Published in 1937, twelve years before Orwell’s 1984, Swastika Night projects a totally male-controlled fascist world that has eliminated women as we know them. Women are breeders, kept as cattle, while men in this post-Hitlerian world are embittered automatons, fearful of all feelings, having abolished all history, education, creativity, books, and art. The plot centers o
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Swastika Night envisions a world thousands of years in the future in which the Nazis have joint world dominance with the Japanese and the past before Hitler has been obliterated from collective memory. It is a static world in which Hitler is worshiped as a blond, blue-eyed Viking-god that was not born of woman but exploded, where Knights rule small feudal societies, where the cult of manliness dominates to such an extent that boys are taken as lovers and women are hairless cattle kept in cages,
There are things to like about this book, such as the author’s ability to imagine a reality where social indoctrination is so extreme it is difficult for even the most likable characters to imagine women ever being beautiful, or having a soul or free will of their own, or that another form of life could have existed before Hitler’s descendants changed the history book to a vague and worthless bible. And the writer is fine at expressing how every seemingly likable character- the freethinking Englishman Alfred, the sympathetic Knight who knows the most of the past because of a hereditary curse of knowledge, the Christians with their incomplete hand-me-down version of Jesus- is flawed because they can only see “Reality” through their own very strict slant of reality, which has been doubly thwarted by thousands of years of lies and cultural programming. Also, the author wisely sees reprogramming, not violence, as the only way of ever affecting any sort of inner change. This must have been a very unpopular message indeed, considering this book came out before WW II even began.
Nonetheless, the book was too boring, the writing too sloppy, the strawmen too strawy, the expositions too exposing, the Socratic dialogues too dull, the plot too slow. And it suffers from all the shortcomings of dystopian fiction that I despise: uninteresting flat characters, a God Narrator entering too many heads, unrealistic moments of awakening. Dystopian novels are often better essays than novels, and I wish they would present themselves as such instead of trying to come across as persuading and entertaining narratives, which they all hopelessly never turn out to be.
I do like one of the messages of the book (or at least find it interesting) which is to see your kind and you yourself as superior to
others, that the only crime is to not value oneself. “Women’s submission is not due to their nature, but rather to the fact that women have never had two things that are available to men. One is sexual invulnerability; the other is pride in their sex.” (viii) Writing back then was, in many ways, ahead of our time.