What Not: A Prophetic Comedy, by Rose Macaulay

Second paragraph of third chapter (I’m sorry, this is a long one):

Ivy looked from the End House to her father, surpliced at the lectern, reading the Proper Lesson appointed for Brains Sunday, Proverbs 8 and 9. “Shall not wisdom cry, and understanding put forth her word? She standeth in the top of high places, by the way, in the places of the paths. She crieth at the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors…. O ye simple, understand wisdom, and, ye fools, be of an understanding heart…. Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars” (that was the Ministry hotel, thought Ivy)…. “She hath sent forth her maidens, she crieth upon the highest place of the city” (on the walls of the Little Chantreys town hall). “Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither…. Forsake the foolish and live, and go in the way of understanding…. Give instruction to a wise man and he will get wiser; teach a just man and he will increase in learning…. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the holy is understanding….” Which set Ivy Delmer wondering a little, for she believed her parents to be holy, or anyhow very, very good, and yet…. But perhaps they had, after all, the beginning of wisdom, only not its middle, nor its end, if wisdom has any end. She looked from her father, carefully closing the big Bible and remarking that here ended the first lesson, to her mother, carefully closing her little Bible (for she was of those who follow lessons in books); her mother, who was so wonderfully good and kind and selfless, and to whom old age must come, and who ought to be preparing for it by going in for the Government Mind Training Course, but who said she hadn’t time, she was so busy in the house and garden and parish. And half the things she did or supervised in the house and garden ought, said the Ministry of Brains, to be done by machinery, or co-operation, or something. They would have been done better so, and would have left the Delmers and their parishioners more time. More time for what, was the further question? “Save time now spent on the mere business of living, and spend it on better things,” said the Ministry pamphlets. Reading, Ivy supposed; thinking, talking, getting au fait with the affairs of the world. And here was Mrs. Delmer teaching each new girl to make pastry (no new girl at the vicarage ever seemed to have acquired the pastry art to Mrs. Delmer’s satisfaction in her pre-vicarage career)–pastry, which should have been turned out by the yard in a pastry machine; and spudding up weeds one by one, which should have been electrocuted, like superfluous hairs, or flung up by dynamite, like fish in a river…. But when Mrs. Delmer heard of such new and intelligent labour-saving devices, she was as reluctant to adopt them as any of the poor dear stupid women in the cottages. It was a pity, because the Church should lead the way; and really now that it had been set free of the State it quite often did.

I happened to pick this up at Eastercon, the year before before the plague. It was written during the First World Ward and set very shortly after it, in a Britain where eugenics has been legislated into public policy, and the Ministry of Brains controls who people can marry so that war will become impossible once stupidity has been bred out of the population. There’s a good deal of satire here, and some good observation of what happens when popular support for a political initiative collapses after a strong start; but it’s also a sympathetic observation of human nature and human behaviour, trying to put society together again after the catastrophe of war. Macaulay’s take on global politics is a bit naïve, but she’s good on the human heart; and this slim book was clearly a source of inspiration for both 1984 and Brave New World. Recommended. You can get it here.

This was my top unread book acquired in 2019. Next on that pile is One Foot in Laos, by Dervla Murphy.