Mary Quaile Club event: Saturday 6th October, “Dreams and Nightmares: Feminist Utopias and Dystopias”

This event took place in a new venue for us, Levenshulme Old Library, on Cromwell Grove now running as a community space.

Una, Michael and Ciara

Our  two guest speakers were  Una McCormack and Ciara O’Sullivan. This session was chaired by Michael Herbert.

Una is a lecturer in creative writing at Anglia Ruskin University. Her  academic interests include women’s science fiction and fanfiction, and she is the author of a dozen  science fiction novels,  including  Royal Blood  and The King’s Dragon set in the world of Doctor Who. Her Doctor Who audio adventure Red Planets, featuring the Seventh Doctor and Ace, was published by Big Finish in August  2018.    

In her talk she discussed  the  work of the pre-war novelist Katharine Cade, who wrote under numerous pen-names, but is perhaps best known under her pseudonym Murray Constantine. Between 1922 and 1940 she published 10 novels, increasingly with anti-Nazi themes. Una discussed her best known work,  Swastika Night (1937),  set in a Nazi world  700 years in the future  in which Hitler is worshipped as a god and women are   brutalised as breeding stock.She   also discussed Proud Man (1934) and The End of this Day’s Business, written in 1935,  but unpublished until the 1980s, which is a companion piece to Swastika Night.

Ciara  is a founder member of the Mary Quaile Club. She began with a short survey of  some less well known women’s utopia and dystopia writings. These included:

The Blazing World by Margaret Cavendish (1666)
The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan (1405)
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892)
New Amazonia by Elizabeth Burgoyne  Corbette (1889)

She then went on to speak about  two novels: Herland by Charlotte Gilman Perkins (1915) set  in an undiscovered country of women  without men into which three men  make their way and are confronted with a society in which they have no role; and Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy  (1976)  set in the  USA in the 1970s where Consuela Ramos struggles against oppression and mental illness  and in 2137 where society is run on equal, communitarian and environmental  lines  and which  Consuela is able to visit  from time to time in the company of Luciente.

After discussion we  adjourned for tea or coffee and biscuits, and excellent they were too. During the break audience members wrote their suggestions for utopias on post-it notes  which were put on a wall. We then reconvened and discussed these  ideas,  with Ciara chairing the session.

We reproduce the post-it notes below (thanks to Ciara for creating this excellent  display).

Our thanks to Ciara and Zoe for arranging things at the library and to everyone who attended this thought-provoking event.


Further Reading

Michael writes a blog on science fiction Fantasies of Possibility  which includes reviews of many books by women, including those published by Women’s Press in the 1980s.

Utopian Fiction website has many references to novels by women, including.

The New Atalantis by Delarivier Manley (England, 1709)

Three Hundred Years Hence by Mary Griffith (USA, 1836)

Mizora: World of Women by Mary E. Bradley Lane (USA, 1881)

Unveiling a Parallel by Alice Ilgenfritz Jones and Ella Merchant (USA, 1893)

Moving the Mountain by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (USA, 1911)

With Her in Ourland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (USA, 1916)

Metropolis by Thea von Harbou (Germany, 1926)

Anthem by Ayn Rand (USA, 1938)

Kallocain by Karin Boye (Sweden, 1940)

The Lottery by Shirley Jackson (USA, 1948)

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (USA, 1957)

The Female Man by Joanna Russ (USA, 1970)

The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin (USA, 1974)

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Canada, 1985)

Always Coming Home by Ursula Le Guin (USA, 1985)

The Children of Men by P.D. James (England, 1992)

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (Canada, 2003)

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (USA, 2008)

Divergent by Veronica Roth (USA, 2011)

MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood (Canada, 2013)

We are  very pleased to acknowledge the support given to this event by Burnley branch of Unite , Merseyside Civil Engineering branch of Unite, Preston 0754 branch of Unite, Manchester EMS branch of Unite,  North West  Retired Members branch of Unite, NW/1400/5 branch of Unite,  Fylde Coast  branch of Unite,  Sainsbury’s branch of Unite, Central Manchester branch of unite, Greater Manchester Social Action branch of Unite, Chorley branch of Unite  and Barrow branch of Unite.

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Posted in Mary Quaile club meeting, novels, women's history

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