bennett and Mr. Galsworthy have always taught us that this is the way to recognize them. But now with your Mrs. Brown—how are we to believe in her? We do not even know whether her villa was called Albert or Balmoral; what she paid for her gloves; or whether her mother died of cancer or of consumption. How can she be alive? No; she is a mere figment of your imagination’ (113–4). Bennett, Wells, and Galsworthy, it seems, write about the material objects of daily life—incomes, houses, gloves, and hot-water bottles—by way of portraying character. Yet this method of using things and other people to convey the life of a character is unconvincing to Woolf. “[Bennett] is trying,” she argues, “to hypnotize us into the belief that, because he has made a house, there must be a person living there” (“Mr. Bennett” 109). Woolf is not, of course, taking issue with the fact that books and houses and gloves appear in Bennett’s novels, but the purpose to which Bennett puts these material objects. In his novels, she argues, these material objects and descriptions of the material body are supposed to stand in for character description, they are supposed to give readers a sense of his character’s life, but for Woolf, they merely

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skirt the edges of that life. When trying to convey a sense of who the character is and what she lives for, why describe her house when you can describe her thoughts? For Woolf, life exists in, and arises from, one’s mind. “Examine for a moment an ordinary mind on an ordinary day,” she explains in “Modern Fiction.” “The mind receives a myriad impressions— trivial, fantastic, evanescent, or engraved with the sharpness of steel. From all sides they come, an incessant shower of innumerable atoms; and as they fall . . . they shape themselves into the life of Monday or Tuesday” (160). The terms life, spirit, and mind are closely connected in “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown,” “Modern Fiction,” and Orlando. We might think of the spirit as a mind-set or mental state, the impressions that form in one’s mind, and which coalesce to make up one’s life. The fundamental difference, then, between Woolf and Bennett (at least, Bennett as Woolf portrays him) is that Woolf believes life originates in the spirit, whereas Bennett and his generation of writers find life arising from the external world, from the things one says and does. It is in this vein that Woolf makes her well-known claim about human character, specifically that it changed “on or about December 1910” (“Mr. Bennett” 96). She further argues that writers have a responsibility to change their style to keep in sync with the changes in human character. While the tools of houses and hot-water bottles might have worked for an earlier generation of writers, Woolf argues that they fail to convey life to her generation of writers and readers. As a result of Woolf’s attempts to portray life as a product of the mind, “exterior events have . . . lost their hegemony,” argues Erich Auerbach: they “serve to release and interpret inner events, whereas before her time (and still today in many instances) inner movements preponderantly function to prepare and motivate significant exterior happenings” (538). Whereas Auerbach’s point of reference is To the Lighthouse, we will see this dynamic at work in Orlando in the difference between Victorian materialism and modern spiritualism. The “spiritual” writing Orlando undertakes in the modern era subordinates the external world to the thoughts and ideas it stimulates, a result made possible by virtue of Orlando’s implicit use of birth control, whereas the writing characteristic of the Victorian era is overburdened with an excess of material goods and external events, mirroring the Victorian family’s excessive children.

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Victorian pronatalism Woolf’s idea of the “spirit” as a mind-set or mental state gains significance from the fact that Orlando is unable to innovate in the Victorian era because she is constrained by “the spirit of the age” (236), a personified (and greatly simplified) representation of the Victorian mind-set. The Victorian “spirit of the age” holds Orlando back from aesthetic innovations commensurate with human character. In “Modern Fiction,” Woolf describes a “powerful and unscrupulous tyrant” who constrains the writer to follow a set formula rather than develop new literary methods: “The tyrant is obeyed; the novel is done to a turn. But sometimes, more and more often as time goes by, we suspect a momentary doubt, a spasm of rebellion, as the pages fill themselves in the customary way. Is life like this?” (160). Woolf’s description of the tyrant closely mirrors her description in Orlando of the “spirit of the age” as it exists in Victorian England. The narrator states: Such is the indomitable nature of the spirit of the age . . . that it batters down anyone who tries to make stand [sic] against it far more effectually than those who bend its own way. Orlando had inclined herself naturally to the Elizabethan spirit, to the Restoration spirit, to the spirit of the eighteenth century, and had in consequence scarcely been aware of the change from one age to the other. But the spirit of the nineteenth century was antipathetic to her in the extreme, and thus it took her and broke her, and she was aware of her defeat at its hands as she had never been before. (244) Although Orlando later figures out a way to dodge the pressures of the spirit of the Victorian age (to “bend its own way”), she clearly feels that outright rejection of the tyrant’s demands is impossible. In this era, the narrator explains, “the sexes drew further apart” (229), a change that forces Orlando to pay attention to the material realities of her female biology in a way other eras, ones more amenable to Orlando’s fluctuating gender, do not. This idea resonates with Woolf’s arguments about sex2 and writing in A Room Of One’s Own, in which she claims that the suffrage movement made sex such a salient issue that both male and

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female writers became overly conscious of it in a way that mars their writing. This heightened attention to sex is “fatal” for writers because it leads them to include in their works social or political grievances—grievances implicitly based on material concerns such as the ability to make money and advance one’s career—thereby distracting from the proper stuff of fiction, the life of the mind (102–3). This point also helps to explain why men as well as women are associated with materialist literature in Woolf’s various writings on the subject. Although Orlando is biologically female in the Victorian era, the novel’s narrator describes an anonymous man who commits suicide as a direct result of the Victorian era’s dampness (231), suggesting that women are not alone in feeling the pernicious effects of excessive fertility. Moreover, recall that Woolf’s examples of materialist writers in “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown”— Bennett, Wells, and Galsworthy—are male. Finally, in A Room she gives several examples of male writers whose work is marked by an overawareness of the material fact of their own engendered embodiment (102). For Woolf, it seems, men and women both have to fight against the materialism associated with embodied existence. To be sure, the struggle toward spiritual writing is harder for women, facing, as they do, greater economic struggles (witness Woolf’s concern with money in A Room), as well as long-standing cultural assumptions (such as the association of women with the body and men with the spirit or the mind). Nevertheless, Woolf’s inclusion of men in her discussions of materialism suggests she saw male artists, like female artists, as embodied beings whose material existence threatens to mar their writing, particularly in eras when sex consciousness is prevalent. Although A Room associates heightened sex consciousness with the modern era, agitation for women’s suffrage was a definable, national movement by the 1870s (Pugh 57), making it logical that Woolf would depict the Victorian era in Orlando as the one in which “the sexes grew further apart” and sex consciousness intruded on writing. As we will see, the modern era still poses challenges for Orlando, but implicit access to birth control improves her ability to write. While in the Victorian era, however, Orlando’s literary potential is inhibited by a “spirit of the age” that is stridently pronatalist. Throughout Orlando’s time in this age, we encounter suggestions of a close relationship between what the philosopher Edward

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Carpenter calls “children of the mind” and those of the body.3 For instance, in the early years of the Victorian era Orlando’s housekeeper announces, “the muffins is keepin’ ‘ot in the liberry” (235). The “horrid Cockney phrase” (as Orlando calls it (235)) recalls such colloquialisms as “in the pudding club” or the more recent “bun in the oven,” while also linking physical fertility to language by locating the muffins in the library.4 The link becomes stronger when we realize that the “horrid” phrase is spoken just after Orlando and her housekeeper discuss the Queen’s most recent pregnancy, and just before Orlando realizes that she, too, must buy a crinoline to conceal “the great fact; the only fact; but, nevertheless, the deplorable fact . . . that she was about to bear a child” (234–5). These implied links between physical and intellectual creation coalesce to reflect the circumscribed aesthetic opportunities that result from Orlando’s lack of ability to control her reproduction. Orlando rightly implies that the Victorian age was full of talk about reproduction (although some of the tropes Woolf employs are better understood as modern reflections on a previous age than accurate depictions of that age). The distribution and discussion of birth control was not illegal in England as it was in the United States under the Comstock Act, but cultural norms can be very effective means for restricting people’s ability and willingness to use birth control. The powerful pronatalist culture of Victorian England was especially successful in this regard. I am not referring to overt, state-sponsored pronatalism like that later inspired by eugenic theories, but to a web of cultural messages pervading the Victorian atmosphere. Queen Victoria, during her reign (1837–1901), promoted an ideal of feminine domesticity that included a large brood of children. The Queen cultivated this image through personal example—the nine children she had with Prince Albert—as well as through the official iconography of her monarchy. Although she did not have a naturally maternal disposition (she once said an “ugly baby is a very nasty object” (qtd. in Langland 24)), she came to accept Albert’s decision that the royal couple should be a model of domestic harmony. With the advent of photography, Victoria had at her disposal a method by which she could disseminate an image of herself as a maternal ideal. Especially in the years before Albert’s death, Victoria and Albert were frequently photographed in domestic scenes (Langland 16), and, as Nancy Armstrong notes, the popular press of the day

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reflected and extended this domestic iconography (530–1). For many Victorians, the ideal of womanhood became conflated with images of abundant reproduction. Orlando picks up on the not-coincidental fact that many children are good for the empire. The pronatalist spirit of the age, in the context of Orlando, stems from the need to prop up the empire with ever more soldiers and civil servants. The novel deliberately forges a connection between the health of the empire and a woman’s fertility: “The life of the average woman was a succession of childbirths. She married at nineteen and had fifteen or eighteen children by the time she was thirty; for twins abounded. Thus the British Empire came into existence” (229). This particular statement is comically absurd in its exaggeration, but it is not absurd to suggest that without birth control, a large portion of most women’s lives revolved around childbearing. Even still, the claim that the health of the empire depends upon large families was more likely to be heard in the years during and immediately surrounding WWI than in the Victorian era because the threat and then the reality of wartime casualties exacerbated fears that the British Empire could not maintain its imperial might if there were not enough Britons to staff it. James Marchant, secretary of the National Birth-Rate Commission, wrote a treatise on “BirthRate and Empire” in 1917 in which he asks, “with a birth-rate which has fallen from 35.4 per thousand in 1875 to 20.9 in 1916 . . . how is the enfeebled heart of the Empire to continue to supply more fresh and healthy blood to circulate to its far-flung extremities?” (2–3). Echoing the belief that a healthy empire is dependent upon a high birth rate, B.L. Hutchins in 1913 also voiced the common opinion that women’s patriotic duty included reproduction. She argues, “No one can deny that the service of the child-bearing mother is that which is most indispensable to the continued existence of the nation and the State” (11). Although the lives of British women before the nineteenth century were also dominated by pregnancy and childbirth, modern Britons frequently looked back to the Victorian era as one in which childbearing was an especially important part of women’s lives. For Marchant and Hutchins, the passing of that era is lamentable; for Woolf, it is laudable. By presenting large families as the only viable option for respectable women, pronatalist culture inhibits the spread of knowledge about contraception by labeling talk about it “obscene”

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or “immoral,” suggesting that only a bad or morally deficient woman would want to limit her reproduction (Lovett).5 So even though abstinence, for instance, is a contraceptive method that cannot be restricted in the same way a product like the diaphragm can be (e.g., by making sales illegal or prohibiting importation), pronatalist societies can nevertheless inhibit the willingness to use such a method. The cycle of pregnancy and childbearing that brings about “fifteen or eighteen children by the time [a woman] was thirty” is one that forces the woman to be always aware of her body and its material needs. If she was not thinking about her eating habits, growing girth, or swollen ankles, she was thinking about resting her body so as to prepare for the next pregnancy. As Woolf says in A Room, “first there are nine months before the baby is born. Then the baby is born. Then there are three or four months spent in feeing the baby. After the baby is fed there are certainly five years spent in playing with the baby” (22). Although a wealthy woman’s reproductive decisions might not be complicated by financial worries, such a woman (which would include Orlando and the woman who inspired the character, Vita Sackville-West) would still face cultural pressure to expend energy and thought on reproduction. Women who did not have children—by choice or by medical necessity (Woolf herself is in this category)—could still encounter judgment and shaming for not fulfilling their biological “destiny.” So even women who were not caught in the cycle of incessant pregnancies would be pressured to think about their bodies by being pressured to defend or (depending on the woman’s attitude) atone for her body’s non-reproduction. Victorian medical theories added yet another pressure on women, especially women writers, to attend to their bodies’ reproductive capacity. Influential scientists and writers often put forth the idea that an inverse relationship existed between intellectual activity and childbearing, as though a limited quantity of vital energy was shared between these two functions. In the logic of this theory, intellectual activity diminished a woman’s childbearing capacity. For instance, obstetrical physician R.R. Rentoul published a pamphlet in 1890 intended for mothers and young women. In this pamphlet, Rentoul stresses the need for girls to cease all intellectual activity at the onset of menstruation. He says, “if a girl, when at school, show [sic] any signs of approaching womanhood she should be taken home. What is the good of sacrificing health for the sake of grinding up a little

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history, geography, or music?” (604). Rentoul’s advice was more restrictive than most, yet Karl Pearson’s comparatively mainstream ideas still followed the same basic lines. When Pearson, an influential philosopher and mathematician, penned “The Woman’s Question,” he had not yet adopted the misogynistic attitudes that mark his later career. Nevertheless, in this essay he seriously contemplates the possibility that the female brain is less developed than the male, and that intellectual activity could entail “physical degradation of the race owing to prolonged study having ill effects on woman’s child bearing efficiency” (371). By the time Woolf wrote Orlando, this medical theory was largely discounted in favor of the idea that “female emancipation could only be achieved through sexual fulfillment in a heterosexual companionate marriage” (Berni 84). Although this increasing acceptance of female sexuality might suggest that families in England redoubled their rate of growth, the opposite was actually true. Even during Victoria’s rein, people began using birth control at increasing rates despite continued pronatalism in public discourse. The British birth rate hit its peak in 1876 at 36.3 births per thousand; thereafter, the rate decreased unabated until, in 1901 (the year of Queen Victoria’s death), England recorded just 28.5 births per thousand, the lowest then on record (Mitchell 29–30). For reasons of propriety, experts were slow to suggest that birth control could be the cause of the decline (Soloway 5). By the early twentieth century, however, people had enough perspective to realize that the sharp turn was largely due to increasing awareness and use of contraceptives, thanks in large part to the 1877 BradlaughBesant obscenity trial. Advocates of family limitation, Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant were charged with obscenity when they published a family limitation pamphlet written by Boston physician Charles L. Knowlton. Charles Vickery Drysdale, leader of the Malthusian League, argued in 1917 that “the real beginning of the modern era of family limitation and falling birth rates dates from 1876 when the legal proceedings commenced against the Knowlton pamphlet” (16). Havelock Ellis, too, credited the trial with enormous influence on the British population decline (87). Historian Richard Soloway explains that the trial received heavy media coverage, which legitimized birth control as a potentially safe and responsible choice even as the prosecution argued forcibly that birth control was obscene (54). During the trial, Annie Besant

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testified that “this most ill-judged and most ill-advised prosecution” gave the pamphlet an unprecedented salience: “Instead of the 700 copies published in one year before the prosecution, about 125,000 copies have been sold in [the] three months” since the start of the trial (The Queen v. Bradlaugh 148; 149). The trial spurred the use of contraceptives and accelerated the aforementioned drop in England’s birth rate. Orlando reflects both the rampant fertility of the early years of Victoria’s reign as well as the steep fertility decline in later years through its depiction of Orlando’s physical offspring and her “children of the mind.” It is significant that Orlando does not explicitly discuss birth control but rather alludes to it through circumlocutions and absences. In the later years of the Victorian era, use of birth control would have been something of a well-known secret. People increasingly used it, but not many wanted to discuss it in open conversation; statisticians were aware that the birth rate was decreasing after the Bradlaugh-Besant trial, but were loathe to publicly suggest birth control as the cause. Orlando itself echoes this discursive gap. The novel registers birth control as, first, a lack that leads to the conspicuous fertility of the early Victorian years, and, second, as the absence of incessant reproduction when, as I argue, Orlando later begins to use birth control. In these later years, birth control as a material concern— as a device or practice that allows people to control their physical reproductions—is subordinate to birth control as a way to shape or craft one’s “children of the mind.” In this way, the novel registers birth control as central to the transition away from materialist literature in the Victorian era. It is to this materialism in Orlando and the lack of birth control that brings it about that I now turn.

The body and creativity Orlando in the Victorian era dramatizes the difficulties facing writers, especially female writers, who cannot control their reproduction. The novel suggests that the desire to move away from a materialistic literary style is often not enough to do so (just as knowledge of birth control is often not enough to move from acceptance to practice). The more children a person has, the harder

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it is financially to provide the material necessities for life. Without access to birth control, the functions of the body (one’s own and those of one’s children) and the need to attend to it with clothing, housing, and food take center stage for all but the privileged few who can afford to support a large family.6 Even for those privileged few and for those who did not have children, as we saw, pronatalist attitudes compel materialistic thinking by pressuring women in particular to focus on the body and its reproductive capabilities. As is befitting this campy novel, Orlando uses hyperbole to depict the deleterious effects of pronatalism on its eponymous character. Startled and preoccupied by her body throughout the early years of the Victorian era, the “spirit of the age” repeatedly inhibits Orlando’s ability to think about anything other than her material, physical body. At one point, Orlando begins to feel a tingling sensation in her toes, which then moves to the marrow in her bones, then her thighs, hair, and arms. The tingling finally concentrates “in one hand, and then in one finger of that hand, and then finally [contracts] itself so that it made a ring of quivering sensibility about the second finger of the left hand” (240). The tingling there persists for days and is so intense that “she could scarcely keep her ideas in order” (243). Her body here acts as a type of intellectual contraception on her “children of the mind” because it interrupts her thoughts, making it difficult for Orlando to think about anything other than her material body. Orlando’s incessant focus on physical concerns leads to “materialistic” writing of the sort Woolf criticizes in “Modern Fiction.” As Woolf says of the materialists, “they spend immense skill and immense industry making the trivial and the transitory appear the true and the enduring” (159). In Orlando, just as the fertile dampness of the Victorian era leads to too much vegetation and too many people, Victorian-era writing is thematically overburdened with material objects and is stylistically crowded with descriptions of tangible things. The language with which Orlando’s narrator describes the site “where the statue of Queen Victoria now stands” exemplifies the novel’s amalgamation of physical fertility, pronatalism, and material excess in the Victorian era (232). We are told that Orlando sees: a conglomeration . . . of the most heterogeneous and ill-assorted objects, piled higgledy-piggledy in a vast mound where the statue

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of Queen Victoria now stands! Draped about a vast cross of fretted and floriated gold were widow’s weeds and bridal veils; hooked on to other excrescences were crystal palaces, bassinettes, military helmets, memorial wreaths, trousers, whiskers, wedding cakes, cannon [sic], Christmas trees, telescopes, extinct monsters, globes, maps, elephants and mathematical-instruments. (232) The mound is overburdened with material objects while the narrator’s description is encrusted with nouns and adjectives describing the trappings of empire—military, familial, and exotic alike. This description suggests that the “spirit” of the Victorian age compels fertility in order to prolong the illogical (“higgledypiggledy”) growth of the empire, and that the era’s emphasis on fecundity impregnates the language as much as the people, houses, and weather, all of them weighed down by the “olla podrida of Victorian life” (45) as Hermoine Lee memorably puts it. Thereby, an ideology intended to maintain the imperial might of England over other lands becomes in Orlando a punishment for its own citizens, at least one of whom commits suicide to escape the dampness (231). The effects of the pronatalist spirit on Orlando become apparent when she sees this statue of the Queen. She feels an immediate need to focus on her material existence, her body, and the way it is attired. Her eyes “seemed forced by a superior power down upon her knees,” whereupon she realizes, with a blush, “that she was wearing black breeches” rather than a dress (233). As before with the tingling ring finger, Orlando has no choice but to focus on her embodied state. Presumably, Orlando’s involuntary conception occurs in this moment, for immediately thereafter she returns home to wrap herself in a damask quilt (233) and begins the aforementioned conversation with her housekeeper that brings on Orlando’s realization of her own pregnancy. Her pregnancy thus becomes a physical manifestation of the invasion of her mind by the “spirit of the age.” Since we are told that Orlando “would have to buy a crinoline” to conceal her pregnancy, “and then (here she blushed) a bassinette, and then another crinoline, and so on  . . .” (235–6), it seems likely that Orlando will face a succession of involuntary pregnancies. After all, the narrator tells us, “there’s no stopping the damp” (229). Yet Orlando does not experience a succession of pregnancies, a fact I read as evidence of her use of birth control later in the era. At this point, however, Orlando

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does not have the ability to control her body’s reproductions. Her involuntary pregnancy and concomitant focus on material existence is a result of the Victorian era’s pronatalism. In service of the empire, the spirit of the age impregnates Orlando without her permission or desire. Earlier in the novel, while still a man, Orlando experiences a sort of involuntary reproduction, but the process is disembodied and impersonal. Orlando presumably has three sons by the Spanish dancer Rosina Pepita but only finds out about them in a lawsuit.7 He is relieved to learn that the sons have been pronounced illegitimate and therefore will not inherit the estate (255). For the male Orlando, involuntary reproduction is more of an economic and legal matter than a physical and intellectual one. As a woman, conversely, Orlando retains full control over neither her body nor her mind as the involuntary pregnancy robs her of the ability to think about anything but material concerns, and as I will demonstrate, this materialism seeps into her literary productions. In this way, Orlando satirizes medical and cultural ideologies that position reproduction as fundamental to a woman’s daily life, an intellectual and physical process that dictates the course of her life in a far more complete fashion than it does a man’s.

“Cascades of involuntary inspiration”: Orlando’s insipid poetry If, as Woolf argues in “Modern Fiction,” writers need to innovate to keep pace with changes in human character, literature that relies on outdated techniques is problematic because it cannot effectively communicate the writer’s vision to the audience.8 In reference to literary production, we might think of birth control as referring to shaping one’s children of the mind to fit the times and human character, using the right tools and conventions for the audience. With physical reproduction, as with literature, timing is of central importance. A child born too soon after the last, or coinciding with an illness of the mother’s, or any other of a myriad of reasons, makes for a poorly timed child. My reading of birth control in Orlando thereby suggests a hitherto unrealized commensurability between literary history and family planning. Without the ability to control

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one’s reproduction, literary works, like babies, are more likely to be born at the “wrong” time. While Nicola Thompson (310–2) and others have addressed the ways in which the masculine literary establishment inhibits Orlando’s creativity in the Victorian era, the other aesthetic impediment in the era, unchecked fertility, largely escapes notice. Without birth control, Orlando is able to control the timing of her literary reproductions no more than she can control her physical ones; just as the “spirit of the age” compels physical reproduction, it also compels her to produce literature that is out of sync with human character. The spirit physically animates Orlando’s arms and hands, causing her to write insipid poetry that mimics the damp, lachrymose atmosphere of the Victorian era. Orlando sits down to write, whereupon “the pen began to curve and caracole with the smoothest possible fluency. Her page was written in the neatest sloping Italian hand with the most insipid verse she had ever read in her life” (238). The narrator then recounts that Orlando “was all of a quiver, all of a stew. Nothing more repulsive could be imagined than to feel the ink flowing thus in cascades of involuntary inspiration” (239). As with Orlando’s involuntary impregnation by the spirit, she is here compelled to produce poetry against her will. Although the narrator’s judgments should always be read with a critical eye, “insipid” is an accurate description of the poetry Orlando writes involuntarily. This poetry is not a forerunner of the avant-garde automatic writing of the surrealists but rather stale, uncreative drivel. The narrator provides us with a snippet of that poetry, which is actually an unattributed excerpt from a poem written by Letitia Elizabeth Landon, more commonly known by her initials L.E.L: I am myself but a vile link Amid life’s weary chain, But I have spoken hallow’d words, Oh, do not say in vain! Will the young maiden, when her tears, Alone in moonlight shine, Tears for the absent and the loved, Murmur – (238)

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This particular excerpt comes from the poem “Lines of Life,” contained within L.E.L.’s book The Venetian Bracelet and Other Poems.9 It is not as though this poem, as an aesthetic creation on its own, is insipid. Rather, it becomes insipid in the context of the novel because it is presented as uncreative and mimetic. This verse is a reproduction; not even derivative, Orlando produces other people’s words. Regardless of the popularity of the poem in its original context (and L.E.L.’s poetry was quite popular), in the context of Orlando the poem reflects the materialism of the Victorian era as depicted in the novel. The phrase “Life’s weary chain” suggests the endless drudgery of reproduction, and the repeated mention of tears reads as an uncreative manifestation of the damp, lachrymose atmosphere of the Victorian Era. L.E.L., it should be noted, is not a Victorian poet but a romantic one; she died the year after Victoria took the throne. That the spirit would compel Orlando to write outdated poetry is consistent with the theory of aesthetics Woolf lays out in “Modern Fiction.” She argues that literary style often fails to keep up with changes in human consciousness; obeying the tyrant/spirit of the age, “we go on perseveringly, conscientiously, constructing our two and thirty chapters after a design which more and more ceases to resemble the vision in our minds” (159). When Orlando is compelled to write an L.E.L. poem, she is compelled to write poetry that is behind the times, poetry that is not consistent with human character such as it is at the moment. Without the ability to control her literary reproduction, Orlando’s poetry is born at the “wrong” time.

The life of the mind I mentioned earlier that Orlando depicts both the abundant fertility of the Victorian era as well as the birth rate decline. The turning point occurs when Orlando meets Shel, her future husband. Thereafter, Orlando exerts increasing control over her literary and physical reproduction. Orlando, who is physically pregnant at the time, meets Shel when an unexpected break in the rain inspires her to go walking on the moors. The physical exercise causes her intellectual aspirations to momentarily resurface as she chases wild bird feathers like she used to do as a young boy (247). Quickly

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thereafter, she falls and breaks her ankle, whereupon Shel appears on the scene to rescue her. In addition to this scene being a “parody of Jane Austen, Jane Eyre, and the novel that closes in marriage” (Burns 354), we can read her fall as a consequence of her renewed literary ambition. The break in the rain (a reduction in the fertile dampness of the era) and Orlando’s renewed creativity suggest that the strength of the pronatalist Victorian spirit is waning, reflecting the beginning of the birth rate decline that was, as we saw, spurred by the uptick in the availability and use of contraceptives after the Bradlaugh-Besant trial. Nevertheless, Orlando’s burgeoning literary conceptions are interrupted by her falling body. The combination of Orlando’s resurgent creativity with the subsequent interruption of it suggests that the pronatalism of the Victorian era still has some power over Orlando’s thoughts, but that the spirit of the age’s hold over her reproductive faculties is waning. Indeed, from this point on, Orlando begins figuring out ways to trick the spirit of the age into thinking she has submitted wholly to it, allowing her to sidestep its pressures. Orlando superficially acquiesces to the spirit’s demands by marrying a man (but not living together year-round “as Queen Victoria recommended” (288)); and by reproducing (but, as we will see, preventing some conceptions and controlling the form of others). By appearing to submit to the spirit, Orlando “was at last able to collect her thoughts” (264). It might seem as though Orlando’s marriage to Shel is involuntary like her pregnancy rather than a deliberate choice, since marriage itself is forced upon her by the spirit. After trying and failing to write anything other than insipid drivel at the outset of the Victorian age, Orlando decides she has no choice but to yield “completely and submissively to the spirit of the age, and take a husband” (243). The narrator does not, however, pick up on the fact that her marriage to Shel is an intentional choice that allows her to begin exerting control over her reproduction. After a long courtship, Orlando and Shel wed. Orlando is eager to see “whether the steps she had taken in the matter of getting engaged to Shelmerdine and marrying him” would allow her to write freely again (emphasis mine, 264). The ruse works: the spirit is appeased, saying “You have a husband at the Cape, you say? Ah, well, that’ll do” (265). Orlando is left feeling like a traveler who successfully sneaks contraband cigars past a customs agent (265). This successful duping of the spirit is not a stroke of luck but the result of purposeful management on

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Orlando’s part; Orlando “had so ordered it” that she “need neither fight her age, nor submit to it; she was of it, yet remained herself. Now, therefore, she could write, and write she did. She wrote. She wrote. She wrote” (266). By evading the fertile materialism of the age—taking steps that publicly affirm the spirit but privately escape it—Orlando manages to take control over her reproduction. She staves off the threatened multiple pregnancies and subsequently shapes her “children of the mind” in the style she chooses rather than the materialistic style compelled by the spirit. To understand what characterizes the style she chooses, it is helpful to look more closely at Orlando’s relationship with Shel. Their relationship is defined by spiritual and linguistic concerns, which contrast sharply with marriage as the spirit constructs it in the Victorian era. The spirit of the Victorian age, using Orlando as a mouthpiece, uses terms for marriage that are distinctly physical, thereby constructing marriage as a material concern. Orlando laments, “Everyone is mated except myself” (246), a sentence that carries with it the connotation of reproduction via the word mated, whereas words such as married, partnered, or wed would have sufficed. Continuing the connection between marriage and corporeality, Orlando soon thereafter wonders “whom . . . can I lean upon?” (246). The phrase suggests physical as much as emotional or spiritual support, especially when, shortly thereafter, we are told that Orlando’s thoughts of her single status “bore her down inescapably. Instead of thrusting the gate open, she tapped with a gloved hand for the porter to unfasten it for her. One must lean on someone, she thought, if it is only on a porter” (247). Marriage, as constructed by the spirit, is a crutch for a physically frail female body. In contrast, Orlando’s relationship with Shel is increasingly concerned with linguistic and spiritual matters. Although the narrator states that in the modern era words grew “scanty in comparison with ideas” (258), this is not an entirely accurate description of how Orlando now uses language. To be sure, material objects are far less abundant in the narration than they were in the Victorian era. Nevertheless, Orlando and Shel use language in a way that attempts a fuller articulation of subjective inner life. Communication between them is so rich and nuanced that when Orlando calls Shel by the name “Bonthrop,” she conveys “that she was in a solitary mood, felt them both as specks on a

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desert, was desirous only of meeting death by herself, for people die daily, die at dinner tables” (259). The narrator then explains that other nicknames, “Mar” and “Shelmerdine,” convey similarly full representations of Orlando’s mental state (256–7; 260). That Orlando is able to define her various mental states without being immediately forced to focus on her material circumstances suggests the extent to which she has escaped the coercive power of the “spirit of the age,” as well as her increasing desire to focus on the life of the mind. So although Orlando is technically still in the Victorian era, she is beginning to exhibit modern tendencies. Patrick Collier argues that Orlando expresses the modernist artist’s constantly frustrated desire to “refine language into an instrument so efficient, capable of conveying such a dense load of meaning, that it can be understood only by the writer herself and a few select others” (363). While Collier stages the achievement of this goal as dependent on the writer’s ability to disengage from the increasing commercialism of the literary marketplace, it is perhaps more accurate to understand its achievement as dependent upon the writer’s ability to disengage from material concerns of a different sort, those of the body and its reproduction. After all, Orlando does engage with the commercialized literary establishment—in the figure of Nicholas Greene—in attempts to publish her centuries-old manuscript, “The Oak Tree.”10

“Double-bearing” childbirth Orlando’s newfound control makes her subsequent literary childbirth, like her marriage to Shel, defiant of the spirit of the Victorian age. Compelled by this spirit, Orlando conceived a child and then married. But by the time she gives birth to this involuntarily conceived son she has also given birth to a literary production of her own design. She is, to use Amy Lowell’s phrase, “double-bearing” (22), giving birth to a child of her mind while pregnant with a child of her body. Yet the child of her mind, “The Oak Tree,” is born at the right time, a voluntary conception desired by Orlando and in sync with human character. The manuscript’s publication is distinctly dramatized as a type of childbirth. “The Oak Tree” is not simply a poem but “a being,

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who, though not herself, yet entirely depended upon her” (272). Shortly after declaring the manuscript done, Orlando begins to feel labor pains: “The manuscript which reposed above her heart began shuffling and beating as if it were a living thing, and, what was still odder, and showed how fine a sympathy was between them, Orlando, by inclining her head, could make out what it was that it was saying. It wanted to be read. It must be read. It would die in her bosom if it were not read” (272). Rushing off to London, Orlando bumps into Nicholas Greene. The once-scurrilous Elizabethan poet has become “the most influential critic of the Victorian age” (277). At lunch with him, Orlando is delivered of “The Oak Tree” when “some hook or button fastening the upper part of her dress burst open, and out upon the table fell ‘The Oak Tree,’ a poem” (280). In this manner, Orlando’s child of the mind is born. Although Orlando began work on “The Oak Tree” some four hundred years prior, the poem is a product of the modern era. It changes, as Orlando changes, in relation to the passing eras, and so the poem becomes a product of the modern era once Orlando is free of the spirit of the Victorian era. In the “present moment” of the novel, October 1928, Orlando has taken control of her physical and literary reproduction, which we have seen allows her to escape the pressure of the pronatalist spirit and write poetry as she desires. It is at this point that Orlando begins the final stage of work on the manuscript. Orlando is able to produce a work of literature that is not dominated by material concerns because her thoughts are no longer violently interrupted by her body as they were in the pronatalist Victorian society. Because “The Oak Tree” was a voluntary rather than coerced production, it can be born at the “right” time. Indeed, this modern work connects with modern readers, going into at least seven editions (325). Although Orlando later disparages the fame and awards that come along with such success, she still values literature for its ability to communicate with readers. For Orlando, literature at its best is “a voice answering a voice” (325). Since Orlando’s work on the manuscript takes more than a year (266), and since Orlando is still physically pregnant with her son all the while, this physical pregnancy evidently lasts much longer than the expected nine months. We could assume that Orlando gives birth off-stage to the child she conceived involuntarily in the early years of the Victorian era, and that the boy she later gives

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birth to on-stage is a different child. Yet there is no reason to think Orlando’s pregnancy would adhere to the usual timeline. Orlando herself is thirty-six years old although she has lived for almost four centuries (302), so why should her pregnancy progress on a standard nine-month schedule? Rather, I read her pregnancy as a physical marker of the beginning and end of the Victorian era. Once delivered of her son, the Victorian era and its strident pronatalism give way to the modern era and its increasing availability of individual reproductive control. Almost immediately after her son is born, Orlando begins to notice a change in the weather and the people of England. She reflects that the sky “was no longer so thick, so watery, so prismatic now that King Edward . . . had succeeded Queen Victoria . . . It was harder now to cry. People were much gayer. Water was hot in two seconds. Ivy had perished or been scraped off houses. Vegetables were less fertile; families were much smaller” (297). The narrator’s description of Orlando in childbirth presages these changes by linking the increasing use of birth control among Britons to the dissolution of the empire. In keeping with the novel’s use of absences and gaps to register birth control, the effect of birth control on the empire is made manifest through circumlocution rather than direct discussion. The narrator, looking for reasons to avoid mention of Orlando’s labor and delivery, begins praising the “fulfillment of natural desires” one sees on a normal day in London: a servant’s new hat or a city clerk’s boat (293–4). Yet in the subsequent paragraph, these “natural desires” begin to imply sexual desire more than the possession of material goods: Hail! natural desire! Hail! happiness! divine happiness! and pleasure of all sorts, flowers and wine, though one fades and the other intoxicates . . . and anything, anything that interrupts and confounds the tapping of typewriters and filing of letters and forging of links and chains, binding the Empire together. Hail even the crude, red bows on shop girls’ lips . . . (294) This passage is forthright in its praise of markers of romance and seduction: flowers, wine, and painted lips. But why would romantic desire break up the empire if its fulfillment leads to reproduction and families? It seems the opposite would be true since, as we saw earlier, the novel establishes a cause-and-effect relationship between

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fertility and empire, namely that the continuation of the empire depends on the abundant reproduction of its people. It is only when we read this passage through the lens of birth control that the logic works. With birth control, people can enjoy romance without the worry of incessant reproduction. Birth control allows the fulfillment of “natural desire” to be a cause of happiness and pleasure instead of worry and fear. Certainly, contraceptives were not 100 percent effective—nor are they today—but the worry that one would conceive poorly timed children or more children than one could support was drastically reduced. Thus, birth control is key to the disruption of empire in this passage because it allows people to stop the cycle of incessant reproduction that the empire was built upon, while also allowing them to enjoy the fulfillment of natural desire. Thus the flowers, wine, and red lips ostensibly give the narrator occasion to elide the uncomfortable discussion of Orlando giving birth, but they can also be read as a celebration of the passing of a stifling era. Orlando’s child, who largely disappears from the novel,11 is the last vestige of the extreme pronatalism of the Victorian era. Almost immediately after his birth, the modern era is ushered in with the aforementioned dissipation of dampness. Orlando, like the modern era, is less fertile. She does not give birth to any more children of the body after she enters the modern era. Having conceived her son while still under sway of the spirit of the Victorian age, we can infer that she henceforth began learning to control her reproduction. We might assume that Orlando would be able to write freely in the modern era, what with its increased personal liberty (inclusive of the increasing availability of birth control). Yet this is not the situation Woolf presents. Throughout the novel, a wild goose symbolizes Orlando’s literary ambitions, her desire to write something true and original. At the end of the story, she reflects, “always [the goose] flies fast out to sea and always I fling after it words like nets (here she flung her hand out) which shrivel as I’ve seen nets shrivel drawn on deck with only sea-weed in them. And sometimes there’s an inch of silver—six words—in the bottom of the net. But never the great fish” (313). Despite Orlando taking control over her literary and physical reproductions, her literary ambitions, it seems, are still out of reach. Barriers to creativity for women might be lower in the modern era, but they are still present. Access to birth control, for one example, was far from ubiquitous, and women, especially, still

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faced pressure to reproduce. Woolf, who was childless herself, was well aware of this pressure. Perhaps Orlando is best read, then, as a testament to Woolf’s own struggles to catch the goose, to resist the materiality brought about by pronatalism and to write the life of the mind. The impact of birth control on the development of modernist aesthetics also informs the following chapter. Unlike this chapter, however, “Southern Mother, Lethal Fetus; Or How Birth Control Makes a Modernist out of Flannery O’Connor” moves the discussion forward in time, out of the period traditionally associated with modernism and into midcentury America, examining a writer more commonly associated with the Southern Gothic than modernism. Doing so reveals how the inclusion of birth control within a narrative can lead a writer to the use of characteristically modernist techniques, such as stream-of-consciousness, and modernist concepts, such as the depiction of subjectivity as a series of ruptures. Although both chapters, this one and the next, are concerned with the concept of “spirituality,” O’Connor’s use of the term is distinct from Woolf’s in that O’Connor’s is firmly rooted in Catholic theology. It is this Catholic perspective that allows me in the following chapter to reveal some of the ways in which midcentury literature began to subtly critique the early birth control movement by showing the limitations of the movement’s discourse.

4 Southern Mother, Lethal Fetus; Or How Birth Control Makes a Modernist Out of Flannery O’Connor

The symbolic possibilities of birth control carry the promise as well as threat of breakage, discontinuity, and rupture. Through its ability to stop a family line, birth control can represent a break with the future, and because birth control disrupts the definition of “wife” as inevitably also “mother,” it makes the usual female narrative (child-wife-mother) available for experimentation. As Beth Widmaier Capo argues, birth control can act as a type of “textual contraception” by allowing authors to imagine how “the traditional biological plot of women’s lives—virginity to marriage to pregnancy to motherhood and domesticity—[could] be narratively interrupted” (19). A logical result of this textual contraception, one not identified by Capo, is a modernist aesthetic. An author writing about a character with knowledge of birth control must contend with a character whose history, goals, and identity are in the lurch. The traditional narrative paths for a female character are disrupted because birth control creates the possibility, and perhaps the longing, for a life not defined by motherhood. So in terms of both plot and character development, the writer must find ways to tell a story that convey this character’s alienation from traditional lifestyles and her susceptibility to influence from the everyday stimuli that bombard the modern subject. The narrative techniques most closely associated with modernism—such as stream-of-consciousness and

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the rejection of a stable, omniscient narrator—were, of course, developed to address just these concerns, which means that a birth control thematic leads easily and logically to a modernist aesthetic. As a case in point, in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Stroke of Good Fortune” (from A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories (1955)), the presence of birth control disrupts both a character’s identity and what we might call the identity of an O’Connor text. If the typical O’Connor narrative contains a negatively depicted character who is opened to the possibility of grace through a physical catastrophe (Bauer 50)—as in the theft of Joy/Hulga’s leg in “Good Country People” (1955) or the grandmother’s murder in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” (1955)—the presence of birth control disrupts this narrative arc by bringing in a modernist aesthetic. In “Good Fortune,” the narrative drama arises from protagonist Ruby Hill’s unstable identity, which makes her intellectual crisis more salient than her physical one. Knowledge of birth control offers to Ruby—but does not ultimately deliver—the possibility of enjoying a sexually active marriage while also avoiding the multiple pregnancies that turned Ruby’s mother into “a puckered-up old yellow apple” at thirty-four years of age (67). As might be expected of a devout Catholic, O’Connor herself publicly condemned the use of contraception on religious grounds, as against god’s will, and she claimed that “Good Fortune” portrayed that belief (HB 85). Nevertheless, O’Connor was not satisfied with this portrayal and called the story a failure because it was “too much of a farce to bear the weight” of such a heavy topic (HB 85). The story has received little critical attention, but those who do discuss it generally agree with O’Connor, viewing it as an aesthetic failure. Dorothy Walters, for example, argues that “Good Fortune” is an unsuccessful anomaly among O’Connor’s works because nothing truly catastrophic happens (86). Yet recognizing the contraceptive disruptions in this story allows us to see it as a modernist text rather than a narrative failure. By examining “Good Fortune” in this light, I demonstrate how a modernist subjectivity in a character, and a modernist aesthetic in a writer, can develop as results of birth control in a narrative. In this chapter, I begin by providing historical context for “Good Fortune,” discussing the publication history of the story as well as explaining changes in public attitudes toward birth control since the 1920s, with particular emphasis on the Catholic Church’s

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stance on contraception. In part, this chapter and the next serve to illuminate some of the ways in which literary depictions of birth control changed in accordance with historical shifts in perception of birth control since the 1920s, and to show that despite these changes the relationship between birth control discourse and modernist aesthetics persisted. This historical background is the foundation on which I develop my argument that the inclusion of birth control in “Good Fortune” led O’Connor to experiment with modernist techniques, such as the use of stream-of-consciousness to depict subjectivity as a series of ruptures. I follow this discussion by elaborating on Ruby’s unstable, modern subjectivity, using theories of Louis Althusser and Judith Butler to demonstrate that she is torn between two conflicting ways of life, that of the “old South” and the “new South.” This illustration allows me to close the chapter with an analysis of the story’s surprisingly nuanced depiction of the complexities that inform reproductive decisions, a depiction that reveals discursive limitations of Catholic arguments against reproductive control, particularly as expressed in the papal encyclical Casti Connubii, as well as limitations to feminist arguments for increased access to birth control. Instead of abstract theological principles or political propaganda, readers see the complexities that inform a decision to use birth control and the inadequacy of a single, unified narrative for addressing the heteroglossias of modernity.

Historical context In “Good Fortune,” Ruby Hill realizes she is trapped, like her mother and sisters, in an involuntary cycle of motherhood that is reminiscent of the gothic horrors depicted in Mary Heaton Vorse’s and Rita Wellman’s stories in the Birth Control Review. Ruby is a social climber who prides herself on leaving her rural hometown of Pitman, Tennessee, five years ago when she married Bill Hill, a “Miracle Products” salesman from Florida (64). As Ruby arduously ascends the stairs of their apartment building, she puzzles over the cause of some recent health problems, variously ascribing them to heart trouble, cancer, aging, and gas, only to realize that pregnancy is the cause. For Ruby, this realization is devastating. She and Bill

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successfully prevented pregnancy for five years and Ruby hoped to keep it that way. She views motherhood as a torturous process, each child sucking out more and more of the mother’s life. Ruby’s mother had eight children, only four of whom lived to adulthood, leaving a “sour” woman who “looked like she wasn’t satisfied” with her lot in life (66). As Ruby climbs the steeple-like staircase to her fourth-floor apartment, she imagines her brother, Rufus, as a lethal fetus, “waiting, with plenty of time, out nowhere before he was born, just waiting to make his mother that much deader” (75). The realization of her own unwanted pregnancy, now several months along, is brought on by encounters with two neighbors on her journey up the stairs and through an earlier conversation with her psychic, Madam Zoleeda, who predicts a “long illness” followed by “a stroke of good fortune” (65). Ruby mistakenly thinks the good fortune will be a move to the suburbs. The story ends with Ruby sitting at the top of the staircase, trying unsuccessfully to rationalize away the pregnancy with thoughts of Madam Zoleeda’s prediction. A neighbor’s kid rudely runs into Ruby as she feels something in her stomach “resting and waiting, with plenty of time” (79). So like her mother before her, Ruby is unable to stop her body from reproducing despite efforts to prevent what she believes will be a deadly pregnancy. The couple’s method of contraception is not identified but we can narrow the possibilities. The contraceptive pill is not an option because it was first marketed in the United States in 1960 (Tentler 137). The rhythm method was widely used by Catholic couples in the 1940s and ’50s because the Church reluctantly permitted it as a more natural way to regulate fertility. As a result of the Church’s sanction, many companies began selling calendars to help couples figure out the safe period. Nevertheless, this method was notoriously prone to failure. So while it could account for Ruby and Bill’s “slip-up,” it does not explain the five previous years of successful prevention. Furthermore, there is no indication that Ruby and Bill are Catholic. Unapproved methods are more plausible candidates. Those most likely to be available to couples like the Hills were condoms, coitus interruptus, the diaphraghm, and spermicides. If Bill’s “Miracle Products” are contraceptives, and I argue they are, coitus interruptus is unlikely as it requires no special device for Bill to sell, and condoms, in use for at least 400 years, are insufficiently new to be marketed as “miraculous” in the

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1940s. Since the diaphragm is an invention of the late nineteenth century, it is a chronological possibility but nevertheless unlikely since Ruby, at one point, says Bill is in charge of contraception for the couple (43). In the end, the salient issue is probably not what method they used but that they used contraception at all. Leaving the method unspecified implicates contraception in general rather than any one form. O’Connor reworked this story at least three times, publishing it first in 1949 as “The Woman on the Stairs” in Tomorrow, again in 1953 in Shenandoah as “A Stroke of Good Fortune,” and finally in 1955 as part of the short story collection A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories. O’Connor was not satisfied with the final version. Before the book was published, she wrote to her editor Robert Giroux that she would not mind if it were pulled from the collection (HB 73). Nevertheless, O’Connor had worked on the story over a period of at least six years, which implies that she thought it held something worth investigating and revisiting. Indeed, subsequent revisions changed Ruby’s brother Rufus into Hazel Motes of Wise Blood.1 In the earliest version of the story, “The Woman on the Stairs,” Ruby is in charge of the couple’s contraception. Ruby, not Bill, has “been taking care of that for five years” (43). When O’Connor revised the story into its final iteration, she changed the power dynamic so that Bill “takes care of that” for the couple (76). The change is significant because it strengthens the already present implication that the miracle products Bill peddles are various forms of birth control, and opens the possibility that Bill tampered with the contraceptive device to trick Ruby into a pregnancy she did not desire. As Margaret D. Bauer argues, “Bill Hill has [evidently] assumed control of Ruby’s body—and he seems to have ultimately exerted and thereby exploited his control by impregnating Ruby against her wishes” (48). If Bill’s business is contraception, it makes sense that he would manage it within his own relationship. Moreover, Ruby has gained weight recently, a fact that makes Bill happy; we are told “Bill didn’t mind her being fat, he was just more happy” (77). Bill, like the other main characters in the story, is more than likely aware of the cause of Ruby’s weight gain. Ruby’s pregnancy is so obvious to her friend and neighbor Laverne Watts that Laverne blatantly mocks Ruby’s denial of it, teasing Ruby about looking “swollen all over” and performing a grotesque dance

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while spelling out M-O-T-H-E-R (75–6). Madam Zoleeda takes advantage of Ruby’s denial to predict she will experience a “long illness” that ends with “a stroke of good fortune” (65), a prediction far more befitting of childbirth than a move to the suburbs as Ruby thinks. The ready apparentness of Ruby’s pregnancy, Bill’s happiness at her weight gain, and the couple’s track record of five years of successful prevention combine to suggest that Bill does indeed know a reliable method of contraception but, aware of his wife’s aversion to childbearing, tricked her into pregnancy when he desired it. Bill’s Florida origins further support my reading of his miracle products as contraceptives. Ruby’s neighbor Mr. Jerger links the state of Florida to Ponce de Leon’s search for “a certain spring . . . whose water gave perpetual youth to those who drank it” (71). In Ruby’s worldview, birth control is a sort of fountain of youth since it allows her to avoid pregnancy. Staying young is not for Ruby only a matter of vanity (though vanity is certainly there, too). Rather, youthfulness means escaping a constricted life followed by an early death. Ruby’s mother was old before her time because of her neverending pregnancies, each of which made her “that much deader” (75). Ruby credits her marriage to Bill as the reason she was able to escape her hometown, a place she associates with incessant pregnancies and the early death they bring. Congratulating herself on getting out of Pitman, Ruby thinks, “She had married Bill B. Hill, a Florida man who sold Miracle Products, and had come to live in the city” (64). This sentence syntactically connects Bill, his Miracle Products, and the ability to leave Pitman. For a woman who believes, as I will later show, that the only way to move away from the deadening and disappearing lifestyle that Pitman represents is to get outside the deadly cycle of unwanted pregnancy that afflicted Ruby’s mother, Bill’s contraceptives would indeed seem miraculous. Charles W. Mayer argues that Bill’s Florida connection implies that Bill’s Miracle Products, his “fountain of youth,” is his desire for a child, which desire Bill will pass on to Ruby (72). Yet the possibility that the Miracle Products are contraceptives is more logical in the context of the story (if not O’Connor’s professed worldview) when we consider the couple’s five successful years of prevention and Ruby’s association of Bill’s Miracle Products with her ability to leave Pitman. Bill Hill from Florida offers Ruby her own fountain of youth by allowing her to avoid children and enjoy married life.

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That birth control allows Ruby to have it both ways would seem to be O’Connor’s target of criticism in the story. On the subject of contraceptives, O’Connor wrote in 1959: The Church’s stand on birth control is the most absolutely spiritual of all her stands and with all of us being materialists at heart, there is little wonder that it causes unease. I wish various fathers would quit trying to defend it by saying that the world can support 40 billion. I will rejoice in the day when they say: This is right, whether we all rot on top of each other or not, dear children, as we certainly may. Either practice restraint or prepare for crowding …. (HB 338) By defending the Church’s stance as “spiritual,” O’Connor is arguing against eugenic and economic justifications for contraceptive use. Though opinions among American Catholics varied widely, in general, lines were drawn between those who made the natural law or spiritual argument against birth control—that birth control is immoral because it denies the natural, God-given functions of the human body—and those who approved of birth control use because they were swayed by materialist arguments that promoted birth control’s virtues for easing economic constraints, or by eugenic arguments that stressed contraception’s ability to aid the pursuit of a so-called ideal or racially pure population (S. Leon 387–90). O’Connor’s defense of the Church’s spiritual stance implies that she saw abstinence—practicing restraint—as the only acceptable method of preventing children and stemming the tide of population growth. In this view, Ruby’s use of contraception severs two states that God intended to be intertwined: the pleasures of marital relations and the responsibilities of parenthood. A woman choosing to have marital relations must accept the possibility of becoming a mother. If we read “Good Fortune” in this light, Ruby’s fear of pregnancy makes her sinful, a woman who thought contraception would let her have her cake and eat it, too. O’Connor’s decision to engage in a debate so closely connected to sexuality and reproduction is perhaps unusual within her oeuvre but is not unpredictable. O’Connor paid close attention to theological debates and, since birth control was one of the most frequently discussed issues among church leaders in the 1940s and 1950s, she was aware of the various arguments for and against birth

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control (as the previous quote manifests). In the years surrounding O’Connor’s publication of the story, birth control was discussed more publicly than ever before as the topic gained salience in the United States. By 1955, the Comstock Law was no longer relevant. In 1936, a Supreme Court case (United States v. One Package) had made it legal for doctors to prescribe birth control to married women, and within a decade of the publication of A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories (1955), unmarried women would be able to get prescriptions, too, thanks to the 1965 case Griswold v. Connecticut. (In the broader realm of reproductive rights, Roe v. Wade would make abortion legal nationwide in 1973.) In contrast to Catholic reticence prior to World War I, in the post-bellum years the laity pressured the Church to openly declare its position on the permissibility of various forms of birth control (Tentler 173–5). Heated debate ensued between the Church and secular organizations, between the laity and the clergy, and among the clergy themselves. Many priests felt torn between the Church’s prohibition on most forms of contraception and the stories of harrowing economic destitution and sickness they often heard during confession. Prior to 1931, few clergy asked questions about contraception in confession, preferring to assume that if penitents used birth control they were in “good faith ignorance” of the Church’s teaching on the subject (Tentler 44). The Church’s official stance after 1931 was harder to ignore, stemming from Pope Pius XI’s very public condemnation of birth control in Casti Connubii, an encyclical on “Christian Marriage” (1931). Casti Connubii is primarily concerned with upholding the sanctity of marriage, and therein strenuously denounces the use of artificial contraceptives as a “criminal abuse” of the conjugal act (Catholic Church par. 53). Importantly for our purposes of parsing O’Connor’s story, Casti Connubii grants no exception in the case of the mother’s health, stating: Holy Mother Church very well understands and clearly appreciates all that is said regarding the health of the mother and the danger to her life. And who would not grieve to think of these things? . . . God alone, all bountiful and all merciful as He is, can reward her for the fulfillment of the office allotted to her by nature, and will assuredly repay her in a measure full to overflowing. (par. 58)

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This basic sentiment with regard to artificial contraceptives remained unchanged even after Pope Pius XII’s tentative approval of the rhythm method in 1951. Nevertheless, rhythm is an egregiously unreliable method and recourse to more reliable methods was still prohibited. So even if Ruby is correct to perceive motherhood as a death sentence, an undoubtedly extreme viewpoint, the Catholic Church maintains that women like her are committing a mortal sin by using artificial contraception. Most scholarship, with the notable exception of some recent feminist work, views the story in this light and argues that Ruby’s desire to be childless is selfish, vain, and sinful. These readings fit neatly with the Church’s and O’Connor’s stance on contraception. As mentioned earlier, O’Connor ultimately called the story a failure because it was “too much of a farce to bear the weight” of the topic (HB 85). This statement is rather perplexing in light of the fact that O’Connor actually increased the story’s farcical elements during her various revisions. As Charles W. Mayer demonstrates, O’Connor’s revisions augmented the physical comedy in the story. For example, the first version of the story did not contain the aforementioned scene in which Ruby’s neighbor, Laverne, pantomimes Ruby’s pregnancy with an exaggerated dance (71–2). We could read O’Connor’s attempt to push the story toward farce as an attempt to portray Ruby as someone deserving of ridicule rather than someone to sympathize with. This interpretation is in accord with a pattern identified by Katherine Hemple Prown, in which O’Connor gradually silences the “female-sexed voice” that once pervaded her writing in order to fit into the Southern masculine literary order (2). As Prown notes, “Good Fortune” represents a hinge point in O’Connor’s changing aesthetic (123). The first versions of “Good Fortune,” written very early in O’Connor’s career, contain a more sympathetic depiction of Ruby than the later, farcical versions. By increasing the story’s farcical elements, O’Connor decreased the likelihood that the story would be read as a feminist statement against involuntary reproduction. Yet Ruby, selfish and unlikable though she is in the final version, can still be read as justified in rejecting the horrible life her mother led and the children that bring it about. The story does reject “life at the source”—O’Connor’s words (HB 85)—but does so in a way that is at odds with O’Connor’s aforementioned

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strident admonition to “practice restraint or prepare for crowding.” The revisions of “Good Fortune” thus reveal ambivalence in O’Connor’s position toward birth control because the story, even the final version, depicts circumstances in which a woman might reasonably reject motherhood. In fact, the story humanizes and complicates even pro-birth control rhetoric because it evocatively imagines reasons for rejecting motherhood at the same time that it depicts the potential for birth control to trap women rather than liberate them when women themselves do not wield final control over contraception. By showing that contraception can be used to manipulate female reproduction against the wishes of the women involved, “Good Fortune” reveals the potential for abuse that is obscured by narratives like Marie Stopes’s (see Chapter 2) that depict contraception as a miracle of modernity. As a result, “Good Fortune” makes a feminist argument for women’s increased knowledge of and control over contraception. Indeed, Margaret D. Bauer, Louise Westling, and Linda NaranjoHuebl all independently suggest that O’Connor employed a sort of accidental feminism in “Good Fortune.” Bauer, for one, argues powerfully for Ruby as a character worthy of our sympathy. Bauer questions arguments that equate womanhood with motherhood, asking, “Ruby . . . does not want to have children. Does this make her less of a woman?” (42). Louise Westling might suggest that O’Connor herself was unconsciously asking the same question: “Whether she intended to do so, Flannery O’Connor has made a vivid protest against sentimental stereotypes of motherhood, by presenting Ruby’s horrified sense of the physical cost of reproduction and her awful realization that she has been tricked into paying it” (516). Scholars such as these offer an important critical counterbalance to most early readings of the story. In the next section of this chapter, I build on their work by illuminating the modernist narrative elements that make such feminist readings possible. In “Good Fortune,” knowledge of birth control makes Ruby an incoherent subject, and this knowledge gives rise to a modernist story in which an individual’s confused, rapidly shifting perception of the world and of herself take center stage, which in turn humanizes Ruby and allows readers to understand the reasons behind her use of birth control.

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A modernist experiment Some of the modernist traits in “Good Fortune” are easily identifiable. Most obviously, the psychological catastrophe at the end of the story has affinities with the Joycean epiphanies that pervade Dubliners. Consider the conclusion to “A Painful Case.” At the end of Joyce’s story, protagonist James Duffy sees a pair of lovers and knows his gaze on them is unwanted, prompting the realization that he is an outcast from life’s feast (99). Similarly Ruby, at the end of “Good Fortune,” realizes that her marriage is a sham and that she is doomed to an unsatisfying life. Almost as obviously, the plot, without Ruby’s interior monologue, is essentially “nothing.” May Sinclair’s appreciative review of Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimages explains that “nothing happens” in modernist novels; “[i]t is just life going on and on” (6). The idea that “nothing happens” in a modernist text—which is now used derisively as often as appreciatively—easily applies to “Good Fortune.” In this story, a woman talks to some neighbors as she walks up a flight of stairs. As I mentioned earlier, this lack of physical or external action led some critics to dismiss the story as an unsuccessful anomaly in O’Connor’s oeuvre. I read the fact that the story foregrounds consciousness and subjectivity as a central characteristic of its modernism. In “Good Fortune,” the suspense and narrative momentum depend on an individual’s thoughts and perceptions to a degree not usually seen before the modernist experiment with subjectivity. Like Randall Stevenson, I maintain that many of the traits we associate with modernism “need to be seen not altogether as innovations, but as changes of emphasis—even as quantitative rather than wholly qualitative differences from earlier writing” (34). Likewise, O’Connor’s attempt to portray the nuances of a character’s mental state is not unique to “Good Fortune,” but the story’s focus on the life of the mind over and above a physical catastrophe suggests that O’Connor was moving toward a modernist aesthetic while writing this story, and that this movement results from the story’s birth control thematic. As noted at the beginning of this chapter, once the traditional child-wife-mother plot is disrupted by the opportunities offered by birth control, the writer is forced to deal with a character whose identity, goals, and history are unsettled. Modernist narrative techniques developed to depict just this sort of character.

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Rejection of a stable, omniscient narrator is one such modernist technique that appears in O’Connor’s “Good Fortune.” Most of the story is written from the perspective and in the language of Ruby’s unspoken thoughts rather than related objectively by an authoritative narrator. While the opening paragraph uses a stable narrator to introduce Ruby (“Ruby came in the front door of the apartment building and lowered the paper sack with the four cans of number three beans in it onto the hall table” (63)), by the next paragraph O’Connor has begun to use the free indirect discourse that dominates the remainder of the story. Consider the following passage from the second paragraph. Among Ruby’s groceries are collard greens: She had bought these on account of [her brother] Rufus but she wasn’t going to buy them but once. You would have thought that after two years in the armed forces Rufus would have come back ready to eat like somebody from somewhere; but no. When she asked him what he would like to have special, he had not had the gumption to think of one civilized dish—he had said collard greens. She had expected Rufus to have turned out into somebody with some get in him. Well, he had about as much get as a floor mop. (64) This narrative style—pushing to get inside a character’s mind without doing away with the stabilizing authority of a thirdperson narrator—is characteristic of that which Randall Stevenson identifies with the early modernist experiments of Joseph Conrad, Ford Madox Ford, and Henry James. The narration in these texts “is no longer the manner of a narrator telling a story to a silent listener, but a style which follows the inner voice—if not always the actual words—of a character silently addressing himself” (Stevenson 28). Similarly, the aforementioned passage from “Good Fortune” reads as part of Ruby’s thoughts because it uses her idioms and speech patterns (“he had about as much get as a floor mop”) although it is ostensibly related to us by the narrator (“she had expected Rufus”). In “A Temple of the Holy Ghost,” O’Connor likewise foregrounds a character’s subjective perceptions, but does not make such extensive use of free indirect discourse and stream-of-consciousness. The voice of the narrator remains more

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distinct from that of the protagonist through O’Connor’s regular use of attributive tags such as “the child observed” or “she began to realize” (96). In “Good Fortune,” the narrative voice is discernible from Ruby’s, but the two increasingly merge together over the course of the story. The fact that “Good Fortune” retains the stabilizing authority of a narrator—keeping Ruby at a distance by discussing “her” from a presumably outside perspective rather than delving entirely into her perspective—suggests that this story is an early, limited experiment with modernist aesthetics. Many modernists toyed with stream-of-consciousness and subjective narration on a small scale before moving into a more extensive use of the techniques. As Stevenson notes, Joyce’s experiments with subjectivity in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man seem tame compared to his later work in Ulysses, and Dorothy Richardson’s use of “a new ‘subjective method’” grew steadily throughout Pilgrimage (45; 37). I am arguing here that the birth control thematic in “Good Fortune” impelled a similar early experiment with modernist techniques. Biographer Jean W. Cash explains that “Good Fortune” may have been written while O’Connor was enrolled in the Iowa Writers Workshop (105). If so, O’Connor conceived the story at a time when she was encountering many different writing styles and was likely encouraged to experiment with them. Indeed, Katherine Hemple Prown demonstrates that O’Connor’s aesthetic began a dramatic shift under the tutelage of John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, and others at the University of Iowa who exhibited what Prown calls a “philosophical kinship to high modernism” (30). That O’Connor did not continue to develop this style and push further into her characters’ minds in other stories can be explained by her dissatisfaction with “Good Fortune.” It is not just the degree to which “Good Fortune” depends on the life of the mind for its narrative momentum that makes it modernist; the implications of this narrative style are characteristically modernist, too. By following Ruby’s impressions and disjointed thoughts, “Good Fortune” depicts subjectivity as a series of digressions and ruptures, a far cry from the pre-modernist notion of character as stable and self-actualizing. For instance, seeing the collard greens in the grocery bag makes Ruby think about her brother, which then causes her to think about her hometown Pitman, which

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train of thought abruptly shifts to her recent illness when she faces the stairs she must climb, and these thoughts about illness eventually drift into thoughts about her psychic (64–5). Ruby’s thoughts continue in this disjointed fashion throughout the story. As discussed in Chapters 1 and 2, Margaret Sanger and Marie Stopes developed narratives that depict access to birth control as the cure for involuntary pregnancy and subjective incoherence such as that experienced by Ruby. In Ruby’s case, however, her inability to forge a coherent identity stems from her knowledge and use of contraception. The difference stems from Ruby’s incomplete transition away from the lifestyle of constant childbearing that caused her mother’s early death, and into a new, modern lifestyle.

Between the old and new South: Subjectivity in the lurch Arguing that O’Connor’s story is modernist implicitly places it in context with the Southern modernism of writers such as William Faulkner and Zora Neale Hurston. As with Faulkner, O’Connor’s brand of Southern modernism is concerned with the transition from an older, agrarian lifestyle to a modern way of life (though what, exactly, that way of life consists of is nebulous).2 Peter T. Zoller notes that “Ruby is O’Connor’s exemplification of Southern individualism gone wrong. Through her efforts to raise herself in the changing social system of the ‘new South,’ she has forgotten the religious basis that was part of her past” (61). What Zoller does not acknowledge is the extent to which the “old South” social system is spiritually and physically damaging for the lower-class women within it, and, moreover, that the people and towns perpetuating this social system are disappearing. Although the narrator’s depiction of Ruby as supercilious might imply that readers should disapprove of her attitude toward the old South, we cannot absolutely condemn her rejection of Pitman. In truth, the way of life represented by Pitman is no longer viable because Pitman itself no longer exists. We find out that “[a]ll the people who had lived at Pitman had had the good sense to leave it, either by dying or by moving to the city” (64). The town symbolizes not only the disintegration of Ruby’s family unit but also the general disintegration of the customs of the old

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South. Ironically however, Pitman lives on in Ruby. She might have run away from this social system, but, I will demonstrate, she does not completely forget and forego the traditions of the old South. It is through O’Connor’s use of modernist techniques to depict Ruby’s unstable identity—Ruby’s inability to completely divorce herself from the customs of the old South—that “Good Fortune” is able to demonstrate the complexities that inform decisions about reproduction. Ruby’s statements about who manages the contraception in her marriage provide a clear illustration of her fluctuation between the customs of the old South and those of the new. The first iteration of the story, “The Woman on the Stairs,” presents Ruby as thinking, in free indirect discourse, “She had done all right doctoring herself all these years—no bad sick spells, no teeth out, no children, all that by herself. She would have had five children right now if she hadn’t been careful” (63). This reference is untouched in the final version of “Good Fortune.” At a different point in this final version, however, O’Connor made the aforementioned change from Ruby saying that she had “been taking care of that for five years” (43), to Ruby saying “Bill Hill takes care of that!” (76). Ruby here lets slip that she relies on Bill to take care of the contraception, just as he has the final say in where the couple lives, which manifest Ruby’s lingering adherence to the customs of the patriarchal old South.3 The final version of the story thereby contains a contradiction that displays Ruby’s incoherence. Believing herself to be a modern Southern woman, Ruby asserts control over her body and her life by claiming responsibility for her health. Later however, as anxiety and illness increase Ruby’s self-awareness, she reveals the limited extent of her personal agency by revealing that Bill actually takes care of the birth control for the couple. In her early unwillingness to realize how little control she has over her body, we can see that Ruby’s transition to the customs of the new South is incomplete. Ruby’s recognition of her pregnancy brings about a recognition of herself as a subject beholden to the laws of the old South. In this sense, Ruby’s conversations with her neighbor Laverne and with her psychic work like the policeman’s interpellating call in Althusser’s famous formulation (174). When Ruby recognizes herself as a pregnant woman, she is constituted as a trespassing subject, a person who tried and failed to break the patriarchal, old South law that commands women to reproduce. Althusser argues that

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interpellation is a continuous process rather than a single moment of recognition as implied by the example of the policeman’s hail (176). We can understand Ruby’s interpellation as similarly occurring through a succession of calls. The first of these occurs when Ruby accidentally sits on a toy gun, which is phallically described as “nine inches of treacherous tin” (67). Ruby was unaware of her husband’s deception just as she is unaware of the gun on the stairs until too late. As she grumbles over the child, Hartley Gilfeet, who left the gun out and derides his mother’s poor parenting skills, Ruby thinks that Hartley’s nickname of “Little Mister Good Fortune” is woefully inappropriate. The connection between this nickname and Madam Zoleeda’s prediction is obvious to readers and should suggest itself to Ruby, but she maintains a steadfast denial of her own coming “good fortune” and thus fails to recognize herself in the old South’s call. Ruby’s later conversation with her neighbor Laverne is more explicit. Although Ruby refuses at first to recognize herself in Laverne’s grotesque pantomime of Ruby’s condition (“‘Not me!’ she shouted. ‘Not me!’” (76)), Ruby eventually acknowledges that these utterances of Laverne’s and Madam Zoleeda’s accurately refer to herself. The words of her psychic and her neighbor make her recognize what her body could not. Therefore, the interpellating call of the old South brings into existence an excessive subject rather than the coherent subject for whom the call is intended. In Althusser’s original formulation, the purpose of the hail—a policeman’s call or a friend’s hello—is to bring and keep the subject in conformity with a particular ideology. In the case of “Good Fortune,” Ruby’s pregnancy is both the hail and the reprimand that would bring her into line with the laws of the patriarchal old South, in particular the injunction to reproduce. This hail, however, produces an excessive, incoherent subject because it reveals the fact that Ruby is torn by competing ideologies, that of the old and new South. Expanding on Althusser’s original formulation of interpellation, Judith Butler wonders whether a reprimanding utterance must “wield the power to compel the fear of punishment and, from that compulsion, produce a compliance and obedience to the law,” or whether there are “other ways of being addressed and constituted by the law . . . that disarticulate the power of punishment from the power of recognition” (122). Butler argues that the reprimanding utterance can sometimes produce a situation that exceeds the bounds of the law’s disciplining power.

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In these instances, “[i]nterpellation . . . loses its status as a simple performative, an act of discourse with the power to create that to which it refers, and creates more than it ever meant to, signifying in excess of any intended referent” (122). Like Rita Wellman’s and Mary Heaton Vorse’s depiction of maternal bodies that produce excessive numbers of children, the old South’s interpellating call unwittingly creates an excessive subject that cannot be fully disciplined. Ruby’s involuntary reproduction can thus be read as a physical manifestation of the difficulties—and revolutionary possibilities—attending to any individual trying to forge a coherent identity in the modern cultural landscape. Ruby’s misstep is in thinking herself to be a wholly modern, progressive woman when that subject position (the position of any modern subject) is “wholly” nothing: unmoored from traditional lifestyles and narratives, buffeted about by the winds of everyday life, the modern subject is incapable of forging the unified identity he or she longs for. Ruby recognizes the truth in this statement for herself only when she recognizes her pregnancy. As she sits at the top of the dark apartment building staircase bemoaning her newly realized pregnancy, Ruby begins to confuse her history with her mother’s. We are told that she “gazed down into the dark hole, down to the very bottom where she had started up so long ago” (79)—an image suggesting Ruby’s own birth—at which point she wails “Noooo” and feels a roll in her stomach “as if it were out nowhere in nothing, out nowhere, resting and waiting, with plenty of time” (79). These concluding words ominously echo those she uses to describe her brother Rufus as a fetus “just waiting to make his mother that much deader” (75). As Claire Kahane notes, “at the end of the story the images confuse a fantasy of giving birth with Ruby’s own birth” (1985, 346). But Ruby does not only re-live her own birth; she actually confuses her identity with her mother’s: “[Ruby] felt her face drawn puckered: two born dead one died the first year and one run under like a dried yellow apple no she was only thirty-four years old, she was old” (78). This stream of consciousness evinces broken ego boundaries between Ruby and her mother. Early in the story, her mother’s face was puckered, her mother had four dead children, and her mother was old at thirtyfour; yet here, Ruby cannot keep straight whose life is whose. Ruby sees herself as her mother, a woman thoroughly assimilated into and produced by the old South, and simultaneously a baby on the verge

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of birth, an avatar of the undefined ideology of the new South. This scene of grotesque parturition ruptures the illusion that Ruby had ever been a unified, coherent subject because she realizes she is still determined and impacted by the expectations of the old South. She is not simply a subject hailed by two competing ideologies, but a subject stretched between them, always exceeding the bounds of the old South identity because of her horror of children, and exceeding the identity of the new Southern woman because of her lingering adherence to traditional kinship systems. Through O’Connor’s use of stream of consciousness and free indirect discourse, and her rejection of a stable, omniscient narrator, the reader is privy to the vacillations that Ruby’s mind undergoes as she tries and fails to reconcile her identity into a single, coherent whole. As we saw in Ruby’s thoughts about the collards, the stairs, and the psychic, her mind flits from one subject to another, rarely finishing a thought before an external stimulus sends her mind in another direction. Thus, by virtue of O’Connor’s use of modernist techniques, readers see how susceptible Ruby’s mind is to influence and re-direction. An immanently modern character, Ruby is trying to shore together a new kind of life but cannot because her lingering adherence to the old South way of life led her to cede control of her body to her husband. Her continued adherence to some of the customs of the old South means she would eventually recognize herself in its call.

Discursive limitations Ruby’s excessive subjectivity carves out space for “Good Fortune” to parody the ideology of the old South and its injunction to reproduce by enacting that very injunction to hyperbolic and grotesque excess. Returning to Judith Butler, consider that: Where the uniformity of the subject is expected, where the behavioral conformity of the subject is commanded, there might be produced the refusal of the law in the form of the parodic inhabiting of conformity that subtly calls into question the legitimacy of the command, a repetition of the law into hyperbole. (122)

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Likewise, by inhabiting the laws of the old South, “Good Fortune” is able to resist them. The women of the old South reproduce as expected, but because of the conflict created by subjective and bodily excesses, mothers and children become grotesquely distorted. In these excesses, “Good Fortune” (though not Ruby) finds room from within to critique the injunction to reproduce. In “Good Fortune,” the natalist bent of the old South kinship system is depicted as physically and psychologically damaging, thereby calling into question the desirability of the injunction to reproduce. Of course, this feminist reading does not square with the traditional critical understanding of O’Connor’s works. After all, this is a writer who professed to ignore gender differences in favor of divisions between “the Irksome” and the “Non-Irksome” (HB 176). Yet “Good Fortune” manages to dramatize birth control use in a more nuanced manner than many explicitly feminist narratives by depicting its possibilities and perils. Significantly, contemporary readers, even Catholic ones, were not likely to see Ruby as an unredeemable sinner. The depiction in “Good Fortune” of subjectivity as a series of digressions and disruptions vividly displays the multitude of factors that inform any decision about reproductive issues. In the case of Ruby, O’Connor’s use of modernist techniques like free indirect discourse and stream of consciousness provides background on Ruby’s character, doing so in a way that allows readers to experience the cognitive conflict and fear that led her to use contraception. The narrative techniques used by O’Connor carry a great deal of authority, encouraging readers to believe what we are told because the less a narrator seems to intervene in the transcription of a character’s thoughts, even if the narrator is always there, the more the reader is inclined to believe that the character’s fears are genuine and views unvarnished. Furthermore, unlike with traditional narrative techniques that maintain a clear distance between the character and the reader, these modernist techniques allow us to inhabit Ruby’s thoughts, bringing us closer to the complex of forces influencing her decisions. Seen from this close perspective, her fear of childbirth momentarily becomes our fear, and her disgust with her mother’s lifestyle becomes our own. This intimacy is crucial. Often in moral and political debates, divisive issues become less so if the conversation moves away from polarized positions and toward individual cases. As a

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current example, we might look to debates about abortion. A recent Gallup poll (2011) found that although Americans are nearly evenly divided between those who identify as pro-life (46 percent) and pro-choice (47 percent), there is significant agreement between pro-life and pro-choice individuals when asked about more specific circumstances. According to Gallup’s Lydia Saad: Abortion politics have been quite contentious in the United States; however, self-described ‘pro-life’ and ‘pro-choice’ Americans broadly agree on more than half of 16 major abortion policy matters Gallup tested in June and July. These policies generally have to do with protections for women’s vital health, preventing late-term abortions, and ensuring that abortion patients and parents are fully informed before an abortion. (2011) In effect, the more people know about individual circumstances— the more they understand about an individual’s pressures and challenges—the more likely they are to accept an act that otherwise seems impermissible. O’Connor’s use of modernist narrative techniques is, as I noted earlier, tempered by the fact that she retains the stabilizing authority of a third-person narrator, the presence of which keeps the reader at more of a distance than a fuller use of the technique might do. Nevertheless, O’Connor ventures close to a character’s interior monologue in “Good Fortune,” meaning that this story works to erase the distance between reader and character, which is likely to raise questions in the Catholic reader’s mind about the humanity of the prohibition on contraception. The same basic phenomenon with regard to intimacy held true within the Catholic Church at the time of publication of “Good Fortune.” Strong community bonds and close contact with parishioners made it very difficult for many priests to demand adherence to the Church’s stance on contraception. This tension grew throughout the first decades of the century as men like Monsignor John Ryan called on the Church to be more outspoken in its condemnation of contraception. Leslie Tentler explains that it “was one thing for Ryan or even a bishop to endorse a more proactive practice when it came to combating sinful modes of family limitation. Men like these, after all, had limited pastoral

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contact with the laity. It was quite another thing for priests to implement such reform in the parishes that were their lives” (42). Similarly, it is one thing for Casti Connubii to express pity for the suffering of a nameless woman who would become a martyr for motherhood, but it is quite another to detail the suffering of an individual woman facing what she believes will be an early death through pregnancy. O’Connor admitted that stories sometimes escaped her intentions or even understanding. In 1956, she wrote to a friend, “Perhaps you are able to see things in these stories that I can’t see because if I did see I would be too frightened to write them” (HB 149). Perhaps, then, O’Connor’s explanation of the story’s failure as too much of a farce obscures the more heretical notion that the story “fails” because it sympathizes with women suffering under the Church’s prohibition on contraception. The story’s birth control thematic interrupts O’Connor’s usual narrative patterns by introducing a modernist aesthetic, and the modernist move away from stable subjectivities illuminates the dangers and cruelties latent in the Church’s—or anyone’s—move to deny women control over their own bodies. At the same time, O’Connor’s story shows us that the dominant narrative put forth by the birth control movement downplayed the potential for abuse that accompanies birth control use. By bringing into conversation Christian and birth control discourse, O’Connor inadvertently picked up the mantle where Marie Stopes left off (see Chapter 2). Of course, “Good Fortune” depicts a very different result from the combination of religion, politics, and science. Whereas Stopes saw herself as a prophet, a Moses, and a miracle worker, “Good Fortune” offers up Bill Hill as an answer to Stopes’s birth controller–cum-prophet. Bill’s “miracle products” allow Ruby to believe that she is in control of herself, her identity, and her future. This belief is mistaken, though, because Ruby’s control over her own body is superficial and she is ultimately beholden to Bill Hill’s desire to see his wife become a mother, which locks her into the terrible cycle of reproduction that dominates the lives of poor, Southern women like Ruby’s mother. “Good Fortune” is thereby a challenge to the notion that any coherent, unchanging narrative could possibly account for the complex realities of modernity. The potential for birth control to be used as an oppressive tool

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of reproductive control is at the center of the argument put forth in the next chapter. In it, I examine Octavia Butler’s Dawn as a manifestation of the ways in which birth control intersects with the legacy of reproductive abuses perpetrated on the bodies of AfricanAmerican women.

5 Where Alien Abduction Meets Family Planning: Personhood, Race, and Reproduction in Octavia Butler’s Dawn

In June of 2014, the Supreme Court issued a 5–4 decision in which it ruled that the so-called contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act violates the religious rights of the craft-supply store Hobby Lobby. The case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., hinged on the question of whether for-profit corporations, recently classified as “persons” in the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case, have religious rights that could be violated by the contraception mandate. This mandate refers to a key aspect of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which, as mentioned in the Introduction, classifies birth control as a preventative health care measure that must be covered by all insurance plans (“Women’s”). The court’s decision that corporations do indeed have religious rights in certain circumstances raises a host of questions about the types of exemptions corporations might be granted on the basis of religious belief (exemptions to anti-gay discrimination laws, for example). The dissenting opinion, written by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, is caustic. She states, “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield” (Burwell 34–5), and elsewhere argues, “the exemption sought by Hobby Lobby . . . [would] deny legions of women who do

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not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage” (Burwell 8). Reactions to the court’s decision signal the beginnings of a popular awareness of personhood as an issue with direct relevance to birth control. For example, social media users quickly picked up on the fact that the decision seems to grant corporations more rights than women; one woman tweeted, “Fetus = Person. Corporation = person. Women = meh” (Abedini). Nevertheless, feminist and literary scholars have paid little attention to the personhood of women in reproductive rights discussions—especially in regard to debates over access to birth control—focusing instead on fetal personhood in abortion debates. In this chapter, I begin to address this critical gap by reading Octavia Butler’s science fiction novel Dawn (1987) as a revision of the modernist conception narrative. I argue that Dawn’s iteration of this narrative is more reflective of the experiences of AfricanAmerican women, which reveals why personhood, so central to abortion debates, deserves greater attention in literary and feminist discussions about birth control for women of all races. Dawn, which is the first novel in Butler’s Xenogenesis/Lilith’s Brood trilogy, depicts an African-American woman named Lilith Iyapo who has been abducted by aliens called the Oankali who intend to interbreed with humans to create a new “construct” species. Because this novel presents a world in which the difference between the human and the non-human is starkly obvious but the difference between person and non-person is difficult to determine, the novel allows us to see the importance of distinguishing carefully between the concept of the “human” and that of the “person” in discussions about birth control, and of being attentive to the ways in which one concept may be affirmed while the other is denied. When we read Dawn as a text invoking modernist tropes, we are compelled to see that birth control is a necessary precondition of personhood in modern America. My argument is likely to raise several immediate questions, one of which is surely why a modernist narrative of birth control would show up in a late twentieth-century science fiction novel. This genealogy is not as odd as it may seem when we consider Darko Suvin’s once-influential definition of SF (an umbrella term encompassing science fiction and speculative fiction, among other genres) as “the literature of cognitive estrangement” (italics original, 58)—“estrangement” being Suvin’s translation of Viktor Shklovsky’s

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“defamiliarization.” Suvin relied explicitly on Shklovsky’s theory to draw an analogy between SF and modernist theater, particularly Bertolt Brecht’s, arguing that both genres are primarily concerned with making the audience see with fresh eyes, and that they do so by creating a world that is uncannily familiar and strange at the same time. Using Suvin’s definition as a launching point, my reading of Dawn as a modernist text “estranges” or defamiliarizes birth control rhetoric in ways that reveal the complex issues surrounding personhood that emerge around access to and control over contraception. My reading achieves this defamiliarization in two ways. First, viewing Dawn as an iteration of the modernist conception narrative defamiliarizes the rhetoric of reproductive rights by showing how the novel takes a theory of personhood commonly used by contemporary anti-choice activists and places it in the mouths of an alien species that denies humans access to birth control. Second, Dawn’s revision of the tropes of the modernist conception narrative invokes slavery in antebellum America, thereby juxtaposing the stark inhumanity of that system with the morally ambiguous situation faced by the novel’s protagonist, Lilith Iyapo, who has been abducted by the Oankali. Through these defamiliarizing elements, the novel compels us to see the importance of distinguishing between “person” as a moral and social category and “human” as a biological one when discussing birth control. Indeed, my reading demonstrates how easy it is to conflate personhood with humanity – in other words, to rely too heavily on arguments from biology that obscure the importance of personhood as a moral or social state. Personhood is closely related to subjectivity, an idea I have discussed at length in this book. The two terms are so tightly linked that some scholars use them interchangeably. Yet personhood has a very specific cultural and social history when discussed in context with reproductive rights. For at least the last 150 years, but especially the last fifty years in the United States, the idea of personhood has been associated with the conservative “right to life” movement and its attempts to argue that fetuses should be considered independent persons (Petchesky 333–4). Furthermore, it is important to recognize the historical significance of the concept of personhood when the individual in question is African-American. For example, Margaret Sanger’s well-known claim that “No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her own

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body” (Woman and the New Race 94) requires consideration of the historical legacy of slavery when the body is that of an AfricanAmerican woman. This is not to suggest that lack of access to birth control in twentieth- and twenty-first-century America is equivalent to the abuses perpetrated on black women under slavery. Rather, I am arguing that attention to the ways in which the legacy of slavery plays out in Butler’s novel shows how lack of access to birth control evokes questions about what makes us human; about humanity as differentiated from personhood; about the extent to which women are granted status as persons; and about the ways in which race compounds the implications of such questions. This chapter pays homage to these historical and cultural nuances by contending that a modernist-feminist reading of Dawn reveals how personhood, so long an effective—if logically suspect—arrow in the anti-choice movement’s quiver, can be used effectively by reproductive rights advocates if attention is shifted from fetal personhood to that of the woman, and from abortion to birth control. Butler’s novel need not be thought of as a direct response to the rhetoric of early birth controllers. Rather, I read it as a response to the modernist conception narrative, which had become powerful and pervasive in transatlantic culture by the time of Dawn’s publication, and which foregrounds the potential for birth control to change women’s lives for the better. Butler’s novel revises this narrative because it, like O’Connor’s “A Stroke of Good Fortune,” addresses the potential for abuse that arises when the control in birth control is not wielded by individual women. The late date of both of these texts, 1955 and 1987, respectively, reflects the fact that the conversation surrounding birth control was not dominated by a few key players as it was at the beginning of the twentieth century and had thus started to reflect concerns and experiences of a broader range of the population (those of Catholics and AfricanAmericans, in these cases).1 I, like Rosalind Pollack Petchesky, take as given that what counts as personhood changes over time and place. As Petchesky says, “prevailing ideas about morality are inevitably shaped by their historical and cultural contexts,” which is “as true of the concept of ‘personhood’ as it is of the concepts of ‘murder’ or ‘maternal duty’” (331). This chapter considers the ways in which personhood has changed over the course of the twentieth century; far from a “luxury” as some pundits and politicians would have it,2 Dawn compels us to consider access to birth control a

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fundamental condition of personhood in the modern, Western world. Before delving into Dawn’s defamiliarization of the modernist conception narrative, it is first necessary to establish the presence of birth control in the novel since it has been all but overlooked in the scholarly conversation. In the course of this discussion, I will occasionally refer to the subsequent books in the Lilith’s Brood trilogy, Adulthood Rites (1988) and Imago (1989), as they help illuminate my argument.

“Family Planning” in Dawn Dawn’s connections with birth control discourse may not be immediately obvious, but they become clearer when we remember that another name for birth control is “family planning.” This aspect is often overshadowed by the idea of birth control as a means to prevent conception. Yet advocates have long argued, and still do argue, that one of the chief benefits of birth control is allowing women to decide not only if, but when, they will have children. Indeed, although Margaret Sanger resisted the term “family planning” (Baker 260), she nevertheless promoted its connotation when she advocated birth control as a means for spacing out pregnancies to suit parents’ physical, emotional, and financial needs. As such, this chapter engages an understanding of birth control similar to that described in Chapter 3 regarding Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. In Dawn, family planning for all humans has been taken over by aliens who abducted the few remaining survivors of a nuclear war on Earth and are now holding them on a giant spaceship. The Oankali are powerfully drawn to humans and intend to breed with them to create a new “construct” species that will supposedly have the best of human and Oankali characteristics. Their desire to interbreed arises because the Oankali are genetic engineers. They crave newness and seek out other species with whom to trade genetic material. As one of the Oankali explains to Lilith, “We know you had begun to do it [genetic engineering] yourselves a little, but it’s foreign to you. We do it naturally. We must do it. It renews us, enables us to survive as an evolving species instead of specializing ourselves into extinction or stagnation” (39). The

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Oankali do not need special scientific instruments for their type of genetic engineering. Rather, it is something they achieve with nothing more than specially adapted parts of their bodies. Humans are especially attractive as trade partners for an unexpected reason: cancer. Because they are so skilled at manipulating genes, the Oankali see cancer as a valuable “talent” (20) they can adapt to allow for auto-regeneration of body parts. Cancer runs in Lilith’s family. For this reason and others, she is selected to awaken out of suspended animation the first group of humans to return to Earth after 250 years of Oankali efforts to make the planet once again inhabitable. These awakened humans can, if they choose, live and breed with Oankali mates. Alternatively, humans who choose to live without Oankali mates are altered with a version of a long-acting contraceptive so they can never have children without Oankali intervention. This alteration is made because the Oankali are convinced humans will eventually kill themselves off through warfare if left genetically unaltered, and that allowing this kind of species suicide to occur is morally wrong. Lilith, however, is not given this choice. She is manipulated into developing bonds with one alien in particular, a gender-neutral Oankali named Nikanj. The Oankali are not deliberately cruel in their treatment of Lilith. Rather, they use pheromones and a shrewd knowledge of human psychology to compel not just compliance from trade partners such as Lilith, but also affection from them. Nevertheless, Lilith is deeply disturbed by their plans for her, and at the end of Dawn she angrily realizes that Nikanj has impregnated her without her awareness. Although Lilith has had the equivalent of sex with Nikanj many times by this point in the novel, it3 has always regulated her fertility. Nikanj is explicit about the type of fertility control used, saying, “your people called it birth control” (96). So like Ruby Hill in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Stroke of Good Fortune,” Lilith is involuntarily impregnated, and not because of a general lack of availability of birth control but because she, herself, is not in control of it. In contrast to “A Stroke of Good Fortune,” however, Lilith’s personhood is denied at the same time her humanity is overtly affirmed, creating a situation that is uncannily, presciently, similar to that found in the United States in the twenty-first century. Questions about personhood and humanity in regard to birth control are under-theorized in feminist scholarship, and literary

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scholarship, for its part, has all but overlooked Dawn’s resonances with birth control discourse. When personhood does come up in feminist discussions about reproductive rights, it invariably arises in regard to abortion and it typically refers to fetal personhood. As a logical extension, personhood is only discussed in context with birth control methods such as IUDs and emergency contraception because these methods are sometimes thought to be abortifacients by virtue of their method of pregnancy prevention. Thus these latter discussions are not really about birth control but abortion, once again.4 Susan Bordo is one of the few scholars to address personhood for women (although her argument relates, predictably, to abortion). In her 1993 book Unbearable Weight, Bordo argued that the “terms of the abortion debate—as a contest between fetal claims to personhood and women’s right to choose—are limited and misleading . . . the current battle over reproductive control emerges as an assault on the personhood of women” (72). Bordo’s argument is insightful because she identifies maternal personhood as an important factor for consideration in abortion debates in addition to, and as a counterbalance for, the often-discussed issue of fetal personhood. Although Bordo suggests her argument has implications for broader reproductive rights debates, she does not elaborate on what those implications might be and to which reproductive rights debates her insights most usefully apply. In this chapter I am addressing birth control as birth control, a proactive method of preventing and/or spacing pregnancy, and considering it in light of the personhood of women. In regard to literary scholarship, Donna Haraway’s seminal analysis of Dawn casts a long shadow over scholarship on Butler’s oeuvre. Although written some twenty-five years ago, Haraway’s Primate Visions (1989) and her earlier “A Manifesto for Cyborgs” (1985) continue to be the dominant critical touchstones for discussions of Dawn, and this dominance rightly implies that postmodern and poststructuralist theories also dominate scholarship on Butler’s works. In 1990 Robin Roberts voiced what is still a widely held view among feminist critics when she argued that “feminist SF of the 1980s can be discussed most usefully in the terms of post-structuralism and post-modernism” (138). Twenty years later, Ingrid Thaler located Dawn within a postmodern tradition in her 2010 Black Atlantic Speculative Fictions (20), and Heather

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Latimer asserted the continued relevance of Haraway’s postmodern cyborg theory in her 2011 study of Butler’s novels (319). This feminist-postmodernist vein of scholarship produces valuable insights, yet I sympathize with Adam Johns who argues that “the insularity of that body of work—good as it is—has permitted it to practically ignore” certain aspects of Butler’s work (99). I, like Johns, am interested in moving beyond the postmodernism that is so closely connected to the Harawayan line of criticism, and moreover see a need for new scholarship approaching Butler’s oeuvre from a broader feminist standpoint.5 For example, scholars have considered only a narrow range of interpretive possibilities for the depiction of reproductive technologies in the Lilith’s Brood trilogy, of which Dawn is the first novel. In-vitro fertilization (IVF) is typically the focus of critical studies, despite the fact that the Oankali explicitly compare their method of fertility control to contraception.6 Sherryl Vint, for one, argues that the novels in the trilogy “engage with contemporary discourses about the appropriate uses of various biological technologies of body manipulation, specifically genetic engineering and in-vitro fertilization,” and then argues that Butler’s focus on “debates about the relationships among identity, genetics, free choice, and destiny are precisely the terrain being fought over in discussions of genetic futures” (58). Vint’s statement of the relationship between Butler’s SF and the politics of reproduction is accurate, yet she overlooks birth control as one of the “biological technologies of body manipulation” that Butler’s novels engage. Perhaps because these novels speculate about the future of humanity, critics tend to look only at those technologies that are sufficiently new as to seem futuristic themselves. In other words, a technology like the diaphragm or the pill is insufficiently new to appear futuristic to late twentieth or early twenty-first century Anglo-American critics. Yet before the introduction of the hormonal contraceptive pill in the 1960s, the idea that a woman could do something so simple as swallow a pill to prevent pregnancy seemed to many people like an idea found only in a SF novel. Aldous Huxley’s “Malthusian belt” from Brave New World (1932) is a case in point. The presence in Dawn of a modernist narrative used by early birth controllers invites a reading of the novel for what it can show us about birth control discourse.

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Personhood and the modernist conception narrative in Dawn To address reproductive rights in Dawn through the lens of birth control, I rely, as mentioned earlier, on an understanding of birth control similar to that detailed in my analysis of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, of birth control as a means to prevent conceptions as well as shape or direct them. In this earlier chapter, I discussed the shaping process as largely an intellectual one: Orlando satirizes a pseudoscientific theory wherein a woman’s thoughts share a limited quantity of energy with her reproductive system, such that artistic production has a direct impact on a developing fetus’ physical form (in terms of looks and health). We can, however, think of this shaping process in more scientific terms. Birth control methods such as diaphragms or the pill allow women to choose the timing of their pregnancies. In effect, birth control technologies and methods allow women a greater ability to shape their conceptions because they enable women to choose to begin a pregnancy at a time when they are in better physical, emotional, and financial shape than they might otherwise be. With this understanding of birth control in mind, we will be able to see that the modernist conception narrative appears in revised form in Dawn by virtue of the novel’s invocation of slavery and its depiction of the Oankali idea of personhood. To review, the modernist conception narrative as discussed in Chapter 1 features a woman whose body reproduces without this woman’s desire or consent. Conception does not originate from actions taken on the woman’s part but rather is caused by a force that is (apropos of Dawn) alien to her. Readers gradually become aware of the autonomous functioning of the woman’s body as it is revealed over the course of the narrative, as the woman’s body becomes increasingly dissociated from her mind. In Dawn, the interaction between mind and body is the defining feature of personhood for human beings, and its interruption—caused by the Oankali’s refusal to allow humans to control their own fertility— denies their personhood even while their humanity is affirmed. Before proceeding further with this discussion of the modernist conception narrative in Dawn, some definitions are in order. What is a “human” in Butler’s novel and how is this different

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from a “person”? How is personhood for humans different from personhood for other sentient beings such as the Oankali? Rosalind Pollack Petchesky’s “feminist concept of personhood” (345) takes into account the interaction between mind and body, making it particularly useful for understanding personhood in Dawn. Unlike many theories of personhood, Petchesky accounts both for relationships with others and for the relationship between one’s body and mind. In Petchesky’s formulation, personhood requires “personality—the existence of a self, which implies a psychological and a social component beyond mere biological integrity” (346). She is quick to differentiate her theory from Kantian-inspired ones which “associate personhood with attributes of developed human beings—not only ‘consciousness’ but ‘reasoning,’ ‘self-motivated activity,’ even the ability to ‘judge between right and wrong’” (346). Petchesky’s problem with this “rationalist-individualist concept of personhood” is “its use in the interests of a ruling elite to exclude those considered insufficiently ‘rational’ or ‘motivated’ or ‘civilized’ from the civic or even the moral community: slaves, women, children, the colonized” (346). Her theory, in contrast, stresses relationships—with others and with one’s self—and, as such, is predicated on the idea of personhood as a process, continually changing in regard to changes in one’s relationships.7 Personhood, in Petchesky’s view, is “a never-ending development that involves, as consciousness, rational and ‘moral’ faculties but, more primally, feelings, sensations, the body” (347–8). In contrast, the term “human” in Petchesky’s framework and in Dawn is a biological concept, one which encompasses only the genetic makeup of the individual. The circumstances in Dawn make clear that Lilith’s humanity, when read in light of Petchesky’s theory, is affirmed while her personhood is assaulted. And within this theoretical framework, we see that the way the Oankali perceive personhood is actually a type of biological determinism in which “the concept of ‘person’ (moral) is totally collapsed into the concept of ‘human life’ (biological, or generic)” (Petchesky 341). In Dawn, personhood for humans is, as mentioned, defined by the relationship between the mind and the body. This relationship is messy and complicated. In truth, a hallmark of the relationship is conflict and contradiction between mind and body, caused by humans’ inability to perfectly understand or to control their bodies combined with their willingness to lie about the needs of

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their bodies. Correspondence between mind and body, inevitably somewhat opaque in human beings, is starkly interrupted by a lack of access to birth control; since the relationship between mind and body, in all its imperfection, is part of what it means to be a human person in this novel, lack of access to birth control thereby abrogates the individual’s full exercise of his or her personhood. The easiest way to see this mind–body relationship at play in the novel is by first considering its foil, personhood for the Oankali. For the latter, a near-perfect synthesis between mind and body exists and, as a result, the Oankali assume what they read in any individual’s genetic code is an accurate register of the individual’s personhood. Even the name “Oankali” refers to a body part, “a minuscule cell within a cell—a tiny organelle within every cell of our bodies” that is “the essence of ourselves, the origin of ourselves” (39). It is because of this organelle that gender-neutral Oankali, called ooloi, “can perceive DNA and manipulate it precisely” (39). As this statement implies, the Oankali have a highly sophisticated understanding of their bodies—either on their own or through their ooloi mates—because this ability allows them to isolate individual cells the way humans can distinguish one finger from another. The Oankali privilege what the body “tells” them over and against the mind. By virtue of their own mind-body relationship, combined with the fact that humans regularly lie, the Oankali mistakenly assume that what humans say, the expression of their minds, is a less accurate register of the individual’s personhood than what the body says. As a result, then, the Oankali are best understood in Petchesky’s framework as genetic determinists. Rather than distinguishing between personhood and humanity, the Oankali assume biology is personhood, that the two states are so closely connected as to render distinguishing between them unnecessary. To wit, the Oankali claim to have determined that all humans have a fatal flaw stemming from two incompatible characteristics, both of which are hardwired into the human genetic code: intelligence and hierarchical behavior. These characteristics are incompatible because their presence together will always, the Oankali say, lead humans to annihilate one another as they nearly did in the nuclear war that precipitates events in the novel. This determination leads the Oankali to refuse to let humans control their own fertility, convinced as they are of the accuracy of their own reading skills and humans’ inability to change the forecasted future. Many critics

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rightly argue that readers should not take this kind of genetic determinism too seriously because Butler undercuts it just as much as she sets it up. Amanda Boulter, for one, argues that “the Oankali claim to understand the nature of humanity through their intimate knowledge of living human flesh, but they nevertheless repeatedly misinterpret or wrongly predict human behaviour” (174). Indeed, the Oankali’s determinism is undermined throughout the trilogy, highlighting the space between personhood and humanity. These aliens routinely dismiss humans’ stated desires and intentions in favor of those read in the body, and this privileging of the body over the mind leads the Oankali to misunderstand and inadvertently mistreat the humans in their captivity. The best example of this misunderstanding occurs at the end of Dawn when Lilith finds out she is pregnant. Nikanj impregnated Lilith when her body desired it—she admits as much in a later novel—but her mind did not: “You said—” She ran out of breath and had to start again. “You said you wouldn’t do this. You said—” “I said not until you were ready.” “I’m not ready! I’ll never be ready!” (246) To this protest Nikanj later responds, “Nothing about you but your words reject this child” (246). The presence of this statement within a novel—itself nothing but words—is deeply ironic. To dismiss the importance of words is to misunderstand a fundamental aspect of human personhood because it mischaracterizes the relationship between mind and body and privileges the body implicitly. As Vint says, the body does not always express an individual’s full personhood: “Lilith’s body expressed her desire to have a child, but it did not express . . . her simultaneous and contrary desire to resist interbreeding with the Oankali” (69). But privileging the body as the Oankali do not only presents an inaccurate picture of the individual’s personhood, as Vint implies; it actually assaults that individual’s personhood. When humans are denied access to birth control in the modernist conception narrative, as we have seen in previous chapters, the body becomes dissociated from the mind, stretching correspondence between mind and body to a breaking point. Dawn is no different in this respect; Lilith’s body may want a child, but her mind does not. Recall, moreover, that in the modernist

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conception narrative the maternal body’s autonomy is revealed gradually over the course of the narrative, such that the woman is eventually forced to deal with a body that is no longer under her mind’s control. At the end of Dawn, Lilith’s body has desires of its own, desires entirely at odds with those of Lilith’s mind. Without family planning, Lilith’s sense of herself as a person has changed as a result of her relationship with Nikanj; his refusal to allow her to control her own fertility dissociates her mind from her body and thereby abrogates her personhood, suggesting that reproduction without access to birth control is a state antithetical to personhood for humans. Butler elaborates on this point, using the death of Lilith’s husband and son before the war as a vehicle for exploring human personhood. Both die as a result of a car crash, her son almost immediately and her husband months later. As Lilith explains it, her husband, Sam, “only half died” in the crash (75). Sam suffered traumatic brain injuries and existed in this liminal state for three months (76). That Butler should have chosen to write Sam’s demise under these circumstances, and with this language, is significant. Because of Sam’s injuries, his existence consisted almost exclusively of bodily functions. Although he was occasionally conscious during this time, he merely stared with “eyes empty of recognition . . . the man himself had already gone” (76). Thus the novel makes clear that personhood is much more complex than solely biology, and that when the relationship between the mind and body is broken, a sort of life in death similar to that seen in earlier iterations of the modernist conception narrative ensues. While Sam’s state is not brought about by incessant reproduction, Lilith clearly understands that any decision, restriction, or process subordinating her mind to her body to such an extent would render her “half-dead” due to the denial of personhood. Lack of access to birth control attacks an individual’s personhood but not necessarily his or her humanity. Indeed, the actions of the Oankali simultaneously affirm Lilith’s humanity and deny her personhood. Within Oankali society, Lilith’s status as a human is her most salient characteristic. For the Oankali, her actions, scents, and sounds are unmistakably human. Because her humanness is so intriguing to all Oankali, Nikanj, while still an adolescent, wants to share her with others and so asks Lilith if he can introduce her to some of his friends. At first, she acquiesces happily enough, but

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quickly changes her mind because “Nikanj’s friends poked and prodded her exposed flesh and tried to persuade her through Nikanj to take off her clothing …. When they saw that she would not strip, no more questions were addressed to her. She was first amused, then annoyed, then angered by their attitude. She was nothing more than an unusual animal to them. Nikanj’s new pet” (55). This scene describes Lilith’s growing realization that she is not being treated as an individual but as a type, as a human specimen to be studied. Indeed, she senses that some of the children “would have enjoyed dissecting her” (55). Feeling so intensely different and closely scrutinized causes Lilith to feel objectified. “How,” she asks herself, “was a pet supposed to feel? How did zoo animals feel?” (56). In truth, however, her humanity is the cause of the objectification. So while the Oankali might deny Lilith’s personhood through their denial of access to birth control, they repeatedly affirm her humanity, a situation resulting from the Oankali’s genetic determinism.

Defamiliarizing birth control This genetic determinism is the foundation from which I develop my argument that Dawn defamiliarizes contemporary debates about reproductive rights. Around the time this novel was written, Petchesky explains, anti-abortion groups began to change their rhetorical strategy: “Increasingly, in response to accusations of religious bias and violations of church-state separation, the evidence marshaled by antiabortionists to affirm the personhood of the fetus is not its alleged possession of a soul but its possession of a human body and genotype. In addition, by relying on biological, or genetic, determinism, the ‘right-to-life’ movement asserts a claim to scientific objectivity” (338), a claim Petchesky argues is false, based as it is on the mis-construal of personhood as a biological rather than social or moral concept. The Oankali, like anti-choice groups in the 1980s, collapse the difference between the “human” and the “person,” overwhelmingly privileging biology. As a result, they believe personhood is preserved so long as humanity is preserved. Yet by denying Lilith and the other humans in their captivity the ability to take proactive control over their own fertility, the Oankali

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circumscribe the interaction between mind and body and deny them the ability to make intelligent decisions over and against the impulses of their bodies. The degradation caused by this decision on the part of the Oankali manifests in the second novel in the trilogy, Adulthood Rites, in striking fashion. The resisters, those individuals who chose not to breed with the Oankali and were therefore denied the ability to have children, are now living on Earth without much direct contact with the Oankali (but still supervised by them). The resisters become less and less civilized the longer they are denied the ability to reproduce “normally,” that is, without being altered by the Oankali version of long-acting contraception. Phoenix, one of the largest towns built by resisters, is at first a relatively orderly place, with well-constructed houses, a store, and even a church. Within a few years, however, there was “trash in the street. Dead weeds, food waste, scrap wood, cloth, and paper. Some of the houses were obviously vacant. A couple of them had been partially torn down. Others seemed ready to fall down” (482). The state of the town is benign compared to the behavior of the resisters, more and more of whom engage in “raids” of other towns to steal goods and rape women, and others who kidnap construct children from humans who live with Oankali mates. The situation gets so bad the Oankali finally admit they made a mistake in their treatment of humans and offer, in the final novel, an alternative: humans can have the long-acting contraception reversed and regain the ability to have fully human children if they relocate to Mars. Although we might take issue with the novel’s suggestion that people need to reproduce to be satisfied—indeed, quite a few scholars have criticized Butler on that ground (see Dorothy Allison, for one)—but the point I am arguing stands regardless of whether you agree with Butler’s depiction of the necessity of reproduction. This novel highlights how questions of personhood arise in reproductive debates in unexpected ways, and this intersection of issues is particularly illuminating when we consider the dearth of discussion about personhood in light of birth control rhetoric. Since, as we have seen, the assault on Lilith’s personhood is constructed through the tropes of the modernist conception narrative, the novel compels us to see access to and personal control over contraception (as opposed to other reproductive technologies such as IVF or abortion) as necessary for the full exercise of personhood for humans.

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Whereas earlier iterations of the modernist conception narrative depict the inability to stop having children as horrific, this example shows how Butler’s novels depict the inability to have children as potentially degrading as well. This latter concern reflects a sentiment expressed by many feminist women of color over early twentiethcentury eugenic efforts to stop “inferior” races from reproducing. These efforts continued in various forms throughout the century, resulting in the involuntary sterilization of some 63,000 individuals, with women of color among the most vulnerable groups (Largent 7). Thus, the implication that full exercise of human personhood requires the ability to choose to have children as well as not have them is indicative of the novel’s revision of the modernist conception narrative to be more reflective of the experiences of women of color. Moreover, the novel’s scenes of eroding personhood evoke the rapes, economic breeding practices, and other reproductive abuses perpetrated on enslaved women in the United States, an invocation that is underscored by virtue of the protagonist being AfricanAmerican. The implicit presence of slavery within the novel helps contextualize the state of reproductive rights discourse in the United States today, in which a woman’s humanity, like Lilith’s, may be affirmed while her personhood is denied. Curiously, Butler alleges that only her works which address slavery directly, such as Kindred (1979), are about slavery (qtd. in McCaffery 56). Nevertheless, reading Dawn without imaginative recourse to the legacy of slavery requires a willful ignorance of Lilith’s race (a feat that was, in truth, achieved by a disturbingly large number of readers, aided by some publishing houses’ decision to print the book with a white woman on the cover (Boulter 173)). If, however, we recognize that Lilith is African-American, the abuses endured by enslaved women are an almost unavoidable presence in the novel. As Donna Haraway evocatively puts it, “the image of deracinated fragments of humanity packed into the body of the aliens’ ship inescapably evokes the reader’s memories of the terrible middle passage of the Atlantic slave trade that brought Lilith’s ancestors to a ‘New World,’ where a ‘gene trade’ was also enforced” (Primate 379). As a result of the reproductive abuses endured by enslaved women in the United States, the African-American body bears markers of a reproductive history that is different—though certainly not uniform—from that of a Caucasian, Asian, or Latino body. Therefore, although Butler claims this novel is not about slavery, for readers who acknowledge

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Lilith’s race, Dawn is a novel that contends with the history of slavery in the United States. The novel’s depiction of personhood thus also bears comparison with racist ideologies of personhood. The aforementioned reproductive abuses were usually justified on the racist pretense that black people are less than human (which makes personhood a moot point). As Dorothy Roberts argues, the antebellum social order in America was “founded on two inseparable ingredients: the dehumanization of Africans on the basis of race, and the control of women’s sexuality and reproduction” (23). To demonstrate her point, Roberts provides several examples of ways in which black women’s offspring were treated as commodities rather than humans in the eyes of the law. One of these examples involves a slave woman named Pen. Roberts quotes from a court document in which a judge states, “He who is the absolute owner of a thing, owns all its faculties for profits or increase, and he may, no doubt, grant the profits or increase, as well as the thing itself. Thus, it is every day’s practice, to grant the future rents or profits of real estate; and it is held, that a man may grant the wool of a flock of sheep, for years” (34). On the basis of this principle, Roberts explains, the court granted ownership of not just Pen but of Pen’s children, “the goods that she bore, as well as her potential to bear future goods” in Roberts’ words (34). The juxtaposition in Dawn of Lilith’s situation with that faced by enslaved women defamiliarizes the modernist conception narrative, making it uncanny by removing Lilith from the cultural and political milieu of the United States while simultaneously invoking the history of that country. In other words, the allusions to slavery function as a foil to Lilith’s life among the Oankali, emphasizing what Lilith does not endure: she is not enslaved and her humanity, rather than being denied, is repeatedly affirmed. And even still, her personhood is under attack. Lilith may not face the same kind or the same degree of assaults on her personhood as enslaved women, but her personhood is far from safeguarded. In antebellum America, the personhood and the humanity of black people were negated. But as Butler’s novel shows us, these concepts are not necessarily conjoined. Because the Oankali are preoccupied with humanness, they make vividly clear how humanity can be affirmed while personhood is attacked. The narrative resonates unfortunately well with attacks on personhood occurring in the United States in the twenty-first

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century, as this chapter’s discussion of the Hobby Lobby case implies. While the humanity of female Hobby Lobby employees is never questioned, their personhood most certainly is. Dawn is particularly illuminating, then, because it addresses social situations that are uncannily similar to those that occur in the United States in the twenty-first century, revealing the hypocrisy of practices that effectively deny personhood to an individual while operating within discourse systems that ostensibly affirm the individual’s humanity. This chapter’s argument about personhood, humanity, and race is in conversation with that in the Coda, which discusses a series of billboards proclaiming “Black Children Are An Endangered Species.” My analysis of the billboards is positioned on its own in the Coda to emphasize the fact that the discussion draws on insights developed throughout this book and establishes a lineage of interaction between the ideas of birth controllers and modernists that stems from the early twentieth century and continues through to the twenty-first. Whereas controlled fertility was largely perceived as unnatural and monstrous when the birth control movement first began, Dawn’s defamiliarization of the modernist conception narrative compels us to see self-controlled fertility as central to personhood. This depiction of birth control as natural in Butler’s novel is a testament to the success of early birth controllers’ efforts to re-shape popular perceptions of female fertility, and furthermore marks how much birth control’s cultural significance has changed over the twentieth century.

Coda

Having established the high degree of interaction between modernist artists and the Anglo-American birth control movement, I now consider the ways in which the rhetoric resulting from this cross-fertilization continues to shape debates well into the twentyfirst century. Revisiting the issue of subjectivity as discussed in the Introduction will help reveal a particularly striking example of the lingering presence of modernist aesthetics in birth control debates. In the process, I will show that introducing a modernist version of subjectivity into their depictions of poor women might have helped activists make access to birth control a public issue in the early twentieth century, but that the usefulness of the trope, which continues in the twenty-first century, is outweighed by the damage done by the implication that poor women lack the competence to make rational decisions for themselves. As discussed in the Introduction, birth control activists began employing a modernist version of subjectivity—the socially determined subject—in their rhetoric in the early twentieth century. Before then, activists on both sides of the Atlantic relied primarily on an idea of the subject as capable of self-actualization. Twentiethcentury activists did not, however, shift quickly or completely from depictions of a self-actualizing subject to a socially determined one. Rather, the two versions of subjectivity appeared, often side-byside, in arguments put forth by the same person or contained within the same context. Use of these different versions was not arbitrary. In discussing middle- and upper-class women, birth controllers typically assume a self-actualizing subject; for poor women, their arguments tend to be built around a socially determined one. The first issue of Margaret Sanger’s Woman Rebel (1914) provides a clear example. In one place, the editors declare that rebel women claim the right to be lazy, to be unmarried mothers, to create, and to destroy (“On Picket Duty”). Just a few pages earlier, however, an unsigned article asks, “If, as reported, there are approximately

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35,000 women working as prostitutes in New York City alone, is it not sane to conclude that some force, some living, powerful, social force is at play to compel these women to work at a trade which involves police persecution, social ostracism and the constant danger of exposure to venereal diseases [sic]” (“The Aim”). The fatalism implied in this statement conflicts with the assumption of autonomy expressed in the declaration of rights. Who are these self-directing rebel women to whom the editors refer? Why are they not subject to the “living, powerful, social force” that afflicts the prostitutes? Class provides the clearest line of demarcation between these women, with rebel women being capable of turning their desires into action and the poor prostitutes being socially determined subjects unable to escape social forces without help from science, reproductive technology, and activism. Marie Stopes’s rhetoric similarly depicts poor women as incapable of self-direction. Her “Letter to Working Mothers” (1919) takes a distinctly different tack than her wildly popular manual Married Love (1918), the latter of which was written for middleand upper-class individuals. In “A Letter,” Stopes emphasizes the inability of working mothers to help themselves. “You wanted a good family,” Stopes states, “but you did so want time to rest and get strong yourself between their coming . . . No one told you how to give yourself a good long interval to pick up between the children; I am going to tell you how to do this so that you may bear strong children” (117). When addressing more affluent couples in Married Love, as I noted in the Introduction, Stopes describes otherworldly joy awaiting couples who choose to use contraception. In her “Letter,” however, Stopes uses none of the metaphysical language of Married Love and instead emphasizes the disjunction between the poor subject’s mind and body. The women she addresses in her letter know they need to stop or delay pregnancy, but they are unable to control their bodies’ seemingly involuntary reproduction. This rhetorical construction reflects Stopes’s underlying assumption of the poor woman as a modern, fractured subject, a person incapable of controlling even her own body without guidance. Constructing this class-based model of subjectivity likely helped activists make access to contraception a public issue. In both England and the United States, birth control at the turn of the twentieth century was taboo, a private matter to be whispered over the fence to a neighbor or shared among female family members. As we saw

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in Chapter 1, a central goal for most birth control advocates was making this private issue a public point of discussion. To the extent that activists achieved this goal, deployment of the modernist version of subjectivity would have helped the public see access to birth control as a public issue because it implies that the plight of a woman without birth control cannot be ameliorated by herself. In other words, constructing arguments around the notion of the poor subject as socially determined allowed periodicals advocating birth control to persuade affluent readers—the ones more likely to give donations to the cause, but also the ones more likely to already have access to birth control via private clinics—that they, too, should care about access to birth control because the issue was a moral imperative, and poor women a charity cause needing the assistance of benevolent individuals possessing the wherewithal (the money and the agency) to make a difference. Thus, birth controllers employed this class-based model of subjectivity for an ostensibly good reason: to increase poor women’s ability to access safe, reliable birth control. Nevertheless, depicting these women as incapable of self-actualization feeds notions that the poor need to be guided and regulated for their own good. We should not be surprised, then, that charges of classism, elitism, and racism haunt the modern birth control movement. A particularly illustrative example arises out of a billboard campaign in Atlanta, Georgia. Whereas I have been focusing on arguments made by birth control advocates, this example involves opponents to the birth control movement who use the trope of the socially determined poor woman against birth control advocates themselves. The end result is, if anything, more pejorative than it was in the hands of advocates. In 2010, Atlanta area residents were presented with more than sixty billboards proclaiming “Black Children Are An Endangered Species.” The billboards were sponsored by “The Endangered Species Project” (ESP), a collaboration between the non-profit organizations Operation Outrage and The Radiance Foundation. A self-proclaimed campaign of empowerment, these billboards actually operate on the assumption that poor, black women are incapable of making rational decisions for themselves. The ESP billboard campaign sparked interest and outrage far outside its headquarters in Atlanta. Many major news outlets (ABC, CBS, NPR, FOX) ran stories about the project, and public opinion ranged from support to anger, thoughtful to irate. Much of the emotional outpouring stemmed not just from the

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billboards but from the claims on ESP’s website about eugenics and Planned Parenthood (which originated in Sanger’s American Birth Control League). The ESP website attempts to link Sanger’s eugenicist beliefs—which, as we saw in Chapter 1, are frequently exaggerated but not non-existent—to current levels of birth control use and abortion among black women. The claim made by ESP, nowhere stated but everywhere implied, is that Sanger’s eugenicist goals continue in today’s Planned Parenthood, which allegedly dupes poor, black (and implicitly helpless) women into having abortions and using birth control in an effort to reduce the black population. In other words, ESP argues that Planned Parenthood is currently waging a negative eugenics campaign against black communities. Like the women in Sanger’s and Stopes’s publications, poor, black women are portrayed by ESP as modern subjects, individuals incapable of taking rational action on their own behalf or for the good of their communities. ESP draws a direct correlation between the social ills of the black community and reproductive control, suggesting that allowing women control over their reproduction damages the community in significant, tangible ways: Since the legalization of Roe v. Wade, the black community has been hit hardest with its aftermath. Urban decay has been accelerated due to rampant sexual irresponsibility, increasing poverty, fatherlessness that exceeds 70%, and the continuing deterioration of stable (two-parent) black families. Abortion hasn’t mitigated ANY of these factors. All of these societal conditions . . . have all risen in direct correlation with increased prominence of the Birth Control policies and legalized abortion. (TooManyAborted.com “The Truth”) Within this framework, abundant reproduction will rescue black communities from the aforementioned poverty, fatherlessness, and sexual irresponsibility. Notwithstanding the fact that abortions would not stop even if they were made illegal, that abortions would actually increase if birth control were harder to access, and that wealthy, two-parent homes are not always stable, ESP’s statement tries to establish poor black women, and their inability to see through Planned Parenthood’s supposed façade, as the cause of many of the social ills that plague black communities.

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Ultimately, ESP is not concerned with the duping or brainwashing purportedly happening in poor neighborhoods. Rather, the organization uses the same class-based model of subjectivity we saw a century earlier in attempts to reduce birth control use among black women and to make abortion illegal. ESP’s stated goal for the billboard campaign is to inform people so they are “not in the dark anymore” about Planned Parenthood’s nefarious scheme (TooManyAborted.com “The Status Quo”), and yet the campaign is not simply a neutral reporting service shedding light on a subject. ESP’s founders hope to make people “outraged enough to actually take peaceful ACTion! against the destruction that abortion brings to the unborn, to the would-be mother and father and to a community that is stripped of possibility” (TooManyAborted.com “The Status Quo”). Obviously, the only sanctioned “thinking” or “agency” is that which corroborates with the party line, amounting, of course, to no thinking or agency at all. So while the ostensible target audience of the campaign is poor, black, pregnant women, the primary audience is actually well-educated, financially comfortable lawmakers and activists with the wherewithal to change laws, regulations, and norms. Portrayals of poor women as socially determined (and thereby in need of rescue from more affluent individuals) may have served a beneficial purpose in the early twentieth century by helping birth control advocates move the issue into the public sphere. But as the ESP billboards make glaringly obvious, use of this trope comes at a heavy price. The problem is not so much the depiction of individuals as modernist subjects as it is the differential deployment of it— the use of different versions of subjectivity based on class—by opponents and advocates alike. Such a rhetorical position removes from debate precisely the people who should be at the center of it: poor women who still, a century after Sanger and Stopes began their campaigns, often struggle to gain access to affordable, reliable birth control. By reading literary modernism in Anglo-American birth control debates, we can recognize its aesthetic concerns as a red thread in public conversations about birth control that leads all the way through the twentieth century and into the twenty-first. Acknowledging the influence of literary aesthetics on the political positions surrounding birth control helps us see these positions as mutable and culturally constructed rather than permanent bulwarks

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of the debate. If, for one, the modernist idea of subjectivity as socially determined has become reified as a marker of poverty, it is time to imagine new arguments, ones based on a notion of subjectivity that more successfully respects the intelligence and autonomy of all women.

N OTES

Introduction 1 2

3

4 5

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“At risk for pregnancy” refers to women who are sexually experienced and of childbearing age (Daniels 1). See, respectively, “Olive Moore’s Headless Woman” by Jane Garrity, Michael Davidson’s “Pregnant Men: Modernism, Disability, and Biofuturity in Nightwood,” and Heather Holcombe’s “Faulkner on Feminine Hygiene, or, How Margaret Sanger Sold Dewey Dell a Bad Abortion.” See Angus McLaren’s Birth Control in Nineteenth-Century England and Brodie’s chapter “Strategies in Colonial America” in Contraception and Abortion in Nineteenth-Century America for more information. For more information on Thompsonians and water cure specialists, see Brodie, 143–50, and Sklar. Knowlton was sentenced by American courts to three months hard labor in 1832 for publishing Fruits of Philosophy (Brodie 95). Owen’s Moral Physiology was never charged with obscenity in the United States, but British courts found the text obscene and convicted Edward Truelove in 1879 for publishing it (Himes 546). The stated objectives of The Malthusian, the official organ of the Malthusian League, demonstrate that the League’s leaders held poverty and overpopulation as their chief concerns. The “Objects” are: 1. To aid the Malthusian League in its crusade against poverty and the accompanying evils by obtaining the cooperation of qualified medical practitioners, both British and foreign. 2.

To obtain a body of scientific opinion on points of sexual physiology and pathology involved in the “Population Question,” and which can only be discussed by those possessed of scientific knowledge.

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To agitate for a free and open discussion of the “Population Question” in all its aspects in the medical press, and thus to obtain a recognition of the scientific basis and the absolute necessity of neo-Malthusianism. (“Objects”). While the second object obliquely references birth control (“sexual physiology”), the reference is clearly there in service of their efforts to educate the public on issues relevant to overpopulation.

Chapter 1 1

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4

This chapter’s elision of Sanger and the birth control movement is purposeful. Sanger, to a large extent, was the movement in the United States. Although she had rivals for leadership, Sanger and her life story became the most prominent representations of the movement. Indeed, as Jean H. Baker indicates, the general public thought of Sanger and the movement as equivalent, to the extent that she received letters addressed to “Mrs. Birth Control” (133). In line with this elision, a character in Philip Roth’s novella “Goodbye, Columbus” states that she “called Margaret Sanger Clinic,” a phrasing that Beth Widmaier Capo argues merges the person with the clinic: “It is not the clinic named for Sanger, or Sanger’s clinic: the individual and the structure are one and the same” (185). By Sanger’s design, public perception held that Sanger’s decisions were also those of the movement; when she embraced eugenics, so did the movement. Smith and Wallace, for instance, see a common obsession with “the rapidly changing relationship between culture and the quotidian” in Modernist and Gothic aesthetics (1). More specifically, Riquelme notes traces of Gothic influence in the exoticism of Oscar Wilde’s and Joseph Conrad’s texts, the prophetic strain of W.B. Yeats’s poetry, and the “mad characters and haunted spaces in Virginia Woolf’s narratives” (589). Dodge wrote that Sanger was “the first person I ever knew who was openly an ardent propagandist for the joys of the flesh. This, in those days, was radical indeed” (qtd. in Barnet 145). The first significant revision to the Comstock Act came in 1936 when Sanger helped file a lawsuit that eventually came to be known as United States v. One Package of Japanese Pessaries. According to Joshua Gamson, “the liberalization of federal birth control law was solidified in the One Package case, in which the Second Circuit Court of Appeals literally defined the federal statutes to allow

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‘the importation, sale or carriage by mail of things which might intelligently be employed by conscientious and competent physicians for the purpose of saving life and promoting the well being of their patients’” (269). Sanger’s stated intent for the BCR was to “introduce a quieter and more scientific tone [than that of Woman Rebel ] …. We held strictly to education instead of agitation” (Autobiography 252). The BCR is indeed quieter than the Woman Rebel, but the claim that the BCR had no intent to agitate is laughably false. “Race” is generally used by early twentieth-century birth controllers to refer to “the human race” rather than ethnicity or skin color. Determining guidelines for fitness was a matter of constant debate among eugenicists. Sanger had her own ideas for defining fit parents. According to Sanger, couples should not begin or should cease reproduction if, for instance, either parent has a “transmissible disease, such as epilepsy, insanity, or syphilis” (Autobiography 193). Baker is making the point that Sanger opposed the idea of birth control as “a mere secondary aspect of eugenics” instead of “a weapon of liberation” (Baker 193).

Chapter 2 1

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I am grateful to the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London, and Florida State University for underwriting my archival research on Stopes’s Birth Control News, as well as The Women’s Library for making the materials available. Since Stopes was the figurehead of the British birth control movement, her prophetic persona also lends credence to Vincent P. Pecora’s theory of modernity, specifically that “the shift of religious energies from nominally religious to nonreligious social institutions throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is a central part of what I would call modernity” (15). Lewis takes the phrase “substitute for religion” from Wallace Stevens (“Religion” 20). Lewis expands on his concept of substitute religions in regard to modernist novelists in his more recent Religious Experience and the Modernist Novel. Suzanne Hobson and Gregory Erickson are similarly concerned with the relationship between traditional religion and modernism, particularly with the recent scholarly push to question the oft-cited death of God in modernist

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literature. In Hobson’s terms, a “complex and variegated pattern of belief and disbelief . . . more accurately characterizes modernism’s ‘religion’ than the old disenchanted version” (5). Although the document was first published in 1922, Stopes wrote and disseminated A New Gospel in time to deliver it to the 267 attendees of the 1920 Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops (R. Hall 160). Thus A New Gospel was not written in response to The Waste Land, but does respond to the same cultural and aesthetic concerns as Eliot’s poem, and does so with the same modernist tropes (which predate The Waste Land; consider Eliot’s “Gerontion” [1920], the two poems he published in 1915 in the second issue of Blast, “Preludes I–IV” and “Rhapsody of a Windy Night,” or even Madison Cawein’s “Waste Land” from 1913, which many critics think provided Eliot the seed for his poem of the same name). Eliot’s use of poetry, particularly The Waste Land, to shield against perceived threats is a frequent topic of critical discussion, though the nature of the threat to be fended off varies. Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, for example, argue that the poem’s avant-garde aesthetic shields against literary realism, which Eliot perceived as a particularly feminine genre (131). Alternatively, Michael Tratner claims Eliot saw poetry as a form of population control, a method of warding off the chaos of unrestricted immigration (100), while Rachel Blau DuPlessis states, “one could see The Waste Land . . . as a poem whose shardlike texture walls out the alien, degenerate face of ‘Asiatic invaders’” (Genders 156). Pound’s interest in Nô theater stemmed, in Peter Nicholls’s view, from the suggestion in the plays of a new “structural conception of time” (“An Experiment” 2). Christina Hauck makes a similar point regarding the salience of this cultural crisis in her essay “Through a Glass Darkly: ‘A Game of Chess’ and Two Plays by Marie Stopes.” All references are to The Waste Land, in Collected Poems, 1909– 1962. Shortly before Eliot composed this poem, Greece and Turkey fought a highly politicized battle over the city of Smyrna. Much of the debate centered on the racial ethnicity of the people living in the area. Eliot was acutely interested in the proceedings of this international dispute, which ended bloodily just before he published The Waste Land. See Juan Leon for more. See, for example, Eliot’s After Strange Gods: A Primer of Modern Heresy.

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Eliot’s ideas on the relationship between sex and religion continued to develop in this direction. In 1931, after his conversion to Anglicanism, Eliot condemned the Church’s decision to give reluctant approval to the use of birth control. “Roundly criticizing the bishops for having abdicated their spiritual authority in this and other matters,” states Christina Hauck, “[Eliot] insists that birth control is ‘a question which should be considered as a detail subsumed under the more general question which should have been treated first—that of Spiritual Direction and Authority’” (“Abortion” 266). Because Stopes combined birth control advocacy with spirituality, in many respects she can be considered an ideological heir to Annie Besant, a prominent Victorian birth control advocate and later president of the Theosophical Society. For more on Besant see A. Owen 93–6. Nevertheless, Stopes’s conscious alignment with orthodox Christianity is a key difference between the two women since Besant rejected orthodox religion. Indeed Helen Sword, who argues for commensurability between spirituality and modernist aesthetics, notes that popular spirituality has always been “associated by both its proponents and its detractors with antiorthodox religious reform” (6).

Chapter 3 1

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Sherron E. Knopp, for instance, argues that the “remarkable achievement of Orlando . . . is the book’s joyous celebration” of sapphic love (30). See also Pamela L. Caughie, Brenda S. Helt, Nancy Cervetti and Abby Bardi. Woolf’s use of the term “sex” should be understood to encapsulate both sex and gender. In 1912, Carpenter made a case for the value of creative offspring generated by homosexuals. Carpenter argues, “It certainly does not seem impossible to suppose that as the ordinary love has a special function in the propagation of the race, so the other has its special function in social and heroic work, and in the generation—not of bodily children—but of those children of the mind, the philosophical conceptions and ideals which transform our lives and those of society” (65). The phrase “in the pudding club” appeared in a dictionary of slang in 1890, which implies that the phrase was in spoken circulation for some time previously (Martin).

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7 8

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See Lovett, “Nostalgia, Modernism, and the Family Ideal” in Conceiving the Future: Pronatalism, Reproduction, and the Family in the United States, 1890–1938, for a more detailed discussion of pronatalism as an implicit means of controlling a population’s reproduction. Nevertheless, wealthy individuals often had smaller families. As discussed previously, private physicians were more likely to share birth control information with their clients than doctors at public clinics. Moreover, a large home with ample private space makes the use of contraceptives such as diaphragms or douches a practical option, one that was not available to women who shared every room with multiple family members. Vita Sackville-West’s grandmother was a Spanish dancer named Josefa Pepita (DiBattista 278). Unlike some modernist writers, Woolf viewed communication with readers as an appropriate aim of modern literature (even if it is communicating the difficulty of communication). In “Modern Fiction,” Woolf argues that “any [literary] method is right, every method is right, that expresses what we wish to express, if we are writers; that brings us closer to the novelist’s intention if we are readers” (162). Woolf was probably inspired to use L.E.L.’s poetry in Orlando because the Hogarth Press was preparing to publish a biography on Landon while Woolf was working on Orlando. More than her poetry, Woolf was intrigued by L.E.L.’s life, which ended dramatically. In 1927 Woolf wrote to Lytton Strachey about the forthcoming biography: “Do you know the story of L.E.L.?—the poetess who committed suicide, as some say; but others feel sure was murdered? Your blue stocking Hampstead friend Enfield, has written a life of her which we are to publish” (Letters 418). The decision to publish the biography should not be taken as an indication of Woolf’s appreciation for L.E.L.’s writing. In commenting on the “extreme badness” of Lord Byron’s poetry, she wrote that “it hardly reads better than L.E.L.” (A Moment’s Liberty 180). In Woolf’s estimation, extremely bad poetry is still better than L.E.L.’s. J.H. Stape notes that Woolf drew the quotations in Orlando from L.E.L., A Mystery of the Thirties, which was published by the Hogarth Press in 1928 (211). See Jennifer Wicke for a fuller discussion of Woolf’s engagement with commercialized goods. Only two other passages in the novel are relevant to this child. In the modern era, Orlando visits a department store looking for “boy’s boots, bath salts, sardines” (300) but quickly forgets about the boots and leaves without them. Much earlier in the novel, before the boy’s birth, Orlando’s legal affairs are settled upon the courts declaring

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her legally female. She reads that her estate will descend to “the heirs male of my body” rather than the sons of Rosina Pepita (255). This involuntarily conceived son would presumably be the heir. Yet his inheritance is negated when Orlando later realizes that history is the real heir to her estates: “everywhere were . . . printed notices, ‘Please do not touch,’ which, though she had put them there herself, seemed to rebuke her. The house was no longer hers entirely, she sighed. It belonged to time now; to history; was past the touch and control of the living” (318).

Chapter 4 1

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Margaret Earley Whitt explains that “Rufus, younger brother of Ruby Hill, is the character who became Hazel Motes. The apartment neighbor, Laverne Watts . . . is an earlier try at Leora Watts, the toolarge prostitute who services Motes” (56). For more on Southern modernism, see Leigh Anne Duck’s The Nation’s Region: Southern Modernism, Segregation, and U.S. Nationalism; Daniel Joseph Singal’s The War Within: From Victorian to Modernist Thought in the South, 1919–1945; and John T. Matthews’ “As I Lay Dying in the Machine Age.” Bauer notes that despite Ruby’s dislike of their apartment and strong desire to move to the suburbs, “Bill has apparently not yet agreed to the move, and apparently, it is his decision to make” (48).

Chapter 5 1

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Curiously, revisions to this dominant narrative of birth control have mainly occurred in the literary realm. Feminist scholarship, with the notable exception of certain African-American theorists, remains surprisingly quiet about the potential for exploitation attendant upon birth control use. Consider, for example, talk show host Bill O’Reilly’s statement: “Viagra is used to help a medical condition, birth control is a choice. Why should I or anybody else have to pay for people’s choices?” (O’Reilly). Even more flippant, Kathy Berden, a Michigan delegate to the 2012 Republican National Convention, said, “we shouldn’t have to pay for [a grown woman’s] stupid birth control. She could cross her legs” (qtd. in Carmon).

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The pronoun for gender-neutral Oankali like Nikanj is “it.” Jonathan F. Will’s “Beyond Abortion” is an example of scholarship that only treats birth control as a presumed form of abortion. His essay is largely a refutation of arguments that posit IUDs and emergency contraception as forms of abortion. Nevertheless, Will does not address other forms of birth control, nor does he broach the subject of personhood for the women who use birth control. A few scholars are now beginning to address the relationship between utopias/dystopias and modernism. See Alice Reeve-Tucker and Nathan Waddell’s Utopianism, Modernism, and Literature in the Twentieth Century; Scott McCracken’s Pulp: Reading Popular Fiction; and David M. Earle’s Re-covering Modernism. Nevertheless, this move in SF studies toward modernism has yet to have a marked influence on Butler scholarship. Alice Adams is perhaps the only scholar as yet to discuss birth control in a critical analysis of Dawn. Adams, however, is less concerned with birth control techniques and discourse than she is with the movement’s connections to eugenics. Petchesky’s theory of personhood is closely aligned with modernist subjectivity as I have discussed it thus far. These theories of personhood and subjectivity take into account the social situatedness of the individual, unlike, for example, the pre-1900 version of subjectivity I discuss in the Introduction as well as the Kantian tradition of personhood which, as Petchesky states, “is an elegant version of the bourgeois myth of atomized individuals; it disregards that the necessary premise of such persons to exist is the prior human world of interrelationships—interdependence” (345).

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INDEX

Note: locators followed by “n” indicate notes section. abortion 59, 104, 116, 120, 125, 132–3, 140–1, 150 n.4. See also Roe v. Wade and birth control movement 1, 9, 11, 38 Adorno, Theodor 26–8 aesthetic autonomy 4, 7–8, 22, 26–30, 31–2, 35, 37, 40, 45–6 Affordable Care Act 1, 38, 119–20. See also Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. African-American community 8–9, 20, 118, 120–2, 134–6, 139–41, 149 n.1 See under eugenics Althusser, Louis 99, 111–14 American Birth Control League. See Planned Parenthood Anglican Church 146 n.4, 147 n.11 Bennett, Arnold 75–6, 78 Besant, Annie 17–18, 82–3, 147 n.12 birth control abstinence as 11, 14, 17, 81, 103 acceptance of 1, 17, 19, 60, 80 (see also KAP–gap) and artistic creativity 71–4, 79, 83–95, 97, 127 censorship 11, 16, 29–30, 79 (see also Comstock Act)

class divide 16, 22, 41–3, 53–4, 137–42, 148 n.6 coitus interruptus 11, 100 condoms 2–3, 11, 17, 100–1 and demographics 53, 80, 82–3, 88 diaphragms 2, 81, 100–1, 126–7, 148 n.6 douching 11, 14–17, 148 n.6 emergency contraception 2, 150 n.4 “family planning” 9, 42, 61, 86–7, 123–6, 131, folk remedies 11, 36 insurance coverage 1–2, 38, 119–20 (see also Affordable Care Act) IUD 125, 149 n.4 medical community 11–12, 15–16, 22–3, 139, 144 n.4, 148 n.6 as a natural practice 60–1, 136 in nineteenth century 10–12, 14, 71–95 pessaries 11 the Pill 2, 126–7 poverty 3, 17–18, 24–5, 38–9, 41–3, 59, 137–42 power relations 3, 19–20, 101, 106, 111, 117–8, 122, 124, 129, 149 n.1 and prostitution 11, 38, 138

166

INDEX

public acceptance of 1, 22, 30, 38, 60, 103–5, 138–9, 141–2, 149 n.2 rhythm method 100, 105 and sexual freedom 23–4, 103, 144 n.3 spermicides 100 sterilization 134 term coined 10 See under eugenics Birth Control News 13, 19, 49, 54–5, 57–8, 64, 67, 145 n.1 Birth Control Review 6–7, 13–14, 19, 30–3, 57–8 founding of 34–5, 145 n.5 modernist conception narrative in 21, 41–6 birthrate 52–3, 58, 60 Bordo, Susan 125 Bourne, Francis 60 Bradlaugh–Besant Trial 6, 11, 17, 82–3, 89 British Empire 3, 60, 80, 84–6, 93–4 Brooks, Cleanth 26–7 Burrill, Mary 34 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. 2, 119–20, 136. See also Affordable Care Act Butler, Judith 99, 112–14 Butler, Octavia 8, 10, 20, 118–36 Capo, Beth Widmaier 5, 24, 97, 144 n.1 Catholicism 2–3, 8, 95, 98–100, 103–5, 115–7, 122 Casti Connubii 99, 104–5, 117 “children of the mind” 78–9, 83–4, 90, 147 n.3 Comstock Act 11, 22, 29–30, 34, 79, 104, 144 n.4. See also birth control censorship Craig, Layne Parish 5–6

Dennett, Mary Ware 23 Dodge, Mabel 13, 32–3, 144 n.3 doubling 21, 27–8, 31–2, 40, 43–6 Douglas, (Lord) Alfred 52 DuPlessis, Rachel Blau 25, 40, 146 n.5 Eliot, T.S. 9, 13, 27, 45, 47–69, 146 n.10, 147 n.11 and eugenics 53–8, 146 n.9 and prophecy 53, 62–9 and Stopes, Marie 50–1, 64 The Waste Land 7, 49–51, 53–69, 146 nn.4, 5 Ellis, Havelock 82 Emerling Bone, Jennifer 22–3, 30 Endangered Species Project 9, 136, 139–42 eugenics 2, 4–5, 22–5, 103, 145 n.7, 146 n.9, 150 n.6. See also Sanger, Margaret; Stopes, Marie and African-American community 134–6, 140–1 and birth control 23–5, 42, 47–8, 51–2, 61 and class 53–8 Felski, Rita 29 Fernald, Anne E. 48 Fluke, Sandra 38 Franks, Angela 44–5 Garrett, William 65 Ginsburg, Ruth Bader 119–20 Giroux, Robert 101 Glaspell, Susan 33 gothic (literary) 21, 25–6, 30–2, 35, 40–2, 45. See also Southern gothic Grimke, Angelina W. 13, 34 Griswold v. Connecticut 104

INDEX

H.D. 27 Haraway, Donna 125–6, 134 Hauck, Christina 50–1, 52–3, 67, 74, 146 n.7, 147 n.11 Haughton, Mark 2 Hutchins, B.L. 80 Huxley, Aldous 126 infanticide 54–5, 65 Johnston, Ian B. 2–3 Joyce, James 35, 72, 107, 109 KAP–gap 12, 14, 23, 83 Knowlton, Charles L. 6, 11, 16, 82, 143 n.5 Landon, Letitia Elizabeth 87–8, 148 n.9 Lewis, Pericles 47–8, 69 “life of the mind” 4, 7, 19, 72–3, 78, 88–91, 95 Limbaugh, Rush 38 Lowell, Amy 91 Lukacs, Georg 26 Malthusianism 10, 12, 16–18, 82, 126, 143 n.6 Marchant, James 80 Marie Stopes International 4, 9 Martz, Louis L. 62, 65 materialist literature 7, 72–6, 78, 83–8, 90–2. See also spiritualist literature Maugham, W. Somerset 54, 65 midwives 11 modernist conception narrative 8, 21–2, 25–30, 32, 43, 45–6, 57–8, 120–3, 127, 130–1, 134–6. See under Birth Control Review Monroe, Harriet 50

167

Moore, Marianne 68 motherhood 33, 42, 59, 137–42. See also vitalism effects of multiple childbearing 12–14, 21, 26, 31–3, 35–7, 42, 57–9, 71, 80, 98, 110, 113–15 ideal 18–19, 60–1, 91 and intellectual activity 81–2 patriotic duty 60, 73, 80–1 unwanted children 7, 19, 38–9, 41, 62, 72–3, 76, 85–7, 94, 100–2, 106, 111–12, 130 unwed 73, 137 National Health Service (NHS) 2 naturalism (literary) 13 “new modernist studies” 4–5, 27 Nicholls, Peter 4, 27–8, 40, 146 n.6 Nô plays 50, 146 n.6. See also Pound, Ezra O’Connor, Flannery 8–10, 19, 95, 97–117, 122, 124, 149 n.1 opinion on birth control 103, 105–6 “A Stroke of Good Fortune” 8, 19, 98–118 “A Temple of the Holy Ghost” 108–9 “The Woman on the Stairs” 101, 111 Owen, Robert Dale 16, 143 n.5 Patmore, Coventry 30, 32 Pearson, Karl 82 Peppis, Paul 5, 51–2, 62–3 personhood 8–9, 119–25, 127–36, 150 nn.4, 7 Petchesky, Rosalind Pollack 122–3, 128–9, 132, 150 n.7 Planned Parenthood 140–1

168

INDEX

population control 12, 103, 140, 143 n.6, 148 n.5 Pound, Ezra 7, 13, 27, 45, 50, 65, 67–8. See also Nô Plays pronatalism 77–84, 86, 89, 92–5, 148 n.5 realism (literary) 146 n.5 Rentoul, R.R. 81 reproductive technology 5, 20, 126, 133 Richardson, Dorothy 107, 109 Roberts, Dorothy 24, 135 Roche, Claire 24, 44 Roe v. Wade 104, 140. See also abortion romanticism (literary) 29, 88 Sackville–West, Vita 9, 81, 148 n.7 Sakurai, Joji 50 Saleeby, Caleb 60 Sanger, Margaret 9, 13, 18, 21–3, 32–3, 41–6, 110, 121–3. See also Birth Control Review; Woman Rebel clinics 144 n.1 conservative shift of 22–5, 42–5 and eugenics 5, 22–3, 43–4, 140–1, 144 n.1, 145 nn.7, 8 relationship with Stopes, Marie 13, 52 and sexual satisfaction 23, 144 n.3 Schreiner, Olive 13, 34 science fiction 120–1, 150 n.5 sectarian medicine 12, 14 Shklovsky, Viktor 120–1 Sinclair, May 107 Siraganian, Lisa 27, 29 Soloway, Richard 52–3, 82 Southern gothic 95

Southern modernism 110, 149 n.2 spiritualist literature 72, 74–6, 88–92. See also materialist literature Squier, Susan Merrill 5 Stein, Gertrude 27–8, 37 Stevenson, Randall 107–9 Stopes, Marie 9, 13, 46–69, 106, 110, 117, 140. See also Birth Control News clinics 3–4 “erogamic” 63–4 and eugenics 3, 5, 47, 51–9 literary output 50 on marriage 18–19, 138 Married Love 18, 50–2, 63, 138 A New Gospel 49–50, 64–7, 146 n.4 prophecy 47–50, 53, 62–9, 145 n.2 relationship with Sanger, Margaret 13, 52 subjectivity 4, 8–19, 23, 35, 53–8, 90, 95, 98–9, 106–7, 109–15, 121, 137–42, 150 n.7 substitute religions 47–50, 69, 145 n.3 suffrage movement 77–8 Suvin, Darko 120–1 Trall, Russell Thatcher 14–16 United States v. One Package of Japanese Pessaries 104, 144 n.4 Victoria, Queen 79–80, 82–4, 89, 93 vitalism 25–6, 32, 36, 38, 41, 43, 45, 57–62

INDEX

Vorse, Mary Heaton 19, 21, 27, 28, 33, 38–41, 99, 113 Wellman, Rita 19, 21, 27–8, 30–3, 35–8, 41, 99, 113 Wimsatt, William K. 26–7 Woman Rebel 18, 34, 137–8, 145 n.5 Woolf, Virginia 9, 13, 19, 69, 123, 127, 144 n.2, 147 n.2 birth control use 74

169

Hogarth Press 148 n.9 “Modern Fiction” 72, 74–7, 84, 86, 88 “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown” 75–6, 78 Orlando 7, 19, 69, 71–95, 123, 127, 147 n.1, 148 n.11 A Room of One’s Own 71, 77–8, 81 Yeats, W.B. 45, 144 n.2