25 March 2019
What Not is Rose Macaulay’s speculative novel of post-First World War eugenics and newspaper manipulation that influenced Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, fourteen years later.
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Watch the YouTube clip about the inside backstory of rediscovering this remarkable novel, and the hoopla that ensured when the book trade got wind of its republication.
Read all about the background to this remarkable novel, as written by Alison Flood for the Guardian. That was back in December 2018. Claire Hazelton reviewed What Not for the Guardian in March 2019: ‘Her writing is stirring, funny, uniquely imaginative. This book should not be forgotten again.’ Lucy Scholes reviewed What Not in The Times on 13 April: ‘Aided by an enlightening introduction, along with the handy end-notes to illuminate any mystifying period-specific detail, What Not is an often witty, wild ride that deserves rediscovery.’
And there’s more! Shiny New Books did a lovely review, ending ‘What Not is funny, entertaining, profound and thought-provoking. Its clear-eyed view of the hypocrisy of politicians, preaching one thing and doing the complete opposite themselves, is as relevant as ever. As a reaction against the horror and stupidity of war, it’s a powerful piece of writing which deserves a much wider audience than it’s had, and Handheld Press are to be congratulated for bringing it back into print in this lovely edition.’
Published in 1918, What Not was hastily withdrawn due to a number of potentially libellous pages, and was reissued in 1919, but had lost its momentum. Now republished for the first time with the suppressed pages reinstated, What Not is a lost science fiction classic of feminist protest at social engineering, and rage at media manipulation.
Kitty Grammont and Nicholas Chester are in love. Kitty is certified as an A for breeding purposes, but politically ambitious Chester has been uncertificated, and may not marry. Kitty wields power as a senior civil servant in the Ministry of Brains, which makes these classifications, but does not have the freedom to marry who she wants. They ignore the restrictions, and carry on a discreet affair. But it isn’t discreet enough for the media: the popular press, determined to smash the brutal regime of the Ministry of Brains, has found out about Kitty and Chester, and scents an opportunity for a scandalous exposure.
Aldous Huxley was a frequent guest at Macaulay’s flat while she was writing What Not. His apparently ground-breaking novel Brave New World borrowed many of Macaulay’s ideas for Huxley’s own prophetic vision.
The introduction is by Sarah Lonsdale, senior lecturer in journalism at City University London.
If you’re interested in how Rose Macaulay wrote her own life into What Not, try this novel by her secret lover, Gerald O’Donovan.
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