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Laski, Marghanita

Entry updated 18 September 2022. Tagged: Author, Theatre.

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(1915-1988) UK author and playwright, born Esther Pearl Laski (she never used her original given names); between 1958 and 1986 she was one of the most prolific contributors of material to the Oxford English Dictionary, supplying over 250,000 quotations to help establish historical usage patterns for words to be defined. Though she was not an avowed author of sf, her first novel, Love on the Supertax (1944), borders on sf in its Satirical depiction of a transformation of the UK during World War Two; her next novel, so close in tone it might be deemed a thematic sequel, Tory Heaven: Or, Thunder on the Right (1948), depicts a class-ridden spoof Utopia set in an Alternate-History UK in which the Conservative Party has won the 1945 election. In The Victorian Chaise Longue (1953), two invalids, a century apart, are subjected to an Identity Exchange, though the tale focuses primarily on pregnant Melanie from 1953, who suffers an imprisoning Timeslip into the body of Milly in 1864 where, tubercular, dying, condescended to (see Women in SF), separated from her infant because she is a single mother, and preached to by the man who had impregnated her (see Religion; Sex), she sinks into a desperate torpor, which Laski clearly intends her readers to understand would be the natural reaction of modern women if they were subject to the oppression their sisters endured in earlier times (see also Feminism; Horror in SF). The underlying horror for women of Timeslip, or for that matter Time Travel of any sort into the past, is here conveyed with a singular intensity that prefigures the even more terrifyingly overdetermined horror of Octavia E Butler's Kindred (1979).

The Offshore Island (written 1954; Television version 14 April 1959 BBC; 1959 chap) is a strongly pacifist sf play set in a UK continuing to suffer the effects of nuclear Holocaust after ten years of World War Three. It stingingly condemns (while linking) the political ruthlessness and sexual prudery of the great powers – the USSR and the USA have agreed to use nuclear weapons only on their weaker allies; the action closes with the Americans about to bomb the farm where the action has taken place, partly in the mistaken belief that incest has taken place there.

The Patchwork Book: A Pilot Omnibus for Children (anth 1946) – an ample volume whose War Production Standard design obscures its 190,000 words – contains considerable sf, not all of it juvenile, including work by Carl H Claudy, H Rider Haggard, Edgar Allan Poe, Jonathan Swift, Jules Verne, Johann David von Wyss and others, all demonstrating an uncircumscribed sense of good writing, similar in this respect to the contemporaneous anthologies edited by Kay Dick. Two volumes of nonfiction – Ecstasy: A Study of Some Secular and Religious Experiences (1961) and Everyday Ecstasy (1980) – deal sympathetically with categories of experience often used within the genre as agents or symbols of transition to a better world; her insistence, throughout these studies, that experiences long held unique to advocates of a Religion are deeply similar to secular epiphanies, is salutary. [JC]

Marghanita Laski

born Manchester, England: 24 October 1915

died London: 6 February 1988

works (selected)



works as editor


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