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Documents for The Twenties and Thirties

Kollontai: Communist Marriage (1921)

"Theses on Communist Morality in the Sphere of Marital Relations"

Source: “Theses on Communist Morality in the Sphere of Marital Relations”, ©Alix Holt 1977.  Reprint from Selected Writings of Alexandra Kollontai, translated and with an introduction and commentaries by Alix Holt,  Lawrence Hill Books  (Brooklyn, NY).

Alexandra Kollontai (1873-1952), the daughter of a czarist general,  was a prominent participant in the Russian Social-Democratic movement. When the Bolsheviks assumed power in Russia, she was named Commissar of Social Welfare. Kollontai ultimately attained the rank of ambassador in 1943, the first woman in the world to achieve this distinction.  An orthodox Marxist, Alexandra Kollontai always worked for the full emancipation of women. Many of her writings—including "Theses on Communist Morality in the Sphere of Marital Relations," published in 1921—dealt with women's issues. Many ideas expressed in her works were branded as libertine both in the Soviet Union and the West, yet Kollontai helped to expand the concept of "women's issues." She considered family, sex and sexuality, and personal politics as important to the betterment of women's status and role in society as the right to vote.

         In the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat, communist morality—and not the law—regulates sexual relationships in the interest of the workers' collective of future generations.

         Each historical (and therefore economic) epoch in the development of society has its own ideal of marriage and its own sexual morality.  Under the tribal system, with its ties of kinship, the morality was different from that which developed with the eslablishment of private property and the rule of the husband and father (patriarchy).  Different economic systems have different moral codes.  Not only each stage in the development of society, but each class has its corresponding sexual morality (it is sufficient to compare the morals of the feudal landowning class and of the bourgeois in one and the same epoch to see that this is true).  The more firmly established the principles of private property, the stricter the moral code.  The importance of virginity before legal marriage sprang from the principles of private property and the unwillingness of men to pay for the children of others. . . .

         In the period of the dictatorship of the proletariat, relations between the sexes should be evaluated only according to the criteria mentioned above—the health of the working population and the development of inner bonds of solidarity within the collective.  The sexual act must be seen not as something shameful and sinful but as something which is as natural as the other needs of healthy organisms, such as hunger and thirst. . . .

         As communist morality is concemed for the health of the population, it also criticizes sexual restraint. . . . This concem for the health of the human race does not establish either monogamy or polygamy as the obligatory form of relations between the sexes, for excesses may be committed in the bounds of the former, and a frequent change of partners by no means signifies sexual intemperance.  Science has discovered that when a woman has relationships with many men at one time, her ability to have children is impaired; and relationships with a number of women drain the man and affect the health of his children negatively.  Since the workers' collective needs strong and healthy men and women, such arrangements of sexual life are not in its interests. . . .

         In the view of the need to encourage the development and growth of feelings of solidarity and to strengthen the bonds of the work collective, it should above all be established that the isolation of the "couple" as a special unit does not answer the interests of communism.  Communist morality requires the education of the working class in comradeship and the fusion of the hearts and minds of the separate members of this collective.  The needs and interests of the individual must be subordinated to the interests and aims of the collective.  On the one hand, therefore, the bonds of family and marriage must be weakened, and on the other, men and women need to be educated in solidarity and the subordination of the will of the individual to the will of the collective.  Even at this present, early stage, the workers' republic demands that mothers learn to be the mothers not only of their own child but of all workers' children; it does not recognize the couple as a self-sufficient unit, and does not therefore approve of wives deserting work for the sake of this unit.

         As regards sexual relations, communist morality demands first of all an end to all relations based in financial or other economic considerations.  The buying and selling of sexual favors destroys the sense of equality between the sexes, and thus undermines the basis of solidarity without which communist society cannot exist. Moral censure is consequently directed at prostitution in all its forms and at all types of marriage of convenience, even when recognized by Soviet law.  The preservation of marriage regulations creates the illusion that the workers' collective can accept the "couple" with its special, exclusive interests.  The stronger the ties between the members of the collective as a whole, the less the need to reinforce marital relations. Secondly, communist morality demands the education of the younger generation in responsibility to the collective and in the consciousness that love is not the only thing in life (this is especially imponant in the case of women, for they have been taught the opposite for centuries).  Love is only one aspect of life, and must not be allowed to overshadow the other facets of the relationships between individual and collective.  The ideal of the bourgeois was the married couple, where the partners complemented each other so completely that they had no need of contact with society.  Communist morality demands, on the contrary, that the younger generation be educated in such a way that the personality of the individual is developed to the full, and the individual with his or her many interests has contact with a range of persons of both sexes.  Communist morality encourages the development of many and varied bonds of love and friendship among people.  The old ideal was "all for the loved one"; communist morality demands all for the collective....

         In the transitional period, relations between men and women must, in order to meet the interests of the workers' collective, be based on the following considerations.  (1) All sexual relationships must be based on mutual inclination, love infatuation, or passion, and in no case on financial or material motivations.  Any calculation in relationships must be subject to merciless condemnation.  (2) The form and length of the relationship are not regulated, but the hygiene of the race and communist morality require that relationships be based not on the sexual act alone, and that it should not be accompanied by any excesses that threaten health.  (3) Those with illnesses, etc. that might be inherited should not have children.  (4) A jealous and proprietary attitude to the person loved must be replaced by a comradely understanding of the other and an acceptance of his or her freedom. Jealousy is a destructive force of which communist morality cannot approve.  (5) The bonds between the members of the collective must be strengthened.  The encouragement of the intellectual and political interests of the younger generation assists the development of healthy and bright emotions in love.

         The stronger the collective, the more firmly established becomes the communist way of life.  The closer the emotional ties between the members of the community, the less they need to seek refuge from loneliness in marriage.  Under communism the blind strength of matter is subjugated to the will of the strongly welded and thus unprecedentedly powerful workers' collective.  The individual has the opportunity to develop intellectually and emotionally as never before. In this collective, new forms of relationships are maturing and the concept of love is extended and expanded.

Question: Why might Kollontai's views be considered radical?

James Joyce: Ulysses (1922)

Joyce published this work in post-war Paris; it represents a new style of writing.

         The voice of dark age, of unlove, earth's fatigue made grave approach, and painful, come from afar, from hoary mountains, called on good men and true. The priest he sought, with him would he speak a word.

         Tap.

         Ben Dollard's voice barreltone. Doing his level best to say it. Croak of vast manless moonless womoonless marsh. Other comedown. Big ships' chandler's business he did once. Remember: rosiny ropes, ships' lanterns. Failed to the tune of ten thousand pounds. Now in the Iveagh home. Cubicle number so and so. Number one Bass did that for him.

         The priest's at home. A false priest's servant bade him welcome. Step in.  The holy father. Curlycues of chords.

         Ruin them. Wreck their lives. Then build them cubicles to end their days in. Hushaby. Lullaby. Die, dog. Little dog, die.

         The voice of warning, solemn warning, told them the youth had entered a lonely hall, told them how solemn fell his footstep there, told them the gloomy chamber, the vested priest sitting to shrive.

         Decent soul. Bit addled now. Thinks he'll win in Answers poets' picture puzzle. We hand you crisp five pound note. Bird sitting hatching in a nest. Lay of the last minstrel he thought it was. See blank tee what domestic animal? Tee dash ar most courageous mariner. Good voice he has still. No eunuch yet with all his belongings.

         Listen. Bloom listened. Richie Goulding listened. And by the door deaf Pat, bald Pat, tipped Pat, listened.

         The chords harped slower. The voice of penance and of grief came slow, embellished tremulous. Ben's contrite beard confessed: in nomine Domini, in God's name. He knelt. He beat his hand upon his breast, confessing: mea culpa.

         Latin again. That holds them like birdlime. Priestwith the communion corpus for those women. Chap in the mortuary, coffin or coffey, corpusnomine. Wonder where that rat isby now. Scrape.

         Tap.

         They listened: tankards and Miss Kennedy, George Lidwell eyelid well expressive, fullbusted satin. Kernan, Si.

The sighing voice of sorrow sang. His sins. Since easter he had cursed three times. You bitch's bast. And once at mass time he had gone to play. Once by the churchyard he had passed and for his mother's rest he had not prayed.        A boy. A croppy boy.

         Bronze, listening by the beerpull, gazed far away. Soulfully. Doesn't half know I'm. Molly great dab at seeing anyone looking.

         Bronze gazed far sideways. Mirror there. Is that best side of her face? They always know. Knock at the door. Last tip to titivate.

         Cockcarracarra.

         What do they think when they hear music? Way to catch rattlesnakes. Night Michael Gunn gave us the box. Tuning up. Shah of Persia liked that best. Remind him of home sweet home. Wiped his nose in curtain too. Custom his country perhaps. That's music too. Not as bad as it sounds. Tootling. Brasses braying asses through uptrunks. Doublebasses, helpless, gashes in their sides. Woodwinds mooing cows. Semigrand open crocodile music hath jaws. Woodwind like Goodwin's name.

She looked fine. Her crocus dress she wore, lowcut, belongings on show. Clove her breath was always in theatre when she bent to ask a question. Told her what Spinoza says in that book of poor papa's. Hypnotised, listening. Eyes like that. She bent. Chap in dresscircle,staring down into her with his operaglass for all he was worth. Beauty of music you must hear twice. Nature woman half a look. God made the country man the tune. Met him pike hoses. Philosophy. O rocks!

         All gone. All fallen. At the siege of Ross his father, at Gorey all his brothers fell. To Wexford, we are the boysof Wexford, he would. Last of his name and race.

         I too, last my race. Milly young student. Well, my fault perhaps. No son. Rudy. Too late now. Or if not? If not? If still?

         He bore no hate.

Question:  What seems to be happening in this passage?

Franz Kafka: The Trial (1925;1937)

         Someone must have traduced Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine . morning. His landlady's cook, who always brought him his breakfast at eight o'clock, failed to appear on this occasion. That had never happened before. K. waited for a little while longer, watching from his pillow the old lady opposite, who seemed to be peering at him with a curiosity unusual even for her, but then, feeling both put out and hungry, he rang the bell. At once there was a knock at the door and a man entered whom he had never seen before in the house. He was slim and yet well knit, he wore a closely fitting black suit, which was furnished with all sorts of pleats, pockets, buckles, and buttons, as well as a belt, like a tourist's outfit, and in consequence looked eminently practical, though one could not quite tell what actual purpose it served. "Who are you?" asked K., half raising himself in bed. But the man ignored the question, as though his appearance needed no explanation, and merely said: "Did you ring?" "Anna is to bring me my breakfast," said K., and then studied the fellow, silently and carefully, trying to make out who he could be. The man did not submit to this scrutiny for very long, but turned to the door and opened it slightly so as to report to someone who was evidently standing just behind it: 'He says Anna is to bring him his breakfast." A short guffaw from the next room came in answer; and it rather sounded as if several people had joined in. Although the strange man could not have learned anything from it that he did not know already, he now said to K., as i£ passing on a statement: "It can't be done." "This is news indeed," cried K., springing out of bed and quickly pulling on his trousers. "I must see what people these are next door, and how Frau Grubach can account to me for such behavior.". . .

         "You can't go out, you are arrested." "So it seems," said K. "But what for?" he added.  "We are not authorized to tell you that. Go to your room and wait there. Proceedings have been instituted against you, and you will be informed of everything in due course. I am exceeding my instructions in speaking freely to you like this. But I hope nobody hears me except Franz, and he himself has been too free with you, against his express instructions. If you continue to have as good luck as you have had in the choice of your warders, then you can be confident of the final result." K. felt he must sit down, but now he saw that there was no seat in the whole room except the chair beside the window. "You'll soon discover that we're telling you the truth," said Franz, advancing toward him simultaneously with the other man.  The latter overtopped K. enormously and kept clapping him on the shoulder. They both examined his nightshirt and said that he would have to wear a less fancy shirt now, but that they would take charge of this one and the rest of his underwear and, if his case turned out well, restore them to him later. "Much better give these things to us than hand them over to the depot," they said, "for in the depot there's lots of thieving, and besides they sell everything there after a certain length of time, no matter whether your case is settled or not. And you never know how-long these cases will last, especially these days. Of course you would get the money out of the depot in the long run, but in the first place the prices they pay you are always wretched, for they sell your things to the best briber, not the best bidder, and anyhow it's well known that money dwindles a lot if it passes from hand to hand from one year to another." K. paid hardly any attention to this advice. Any right to dispose of his own things which he might possess he did not prize very highly; far more important to him was the necessity to understand his situation clearly; but with these people beside him he could not even think. . . .

         "But how can I be under arrest? And particularly in such a ridiculous fashion?" "So now you're beginning it all over again ?" said the warder, dipping a slice of bread and butter into the honey-pot. "We don't answer such questions." "You'll have to answer them," said K. "Here are my papers, now show me yours, and first of all your warrant for arresting me." "Oh, good Lord," said the warder. "If you would only realize your position, and if you wouldn't insist on uselessly annoying us two, who probably mean better by you and stand closer to you than any other people in the world." "That's so, you can believe that," said Franz, not raising to his lips the coffee-cup he held in his hand, but instead giving K. a long, apparently significant, yet incomprehensible look. Without wishing it K. found himself decoyed into an exchange of speaking looks with Franz, none the less he tapped his papers and repeated: "Here are my identification papers." "What are your papers to us ?" cried the tall warder. "You're behaving worse than a child. What are you after? Do you think you'll bring this fine case of yours to a speedier end by wrangling with us, your warders, over papers and warrants? We are humble subordinates who can scarcely find our way through a legal document and have nothing to do with your case except to stand guard over you for ten hours a day and draw our pay for it. That's all we are, but we're quite capable of grasping the fact that the high authorities we serve, before they would order such an arrest as this, must be quite well informed about the reasons for the arrest and the person of the prisoner. There can be no mistake about that. Our officials, as far as I know them, and I know only the lowest grades among them, never go hunting for crime in the populace, but, as the Law decrees, are drawn toward the guilty and must then send out us warders. That is the Law. How could there be a mistake in that?" "I don't know this Law," said K. "All the worse for you," replied the warder. 

Question:  In what way might this be considered a terrifying comment on politics or democracy?

Radclyffe Hall:  The Well of Loneliness (1928)

The first open novel with a lesbian heroine, this book was banned as soon as it was published.

         Through the long years of life that followed after, bringing with them their dreams and disillusions, their joys and sorrows, their fulfilments and frustrations, Stephen was never to forget this summer when she fell quite simply and naturally in love, in accordance with the dictates of her nature.

To her there seemed nothing strange or unholy in the love that she felt for Angela Crossby. To her it seemed an inevitable thing, as much a part of herself as her breathing; and yet it appeared transcendent of self, and she looked up and onward towards her love—for the eyes of the young are drawn to the stars, and the spirit of youth is seldom earth-bound.

         She loved deeply, far more deeply than many a one who could fearlessly proclaim himself a lover. Since this is a hard and sad truth for the telling; those whom nature has sacrificed to her ends—her mysterious ends that often lie hidden—are sometimes endowed with a vast will to loving, with an endless capacity for suffering also, which must go hand in hand with their love....

         Two days later as they sat alone in the garden at Morton, Stephen turned to Angela abruptly: 'I can't go on like this, it's vile somehow—it's beastly, it's soiling us both—can't you see that?'

         Angela was startled. 'What on earth do you mean?'

         'You and me—and then Ralph. I tell you it's beastly—I want you to leave him and come away with me.'

         'Are you mad?'

         'No, I'm sane. It's the only decent thing, it's the only clean thing; we'll go anywhere you like, to Paris, to Egypt, or back to the States. For your sake I'm ready to give up my home. Do you hear? I'm ready to give up even Morton. But I can't go on lying about you to Ralph, I want him to know how much I adore you—I want the whole world to know how I adore you. Ralph doesn't understand the first rudiments of loving, he's a nagging, mean-minded cur of a man, but there's one thing that even he has a right to, and that's the truth. I'm done with these lies—I shall tell him the truth and so will you, Angela; and after we've told him we'll go away, and we'll live quite openly together, you and I, which is what we owe to ourselves and our love.'

         Angela stared at her, white and aghast: 'You are mad,' she said slowly, 'you're raving mad. Tell him what? Have I let you become my lover? You know that I've always been faithful to Ralph; you know perfectly well that there's nothing to tell him, beyond a few rather schoolgirlish kisses. Can I help it if you're—what you obviously are? Oh, no, my dear, you're not going to tell Ralph. You're not going to let all hell loose around me just because you want to save your own pride by pretending to Ralph that you've been my lover. If you're willing to give up your home I'm not willing to sacrifice mine, understand that, please. Ralph's not much of a man but he's better than nothing, and I've managed him so far without any trouble. The great thing with him is to blaze a false trail, that distracts his mind, it works like a charm. He'll follow any trail that I want him to follow—you leave him to me, I know my own husband a darned sight better than you do, Stephen, and I won't have you interfering in my home.' She was terribly frightened, too frightened to choose her words, to consider their effect upon Stephen, to consider anyone but Angela Crossby who stood in such dire and imminent peril. So she said yet again, only now she spoke loudly: 'I won't have you interfering in my home!'

         Then Stephen turned on her, white with passion: 'You— you—' she stuttered, 'you're unspeakably cruel. You know how you make me suffer and suffer because I love you the way I do; and because you like the way I love you, you drag the love out of me day after day—Can't you understand that I love you so much that I'd give up Morton? Anything I'd give up—I'd give up the whole world. Angela, listen- I'd take care of you always. Angela, I'm rich—I'd take care of you always. Why won't you trust me? Answer me—why? Don't you think me fit to be trusted?'

         She spoke wildly, scarcely knowing what she said; she only knew that she needed this woman with a need so intense, that worthy or unworthy, Angela was all that counted at that moment. And now she stood up, very tall, very strong, yet a little grotesque in her pitiful passion, so that looking at her Angela trembled—there was something rather terrible about her. All that was heavy in her face sprang into view, the strong line of the jaw, the square, massive brow, the eyebrows too thickand too wide for beauty; she was like some curious, primitive thing conceived in a turbulent age of transition.

         'Angela, come very far away—anywhere, only come with me soon—to-morrow .'

         Then Angela forced herself to think quickly, and she said just five words: 'Could you marry me, Stephen?' She did not look at the girl as she said it—that she could not do, perhaps out of something that, for her, was the nearest she would ever come to pity. There ensued a long, almost breathless silence, while Angela waited with her eyes turned away. A leaf dropped, and she heard its minute, soft falling, heard the creak of the branch that had let fall its leaf as a breeze passed over the garden.

Then the silence was broken by a quiet, dull voice, that sounded to her like the voice of a stranger: 'No—' it said very slowly, 'no—I couldn't marry you, Angela.' And when Angela at last gained the courage to look up, she found that she was sitting there alone.

Question:  What does this passage reveal about society's attitudes toward homosexual love during the 1920s?

Henry Miller: Tropic of Cancer (1931)

Henry Miller's book was also banned in the U.S.  He was an American expatriate living off of the generosity of friends in Paris.  His prose was considered shocking in its sexual explicitness.

Twilight hour. Indian blue, water of glass, trees glistening and liquescent. The rails fall away into the canal at Jaures. The long caterpillar with lacquered sides dips like a roller coaster. It is not Paris. It is not Coney Island. It is a crepuscular melange of all the cities of Europe and Central America. The railroad yards below me, the tracks black, webby, not ordered by the engineer but cataclysmic in design, like those gaunt fissures in the polar ice which the camera registers in degrees of black.

         Food is one of the things I enjoy tremendously. And in this beautiful Villa Borghese there is scarcely ever any evidence of food. It is positively appalling at times. I have asked Boris time and again to order bread for breakfast, but he always forgets. He goes out for breakfast, it seems. And when he comes back he is picking his teeth and there is a little egg hanging from his goatee. He eats in the restaurant out of consideration for me. He says it hurts to eat a big meal and have me watch him.

         I like Van Norden but I do not share his opinion of himself. I do not agree, for instance, that he is a philosopher, or a thinker. He is cunt-struck, that's all. And he will never be a writer. Nor will Sylvester ever be a writer, though his name blaze in 50,000-candle-power red lights. The only writers about me for whom I have any respect, at present, are Carl and Boris. They are possessed. They glow inwardly with a white flame. They are mad and tone deaf. They are sufferers.

         Moldorf, on the other hand, who suffers too in his peculiar way, is not mad. Moldorf is word drunk. He has no veins or blood vessels, no heart or kidneys. He is a portable trunk filled with innumerable drawers and in the drawers are labels written out in white ink, brown ink, red ink, blue ink, vermilion, saffron, mauve, sienna, apricot, turquoise, onyx, Anjou, herring, Corona, verdigris, gorgonzola....

         I have moved the typewriter into the next room where I can see myself in the mirror as I write.

         Tania is like Irene. She expects fat letters. But there is another Tania, a Tania like a big seed, who scatters pollen everywhere—or, let us say, a little bit of Tolstoy, a stable scene in which the fetus is dug up. Tania is a fever, too— les voies urinaires, Cafe de la Liberte, Place des Vosges, bright neckties on the Boulevard Montparnasse, dark bathrooms, Porto Sec, Abdullah cigarettes, the adagio sonata Pathetique, aural amplificators, anecdotal seances, burnt sienna breasts, heavy garters, what time is it, golden pheasants stuffed with chestnuts, taffeta fingers, vaporish twilights turning to ilex, acromegaly, cancer and delirium, warm veils, poker chips, carpets of blood and soft thighs. Tania says so that every one may hear: "I love him!" And while Boris scalds himself with whisky she says: "Sit down here! O Boris . . . Russia . . . what'll I do? I'm bursting with it! "

         At night when I look at Boris' goatee lying on the pillow I get hysterical. O Tania, where now is that warm cunt of yours, those fat, heavy garters, those soft, bulging thighs? There is a bone in my prick six inches long. I will ream out every wrinkle in your cunt, Tania, big with seed. I will send you home to your Sylvester with an ache in your belly and your womb turned inside out. Your Sylvester! Yes, he knows how to build a fire, but I know how to inflame a cunt. I shoot hot bolts into you, Tania, I make your ovaries incandescent. Your Sylvester is a little jealous now? He feels something, does he? He feels the remnants of my big prick. I have set the shores a little wider, I have ironed out the wrinkles. After me you can take on stallions, bulls, rams, drakes, St. Bernards. You can stuff toads, bats, lizards up your rectum. You can shit arpeggios if you like, or string a zither across your navel. I am fucking you, Tania, so that you'll stay fucked. And if you are afraid of being fucked publicly I will fuck you privately. I will tear off a few hairs from your cunt and paste them on Boris' chin. I will bite into your clitoris and spit out two franc pieces....

         Indigo sky swept clear of fleecy clouds, gaunt trees infinitely extended, their black boughs gesticulating like a sleepwalker. Somber, spectral trees, their trunks pale as cigar ash. A silence supreme and altogether European. Shutters drawn, shops barred. A red glow here and there to mark a tryst. Brusque the facades, almost forbidding; immaculate except for the splotches of shadow cast by the trees. Passing by the Orangerie I am reminded of another Paris, the Paris of Maugham, of Gauguin, Paris of George Moore. I think of that terrible Spaniard who was then startling the world with his acrobatic leaps from style to style. I think of Spengler and of his terrible pronunciamentos, and I wonder if style, style in the grand manner, is done for. I say that my mind is occupied with these thoughts, but it is not true; it is only later, after I have crossed the Seine, after I have put behind me the carnival of lights, that I allow my mind to play with these ideas. For the moment I can think of nothing—except that I am a sentient being stabbed by the miracle of these waters that reflect a forgotten world. All along the banks the trees lean heavily over the tarnished mirror; when the wind rises and fills them with a rustling murmur they will shed a few tears and shiver as the water swirls by. I am suffocated by it. No one to whom I can communicate even a fraction of my feelings....  

         The trouble with Irene is that she has a valise instead of a cunt. She wants fat letters to shove in her valise. Immense, avec des choses inouies. Llona now, she had a cunt. I know because she sent us some hairs from down below. Llona—a wild ass snuffing pleasure out of the wind. On every high hill she played the harlot—and sometimes in telephone booths and toilets. She bought a bed for King Carol and a shaving mug with his initials on it. She lay in Tottenham Court Road with her dress pulled up and fingered herself. She used candles, Roman candles, and door knobs. Not a prick in the land big enough for her . . . not one. Men went inside her and curled up. She wanted extension pricks, self-exploding rockets, hot boiling oil made of wax and creosote. She would cut off your prick and keep it inside her forever, if you gave her permission. One cunt out of a million, Llona! A laboratory cunt and no litmus paper that could take her color. She was a liar, too, this Llona. She never bought a bed for her King Carol. She crowned him with a whisky bottle and her tongue was full of lice and tomorrows. Poor Carol, he could only curl up inside her and die. She drew a breath and he fell out—like a dead clam.

Question:  What tone Miller uses to discuss sex?

Aldous Huxley: Brave New World (1932)

Aldous Huxley introduces a radio program based on his book, plus the beginning of the program.

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), a critic, poet and essayist, wrote this novel, a fantasy of the future.

         A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories. Over the main entrance the words, CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE, and, in a shield, the World State's motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY. The enormous room on the ground floor faced towards the north. Cold for all the summer beyond the panes, for all the tropical heat of the room itself, a harsh thin light glared through the windows, hungrily seeking some draped lay figure, some pallid shape of academic goose-flesh, but finding only the glass and nickel and bleakly shining porcelain of a laboratory. Wintriness responded to wintriness. The overalls of the workers were white, their hands gloved with a pale corpse-coloured rubber. The light was frozen, dead, a ghost. Only from the yellow barrels of the microscopes did it borrow a certain rich and living substance, lying along the polished tubes like butter, streak after luscious streak in long recession down the work tables.

         "And this," said the Director opening the door, "is the Fertilizing Room."

         Bent over their instruments, three hundred Fertilizers were plunged, as the Director of Hatcheries and Conditioning entered the room, in the scarcely breathing silence, the absent-minded, soliloquizing hum or whistle, of absorbed concentration. A troop of newly arrived students, very young, pink and callow, followed nervously, rather abjectly, at the Director's heels. Each of them carried a notebook, in which, whenever the great man spoke, he desperately scribbled. Straight from the horse's mouth. It was a rare privilege. The D. H. C. for Central London always made a point of personally conducting his new students round the various departments.

         "Just to give you a general idea," he would explain to them. For of course some sort of general idea they must have, if they were to do their work intelligently—though as little of one, if they were to be good and happy members of society, as possible. For particulars, as every one knows, make for virtue and happiness; generalities are intellectually necessary evils. Not philosophers but fretsawyers and stamp collectors compose the backbone of society.

         "To-morrow," he would add, smiling at them with a slightly menacing geniality, "you'll be settling down to serious work. You won't have time for generalities. Meanwhile..."

         Meanwhile, it was a privilege. Straight from the horse's mouth into the notebook. The boys scribbled like mad

         Tall and rather thin but upright, the Director advanced into

 the room. He had a long chin and big rather prominent teeth, just covered, when he was not talking, by his full, floridly curved lips. Old, young? Thirty? Fifty? Fifty-five. It was hard to say. And anyhow the question didn't arise; in this year of stability, A. F. 632, it didn't occur to you to ask it.

         "I shall begin at the beginning," said the D.H.c2. and the more zealous students recorded his intention in their notebooks: Begin at the beginning. "These," he waved his hand, "are the incubators." And opening an insulated door he showed them racks upon racks of numbered test-tubes "The week's supply of ova. Kept," he explained, "at blood heat; whereas the male gametes," and here he opened another door, "they have to be kept at thirty-five instead of thirty-seven full blood heat sterilizes." Rams wrapped in theremogene beget no lambs.

         Still leaning against the incubators he gave them, while the pencils scurried illegibly across the pages, a brief description of the modern fertilizing process; spoke first, of course, of its surgical introduction—"the operation undergone voluntarily for the good of society, not to mention the fact that it carries a bonus amounting to six months' salary"; continued with some account of the technique for preserving the excised ovary alive and actively developing; passed on to a consideration of optimum temperature salinity, viscosity; referred to the liquor in which the detached and ripened eggs were kept; and, leading his charges to the work tables, actually showed them how this liquor was drawn off from the test-tubes; how it was let out drop by drop onto the specially warmed slides of the microscopes; how the eggs which it contained were inspected for abnormalities, counted and transferred to a porous receptacle; how (and he now took them to watch the operation) this receptacle was immersed in a warm bullion containing free-swimming spermatozoa-at a minimum concentration of one hundred thousand per cubic centimetre, he insisted; and how, after ten minutes, the container was lifted out of the liquor and its contents re-examined; how, if any of the eggs remained unfertilized, it was again immersed, and, if necessary, yet again; how the fertilized ova went back to the incubators; where the Alphas and Betas remained until definitely bottled; while the Gammas, Deltas and Epsilons were brought out again, after only thirty-six hours, to undergo Bokanovsky's Process.

         "Bokanovsky's Process," repeated the Director, and the students underlined the words in their little notebooks.

         One egg, one embryo, one adult—normality. But a bokanovskified egg will bud, will proliferate, will divide. From eight to ninety-six buds, and every bud will grow into a perfectly formed embryo, and every embryo into a full-sized adult. Making ninety-six human beings grow where only one grew before. Progress.

         "Essentially," the D.H.C. concluded, "bokanovskification consists of a series of arrests of development. We check the normal growth and, paradoxically enough, the egg responds by budding.''

         Responds by budding. The pencils were busy.

         He pointed. On a very slowly moving band a rackfull of test-tubes was entering a large metal box, another, rackfull was emerging. Machinery faintly purred. It took eight minutes for the tubes to go through, he told them. Eight minutes of hard X-rays being about as much as an egg can stand. A few died; of the rest, the least susceptible divided into two; most put out four buds; some eight; all were returned to the incubators, where the buds began to develop; then, after two days, were suddenly chilled, chilled and checked. Two, four, eight, the buds in their turn budded; and having budded were dosed almost to death with alcohol; consequently burgeoned again and having budded—bud out of bud out of bud—were thereafter—further arrest being generally fatal—left to develop in peace. By which time the original egg was in a fair way to becoming anything from eight to ninety-six embryos— a prodigious improvement, you will agree, on nature. Identical twins—but not in piddling twos and threes as in the old viviparous days, when an egg would sometimes accidentally divide; actually by dozens, by scores at a time.

         "Scores," the Director repeated and flung out his arms, as though he were distributing largesse. "Scores."

         But one of the students was fool enough to ask where the advantage lay.

         "My good boy!" The Director wheeled sharply round on him. "Can't you see? Can't you see?" He raised a hand; his expression was solemn. "Bokanovsky's Process is one of the major instruments of social stability!"

         Major instruments of social stability.

         Standard men and women; in uniform batches. The whole of a small factory staffed with the products of a single bokanovskified egg.

         "Ninety-six identical twins working ninety-six identical machines!" The voice was almost tremulous with enthusiasm. "You really know where you are. For the first time in history." He quoted the planetary motto. "Community, Identity, Stability." Grand words. "If we could bokanovskify indefinitely the whole problem would be solved."

Questions:  How does this selection represent the concerns of westerners at this time?  Is it a frightening work?