(1896-1963) UK writer, who signed some of her work Kay Burdekin and who, in the 1930s, wrote what remains her best-known novel as by Murray Constantine, a pseudonym which was confirmed only in 1985 by Professor Daphne Patai. She increasingly made use of Fantasy and sf modes to express her increasingly explicit Feminist interests, though neither of her first two novels are of literary interest, nor does either explore the fantastic. Her third, however, The Burning Ring (1927), is a Time-Travel fantasy in which a self-centred young man, having been given magic powers, visits various epochs in various disguises, learning more about real life than he at first wished. The Children's Country (1929) as Kay Burdekin is a fantasy for children. The twelfth-century protagonist of The Rebel Passion (1929) is transported in a vision from his monastery to a twenty-first-century UK where women are equal, Eugenic sterilization of the unfit is normal, and the Western world – after a futuristic war with Asia – gradually turns to a William Morris-style medievalism. Proud Man (1934) as by Murray Constantine subjects a sample of contemporary humanity to the searching interrogation of a Time-Travelling visitor from the future, a period when Evolution has transformed Homo sapiens into a species without sexual differentiation, clearly the source of all "subhuman wretchedness" (> Gender; Sex); after long exposure to the human condition in London, the traveller disappears suddenly back into the future. The Devil, Poor Devil! (1934), as by Constantine, confronts the Devil with a killing spirit of secular sanity, against which He is helpless.
Burdekin's last published novels were the most explicitly didactic. Swastika Night (1937; 1985 as Burdekin) as by Murray Constantine, her best-known work, and the first Hitler Wins tale of any significance, examines a Nazi-dominated Europe 700 years hence through a series of dialogues between a heterodox German Knight (> Medieval Futurism) and a free-thinking English visitor, who is eventually given the Knight's precious family manuscript – almost all books had been burned centuries earlier – which contains a genuine history of creation of the German state, and revealing en passant the fact that Hitler was not a divine Siegfried-like creature "exploded" from the aether, and that females had not always been treated as repellent non-sentient animals properly penned away from humans, of use only as breeders (men's most intimate relationships are now homosexual). The Future History incorporated in the manuscript also describes Germany's difficult but successful invasion of Soviet Russia, and the extermination of the Jews, though the details of this genocide do not closely prefigure the Final Solution (> Holocaust Fiction). The English visitor is entrusted with the document, and leaves behind a fatally sclerotic Germany caught into an obsessive cultural mortis ("Blood is a Mystery, and a thing no non-German can understand"), and still unable to come decisively to blows with its Japanese foes. The Feminist arguments in the text are cogent and vividly presented, and the condition of women in Nazi Germany is made moderately plausible through the argument that their degradation is not due to Hitler but to his fanatical descendants, who have what might be described as a Pauline view of the female sex (the despised Christians of Europe justify their similar brutalization of women through fragments of scripture from the Apostle Paul). Swastika Night has come to be seen as a central text.
The posthumous publication of Burdekin's feminist Utopia, The End of This Day's Business (1990), apparently written before Swastika Night, further helped to dissolve a pseudonymous obscurity which was at least in part self-afflicted, and to uncover a writer of considerable interest. This tale, apparently written while Swastika Night was being composed, reverses the sexual arguments of its companion: in The End of This Day's Business it is men whom women cannot conceive of as human (> Gender). It has been claimed that at least 15 novels remain in manuscript. Burdekin's work is at times couched too floridly, and her message is too often found embedded in romance-fiction plotting, but she can now be seen as one of those twentieth-century figures whose absence from view during that century now seems very close to tragic. [JC]
see also: Dystopias; Genre SF; Politics.
Katharine Penelope Cade Burdekin
born Spondon, Derbyshire: 23 July 1896
died Suffolk: 10 August 1963
as Murray Constantine
- The Devil, Poor Devil (London: Boriswood, 1934) as by Murray Constantine [hb/]
- Proud Man (London: Boriswood, 1934) as by Murray Constantine [hb/James Boswell]
- Swastika Night (London: Victor Gollancz, 1937) as by Murray Constantine [hb/nonpictorial]
- Swastika Night (Old Westbury, New York: The Feminist Press, 1985) as Katharine Burdekin [with introduction by Professor Daphne Patai, revealing her true name: pb/]
- Venus in Scorpio: A Romance in Versailles, 1770-1793 (London: John Lane The Bodley Head, 1940) with Margaret Leland Goldsmith, both writing as by Murray Constantine [hb/]
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