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.
Read all about the background to this remarkable novel, as written by Alison Flood for the Guardian 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.’
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Published in 1918, What Not was hastily withdrawn due to a number of potentially libellous pages, and was reissued in 1919, but had lost its momentum.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 (1932) 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.
Try these thoughtful reviews, from Shiny New Books, Quartz Magazine, from Lee Randall, from Bustle, Reading Selfishly, and from Heavenali. And there’s more! What Not was reviewed in The Times on 13 April by Lucy Scholes: ‘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 Margaret Drabble reviewed it in the Times Literary Supplement on 7 June 2019.
Watch our video, in which we explain how Handheld came to republish this novel, and the extraordinary hoopla that ensued when the newspapers found out.
Download and read this Rose Macaulay biography