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A mould discarded: abortion and class in 1930s rhetoric and fiction

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In this paper I discuss how although 1930s campaigners for the legalisation of abortion, a middle-class group, based their argument on the figure of the overburdened working-class mother, these working-class mothers, when they appear at all, are only part of the backdrop in 1930s novels that discuss abortion. Instead, novels like Rosamond Lehmann’s The Weather in the Streets (1936) and George Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936) position abortion as a threat to middle-class survival, reflecting the resurgence of a eugenic discourse from earlier in the century. While middle-class families are imperilled by the failure of their protagonists to reproduce, their class is itself in danger, as these protagonists find themselves slipping down the class ladder.

Speaker biography: Fran Bigman is in the second year of a PhD in English at Peterhouse, Cambridge. In 2009, she completed the MPhil in Criticism and Culture in Cambridge’s English Faculty, writing a dissertation that carves out a new sub-genre of 1940s-50s Hollywood cinema, the ‘dangerous-husband film’, which mounts a sophisticated critique of contemporary films that pathologise femininity and idealise suburbia. Fran did her undergraduate work in the History Department of Brown University.

This talk is part of the Twentieth Century Think Tank series.

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