Swastika Night is a futuristic Dystopian novel by British author Katherine Burdekin written under the pseudonym of Murray Constantine

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Story


Background

The novel is an extrapolation of the events leading up to World War II; mainly Hitler's own speeches, such as his proclamation of a "thousand year reich", and especially from Mein Kampf. Burdekin foresaw the possible implications of Nazism and it's "cult of masculinity" and reworked such themes which took place in the world around her into an entirely plausible future setting. Burdekin also correctly interprets Hitler's plans for the Jewish people from his writings in Mein Kampf, as in the novel they have all been exterminated(1 ).

Plot Summary

The plot of Swastika Night is fairly irrelevant and the true message comes through in the setting and is meant as cautionary and didactic. The story warns against the possible outcomes of allowing Nazism to continue, but also recognizes that many of the bad qualities of Nazism are also in her own society.
The story takes place seven-hundred years after World War II, known in the novel as the "Twenty Years War", wherein Germany and Japan have defeated the Allies and split the world into their two empires. Despite being set in the future the novel does not imagine any sort of futuristic technologies that have come into being. The story begins with Herman, a Nazi, and mostly focuses on Alfred, an Englishman with grand dreams of overthrowing the German Empire. Through contact with the Knight Von Hess, one of the amalgamations of feudal ruler and religious leader, Alfred learns that the current conception of Hitler, a seven-foot-tall blond, blue-eyed, bearded deity exploded from "God the Thunderer", is utterly false and passes this secret on to his son with the hopes that it will be shared and eventually bring down Hitlerism before he is killed by the SS.
The story places a heavy emphasis on the oppression of women. Women are no longer seen as anything but animals, with no souls, the women are dehumanized and are placed in camps separate from masculine society where they do little more than subsist, submit to any of the men's wills, raise the female children, and raise the male children which are taken away at eighteen months.

Author



Katherine Burdekin was born Katherine Penelope Cade on July 23, 1896 and died August 10, 1963. Before writing she worked as a nurse in an army hospital during WWI. In the 1930's Burdekin wrote eleven novels which mainly dealt with the issues of pacifism, communism, and feminism. Burdekin would eventually abandon pacifism in order to support the fighting of fascism(2 ).

Influence



Many people point out the many similarities between 1984 and Swastika Night and conclude that Orwell borrowed a substantial amount of 1984, published twelve years after Swastika Night, from Burdekin, and that despite this, 1984 is wildly more popular than Swastika Night(3 ). Some of these similarities include:
  • Totalitarian regimes which have destroyed the past
  • Mythical religious fervor surrounding leaders
  • Separate empires in constant competition
  • Rebellious protagonist
  • Person in a position of power gives the protagonist a secret book
  • Hierarchy which labels the lowest group as animals
  • Both protagonists try and teach their friend or lover using the secret book but are unsuccessful
  • Degradation of the sexual relationship

In the introduction to Swastika Night, Daphne Patai argues that while 1984 did most likely borrow a substantial amount from Burdekin, Orwell's novel, despite dealing with primarily male actions, identifies the reason behind the regime's actions as basic human nature, while Burdekin identifies it in her novel as the result of a "cult of masculinity" (6 ). In addition to this, recent women's Utopian fictions continue to use the cult of masculinity theme and the gender hierarchy that creates a societies various problems(8 ).

Though perhaps not directly influencing each other, Swastika Night and Herland also share an important theme. That is, the women of both novels have responded to their surroundings with genetic miracles. The women of Herland, without any men, were able to parthenogenically reproduce, while the women of Swastika Night, tortured and degraded to the level of animals have stopped reproducing as many female children so as to save them from such a fate(1 ).

Themes



Degradation of Women - The degradation of woman is one of the primary themes of the novel. The absolute disenfranchisement of women is an extrapolation from the anti-feminist elements of Mein Kampf. The reduction of women is also tied to the totalitarian state's elimination of the past, and the breakdown of sexual relations in general.
"As a woman is above a worm,
So is a man above a woman.
As a woman is above a worm,
So is a worm above a Christian"(6 ).
In the novel, Burdekin also comments on the "cult of masculinity" and anti-feminist aspects of her own society. On women in the Christian theology,
"They were not allowed to be priests. But they were told by men that they had souls which Jesus loved, so they developed the simulacrum of a soul and a sham conscience. But when the Reduction of Women started the Christian men acquiesced in it, probably because there always had been in the heart of the religion a hatred of the beauty of women and a horror of the sexual power beautiful women with the right of choice and rejection have over men"(6 ).
In Swastika Night women play a far larger role than women in any other dystopian novel, and their role is to show the horrible outcomes of what Nazism could result in if it wasn't fought.

The Importance of Books - In Swastika Night as in 1984 a secret book is kept of the actual history and workings of the totalitarian society. This book serves as an important tool for Alfred which confirms his suspicions that the presented history is false. The importance of this one link to the history is illustrated in this quote,
"I... dedicate this book to my eldest son, Arnold von Hess, to him and to his heirs for ever. Keep it inviolate, guard it as you would your honour, for though what I have put down here is but the smallest fragment of the truth of history, yet I swear that, to my poor knowledge, it is all true"(6 ).

Homosexuality - The cult of masculinity leads to a degradation of the traditional sexual relationship and the embracing of the male gender role. Sex with a woman is seen as only a man's civic duty in order to create more males to be part of Hitlerism. Homosexuality functions as a narrative device since Herman's homosexual attraction to Alfred is what compels Herman to comply with Alfred's plans.

Notes



While Swastika Night is incredibly similar to 1984, with essentially the same starting setting, totalitarian societies, social repression, and generally isolated main characters, Swastika Night is much more hopeful than 1984. The tone of both novels is incredibly somber and disheartening, however there are key differences in the rebellions that each of them plan. In 1984, Winston's rebellion was hopelessly doomed from the beginning, with no practical way of affecting anything within the world around him. In Swastika Night, Alfred acknowledges that he will most certainly not survive his rebellion, but that he is only the start of it.

"I am going to destroy your empire... The way this acorn made this big oak... Of course I am only the acorn you understand. The oak will grow out of me. I myself will be dead"(6 ).

In addition, Alfred actually has a legitimate plan and well reasoned thoughts, something else Winston seems to lack,

"I am a man who knows that while armed rebellion against Germany must fail, there is another rebellion that must succeed... The rebellion of disbelief. Your Empire is held together on the mind side of it by Hitlerism. If that goes, if people no longer believe Hitler is God, you have nothing left but armed force. And that can do nothing but kill people. You can't make them re-believe if they don't. And in the end, however many people you kill, so long as there are some to carry on, the skepticism will grow. And you can't ever kill all the unbelievers, because, though you can search a man's pockets or his house, you can't search his mind"(6 ).

In this particular passage, we can also identify Burdekin's previous pacifist ideologies, most notably non-violent resistance. Alfred understands the situation he is in and through his reasoning on the world before WWII as well as it's aftermath, knows that what is being told to everyone is false, and therefore it can eventually be overthrown.
This hope pervades other aspects of Swastika Night which it shares with 1984. In both novels, a secret book is used to convey knowledge of the past and confirm the things the main character has thought all along. In 1984, Goldstein's book is revealed to have been co-authored by Winston's eventual torturer and was used to instill a false sense of hope. While in Swastika Night the book delivers Alfred the mechanism with which to legitimately exact his revolution.

Many point to Swastika Night as a work of extreme insight as Burdekin accurately predicts many of the aspects of Nazi Germany and WWII over two years before Germany's invasion of Poland. These include, the extermination of the Jewish people, and the importance of air power during WWII. In a way, Burdekin also successfully predicts the aftermath of WWII, the Cold War, with two supremely powerful countries which were on the same side during WWII, tied down in stalemates with the other. Though this prediction isn't completely accurate since the stalemates arrived to in Swastika Night occur after actual battles as opposed to a fear of mutual destruction. Despite these technological differences between Swastika Night and the Cold War era both situations had the distinct possibility of human extinction(1 ).

Bibliography and References




  1. Crossley, Robert. “Review: Dystopian Nights.” Science Fiction Studies 14.1 (1987): 93-98. JSTOR. 6 Mar. 2009 <http://www.jstor.org/‌stable/‌4239798>.
  2. McKay, George. “Katharine Burdekin: An Alien Presence in Her Own Time.” Recharting the Thirties. By Patrick J. Quinn. Selinsgrove, PA: Susquehanna University Press, 1996. 187-196. Google Scholar. 6 Mar. 2009 <http://books.google.com/‌books?hl=en&lr=&id=9AtgeckHXYAC&oi=fnd&pg=PA187&dq=feminine+principle+swastika+night&ots=xnuOxcaQUt&sig=E0JI5WVvgU8aUnTw4_MSSHVPTgo#PPA199,M1>.
  3. - - -. “Metapropaganda: Self-Reading Dystopian Fiction: Burdekin’s ‘Swastika Night’ and Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four.’” Science Fiction Studies 21.3 (1994): 302-314. JSTOR. 5 Mar. 2009 <http://www.jstor.org/‌stable/‌4240368>.
  4. Pagetti, Carlo, et al. “In the Year of Our Lord Hitler 720: Katharine Burdekin’s ‘Swastika Night’ (L’Année de Notre Seigneur Hitler 720: ‘Swastika Night’ de Katharine Burdekin).” Science Fiction Studies 17.3 (1990): 360-369. JSTOR. 5 Mar. 2009 <http://www.jstor.org/‌stable/‌4240012>.
  5. Patai, Daphne. “Foreword.” Foreword. Proud Man. By Katharine Burdekin. New York: The Feminist Press, 1993. ix-xxiv.
  6. Burdekin, Katharine. Swastika Night. New York: The Feminist Press, 1985.
  7. Schneider, Karen. Loving Arms: British Women Writing the Second World War. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1997. 38-63. 19 Mar. 2009 <http://books.google.com/‌books?hl=en&lr=&id=uH4OlQCSzSoC&oi=fnd&pg=PP13&dq=swastika+night&ots=9LGVIGgwYw&sig=6zB_EAYknv11V7vGMn6SNeevY7c#PPA38,M1>.
  8. Schwickart, Patsy. “Review: Orwell Revisited.” The Women’s Review of Books 2.2 (1984): 3-4. JSTOR. 20 Mar. 2009 <http://www.jstor.org/‌stable/‌4019466>.
  9. Tighe, Carl. “Pax Germanica - the future historical.” Journal of European Studies 119.30 (2000): 297-328. 6 Mar. 2009 <http://jes.sagepub.com/‌cgi/‌reprint/‌30/‌119/‌297>.
  10. Wolfe, Gary K. “Review: [untitled].” Science Fiction Studies 21.2 (1994): 260-261. JSTOR. 20 Mar. 2009 <http://www.jstor.org/‌stable/‌4240353>.