Modernity and reproduction: seductive motorcars, rebellious robots and friendly trees

ModernityWhat does the organization “Men of trees” and the woman who campaigned for birth control, Marie Stopes, have in common?  Perhaps surprisingly the answer is the eugenicist Reginald Ruggles Gate, who was the first husband of Stopes and a member of this tree planting society.   It was this fact that first provided the spark for author Angus McLaren to set off on a journey looking into sexuality and modernity.

Looking at popular literature, films, and public debate from the 1920s and 1930s, alongside the work of biologists and psychiatrists, McLaren discusses the way the mechanistic ideas of modernity were turned to ideas of sexuality and reproduction, and the conversations and discussions that ensued.

“While American science-fiction writers were obsessed with extraterrestrials, rocket ships, and death rays, the British were hypnotized by the possibilities and pitfalls of harnessing biological change.” p. 5 (Introduction)

We are shown how man’s relationship with the environment and ecological issues became intrinsically intertwined with that of eugenics and modernity.

“A large and eccentric cast of characters including seductive motorcars, rebellious robots, friendly trees, and timorous test-tube babies populate this brief study.  Its goal is to better understand why in a remarkably short space of time modernizers (of a variety of stripes) succeeded in advancing the arguments that the protean forces of sex and reproduction had to be subjected to planning and control. They, of course, did not win the debate – it is still going on.” p 6 (Introduction)

McLaren, Angus (2012) Reproduction by design: sex, robots, trees, and test-tube babies in interwar Britain.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
ISBN: 9780226560694
Classmark: PR478.F87.M2 (ASSL)