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What Not A Prophetic Comedy by Rose Macaulay

What Not A Prophetic Comedy (1918)

by Rose Macaulay

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First published in 1918, then swiftly withdrawn, Macaulay's book deals with eugenics, newspaper censorship and government control of people's private lives. The book predates Brave New World and 1984 and may have been an unacknowledged influence on both.

Kitty Grammont works for the Ministry of Brains, whose goal is to make the British people more intelligent. The rationale is that, had people been more intelligent the Great War could not have happened, and in future an intelligent population will avoid wars. The Ministry plan to achieve its goals with a mixture of training and eugenics. The population is classified according to intelligence, from A to C3. People in the lower groups must marry someone more intelligent, and A's must marry down, and as a result the average intelligence of the population will increase. People must be certificated in order to marry. Those below C3 cannot marry and reproduce; nor can people with genetic abnormalities in their families, no matter how how their intelligence classification. To enforce the rules, people who have unsanctioned children must pay huge fines, and those who follow the rules get bonuses. Newspapers are banned from criticising the actions and policies of the government.

Unlike Huxley's and Orwell's books, Macaulay's is set in the near future, and is obviously an extension of the current reality. It is far more human and domestic that the other two books.

Worth a read. ( )
  pamelad | Jan 9, 2019 |
Reasonably good comic satire, but the characters arouse little interest or sympathy. In fairness, it was probably a better novel in its own time of publication, but I don't think it's aged well and the satire is terribly tame by the standards of later dystopian novels. ( )
  CurrerBell | Mar 31, 2014 |
What Not, a Prophetic Comedy is sort of a cross between Wodehouse and Huxley. After the Great War, a solution was proposed to avoid any future conflicts. Since war is the ultimate example of human stupidity, make the population smarter and, therefore it follows that reason will trump militarism. A new department is established in the UK, the Ministry of Brains, which runs the programs to insure a bright and informed populace. "Smart brain" classes are offered which really seem to increase the participants ability to think through problems. Marriage laws are passed which encourage bright people to marry just below their intellectual level...their offspring will be very intelligent. Marriage between a bright person and an inferior person is discouraged and individuals who are severely deficient or who have "idiots and imbecils in their families" are not issued marriage licenses at all.

The tone is much less serious than Brave New World. (I wonder if Huxley had read this little book.) There are really laugh-out-loud moments. An official speaker for the Ministry holds up two babies, one the product of bright parents and the other of parents with inferior brains. She praises the bright baby and criticizes the poor dumb baby. Problem is she got them mixed up to the delight of her audiernce. Then there are testimonials to the value of the classes. "Testimonial from a Cabinet Minister. 'Owing to the Mind training Course I have now remained in office for over six weeks. I hope to remain for at least three more' ."

Of course, nothing goes as planned. The Minister of Brains himself is not allowed to marry because he has an idiot twin sister. He breaks his own rules when he elopes with a fellow employee. After only a few months people rebel against being told whom to marry. Ordinary folks who were happy in their ignorance begin to think about problems they cannot control and are thrown into despair. Parents are taxed for having inferior children and begin to abandon them at government doorsteps. The number of exemptions to the rules keeps growing. Country women ignore the laws because they have too much work to do raising a family and running a farm to be smart. And so the great experiment to make the citizens of the United Kingdom smarter and keep the country at peace begins to falter.

The book was supposed to be released earlier in 1918 but was held back until after the Armistice because it may have been deemed seditious by DORA (Defense of the Realm Act). ( )
1 vote Liz1564 | Mar 13, 2014 |
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