Monthly Archives: February 2014

New Book: Layne Parish Craig, When Sex Changed Birth Control Politics and Literature between the World Wars

craig.coverFrom Rutgers University Press:

“In When Sex Changed, Layne Parish Craig analyzes the ways literary texts responded to the political, economic, sexual, and social values put forward by the birth control movements of the 1910s to the 1930s in the United States and Great Britain.

Discussion of contraception and related topics (including feminism, religion, and eugenics) changed the way that writers depicted women, marriage, and family life. Tracing this shift, Craig compares disparate responses to the birth control controversy, from early skepticism by mainstream feminists, reflected in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland, to concern about the movement’s race and class implications suggested in Nella Larsen’s Quicksand, to enthusiastic speculation about contraception’s political implications, as in Virginia Woolf’sThree Guineas.

While these texts emphasized birth control’s potential to transform marriage and family life and emancipate women from the “slavery” of constant childbearing, birth control advocates also used less-than-liberatory language that excluded the poor, the mentally ill, non-whites, and others. Ultimately, Craig argues, the debates that began in these early political and literary texts—texts that document both the birth control movement’s idealism and its exclusionary rhetoric—helped shape the complex legacy of family planning and women’s rights with which the United States and the United Kingdom still struggle.”



devine.coverFrom Review 19

“In recent years transatlantic literary studies has expanded the scope and variety of its inquiries to emphasize the multiethnic and polyglot nature of the Atlantic sphere in every phase of its cultural history. But this book demonstrates the ongoing need for examining Anglo-American relations as a mutually constituting sphere of influence and exchange. Beginning with Christine DeVine’s able introduction and continuing through each of the contributed chapters, this collection illustrates what Thomas Peyser has described –in Utopia and Cosmopolis (1998)–as the tandem relationship between the local and the global during a period when nationalist sentiment was fomented by an increasing sense of globalism. As DeVine puts it, the travel narratives considered in this volume show how “Britain viewed itself as part of the transatlantic world during a crucial time in the development of Anglo-American relations” (3). In other words, in its account of the New World, nineteenth-century British travel writing also expresses a perspective of home. Of course, this is a truism on its face; but the volume ploughs fertile ground in describing the rich and varied ways that travel writing reflected British interests while exploring new physical and cultural terrain. As part of a process of national self-definition, the enterprise of nineteenth-century travel literature embodies to a unique degree what Paul Giles has termed “the politics of traversal” (The Atlantic Republic, 2006)”

Read the whole review here