37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
The reduction of women in a world where Hitler won the war,
This review is from: Swastika Night (Paperback)
"Swastika Night" was published in 1937, although the fact that "Murray Constantine" was a pseudonym for Katharine Burdekin was not revealed until the early 1980s (Burdekin died in 1963). The chief interest in this dystopian novel was that Burdekin was telling the story of a feudal Europe that existed seven centuries into a world in which Hitler and the Nazi achieved total victory. The novel begins with a "knight" entering "the Holy Hitler chapel," where the faithful all sing the praise of "God the Thunderer" and: "His Son our Holy Adolf Hitler, the Only Man. Who was, not begotten, not born of a woman, but Exploded!" With such a beginning it is hard not to look at "Swastika Night" as a nightmarish version of the Germany and England that would result from a Nazi victory. Given the time in which she was writing, two years before Hitler's forces invaded Poland and officially began the Second World War, it is equally obvious that Burdekin is simultaneously an indictment of Hitler's political and militaristic policies and a warning of the logical consequences of the Nazi ideology.
Burdekin depicts a world that has been divided into the Nazi Empire (Europe and Africa) and the equally militaristic Japanese Empire (Asia, Australia, and the Americas), a demarcation that raises some interesting issues all by itself. Obviously in the Nazi Empire Hitler is venerated as a god and all books and documents from the past have been destroyed so that the Nazi version of history is all that remains (the similarity is more to the efforts of the ancient Egytpian pharoahs than Orwell's idea of the continuous revision of the public record). With all of the Jews having been exterminated at the start of the Nazi era, it is now Christians who are the reviled object of Nazi persecution, as well as those who are "Not Blood." Burdekin's protagonist is an Englishman named Alfred (suggesting parallels to England's legendary king Alfred the Great), who rejects the violence, brutality, and militarism of Nazi ideology because it results not in boys rather than men.
However, the fact that Hitler lost World War II does not mean that "Swastika Night" does not speak to contemporary readers in an important way. After all, we have not been progressing towards the dystopian vision of George Orwell and "Nineteen Eighty-Four" is still the mos widely read dystopian novel around. Burdekin's novel also explores the connection between gender and political power. Part of Hitler's deification is because he was never contaminated by contact with women, and In contrast to the "cult of masculinity," Burdekin depicts a "Reduction of Women" in which all women are kept ignorant and apathetic, their own function being for purposes of breeding. She clearly say the male apotheosis of women as mothers as being the first step on the slippery slope to the degradation of women to mere breeding animals. Despite the obvious comparisons to "Nineteen Eighty-Four," it is the contrast between the womanless world of "Swastika Night" and the woman-centered utopia of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's "Herland" (or even Virginia Woolf's "Three Guinesas," published in 1938) that most students of utopian literature are going to want to pursue.
Once World War II began "Swastika Night" became a historical footnote, especially since its pacifism would have been considered an impractical response to Hitler once war was declared. But today the feminist arguments regarding hypertrophied masculinity and the correlating reduction of women that are as much a part of the work as the condemnation of Nazi ideology makes it well worth consideration by contemporary readers.
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Initial post: 30 Apr 2012 21:47:35 BDT
This is an excellent review, but it's worth pointing out that Swastika Night didn't disappear once war broke out. Burdekin's publisher, Victor Gollancz, reprinted the book in 1940 with a brief introduction announcing that its author now saw the need to fight back against the Nazis.
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