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Reproduction by Design

Sex, Robots, Trees, and Test-Tube Babies in Interwar Britain

Modernity in interwar Europe frequently took the form of a preoccupation with mechanizing the natural; fears and fantasies revolved around the notion that the boundaries between people and machines were collapsing. Reproduction in particular became a battleground for those debating the merits of the modern world.
That debate continues today, and to understand the history of our anxieties about modernity, we can have no better guide than Angus McLaren. In Reproduction by Design, McLaren draws on novels, plays, science fiction, and films of the 1920s and ’30s, as well as the work of biologists, psychiatrists, and sexologists, to reveal surprisingly early debates on many of the same questions that shape the conversation today: homosexuality, recreational sex, contraception, abortion, euthanasia, sex change operations, and in vitro fertilization.
Here, McLaren brings together the experience and perception of modernity with sexuality, technology, and ecological concerns into a cogent discussion of science’s place in reproduction in British and American cultural history.

248 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2012

History: British and Irish History, History of Ideas

Language and Linguistics: Language and Law


“An invaluable resource for historians of science seeking a deeper engagement with the intellectual contexts for interwar British science. McLaren’s tremendous knowledge of the era’s literary sources allows readers to take a deep dive into the interwar British elite’s hopes and fears about the impact of modernism and the rapidly developing
scientific knowledge and technology on human sex and reproduction.”


“Through his shrewdly original assembly of a dazzling kaleidoscope of 1920s and 1930s texts by both the famous—Aldous Huxley, H.G. Wells, Dora Russell, Virginia Woolf— and the lesser known, McLaren interconnects eugenics, conservation, birth control, mechanization, feminism, artificial insemination, and the “ectopic” in a deep interwar genealogy of the vexing reproductive dilemmas that accompanied erotic modernism. Sometimes melancholy and often hilarious, Reproduction by Design is an indispensably erudite tour de force for understanding modern British sexualities and culture.”

Judith A. Allen, Indiana University, Bloomington

“I know of no other work on interwar Britain, or even twentieth-century Britain that brings together modernity, sexuality, technology, and the environment in quite this way. The result is extremely compelling and successful. It is certain to attract a great deal of interest from both scholars and a wider audience.”

Stephen Brooke, York University

Table of Contents


Part 1: Speculative Literature and Mechanistic Progress
1 “The standardized world we are facing and fearing”: Sex and Futurist Fictions  
2 “What is better, a car or a wife?”: Automobiles and Modern Bodies    
3 “A race of human machines”: Robots and Reproduction

Part 2: Beyond the Predictive: Sex in Real Time
4 “A sort of animal or mechanic immortality”: Glands and Eugenics
5 “A spinster and a syringe”: Debating Test-Tube Babies

Part 3: Romantic Racialism
6 “Breeding a race apart from nature”: Ruralists and Conservationists  


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