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by Isak Dinesen & translated by Anne Born

Pub Date: Nov. 28th, 1986
ISBN: 0312010745
Publisher: St. Martin's

An early speculative essay by the author of Out of Africa, stretched into a book with extensive notes and long essays serving as both foreward and afterword. Divorced, out of Africa, and not yet begun on her literary career, Dinesen writes with intellectual detachment on the redemptive power of idealism--whether in free love, marriage, or social planning. To Dinesen, marriage is an example of the persistence of words and the mutability of meaning. The greatest sin of modern marriage is its "terrible lack of idealism," its dedication not to love or the loved one but to orthodoxy, to itself, to the name of marriage. So, like St. Christopher, Dinesen's model, the strong individual must seek out something stronger to serve. Of course, all her notions are predicated upon a godless world in which piety is reactionary, so St. Christopher's solution is no good. The new ideal strong enough to deserve service is, unfortunately, eugenics. She correctly sees birth control as epochal, but not as liberation of women's sexuality so much as a means of improving the species. Her faith in eugenics is not cold-she even speculates that science may show that children conceived in love may be the strongest. Still, to modern ears, the language of eugenics is chilling: ". . .free love affairs will be tolerated as long as they do not burden the race with undesirable specimens." The introductory essay provides a general biography and puts the essay in context both of her life and her times, arguing the essential feminism of Dinesen's writings. The afterword examines the influence of George Bernard Shaw, and the meaning of neo-Lamarckism and eugenics to that era. Both ably serve to untangle what is, after all, a rather confusing piece of philosophy.