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When Sex Changed

Birth Control Politics and Literature between the World Wars

Layne Parish Craig

Publication Year: 2013

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’s Three 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.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Series: The American Literatures Initiative

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 1-6


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-xii

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Introduction: “Setting Motherhood Free”

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pp. 1-21

I?ve been talking to the younger generation all afternoon. They are like crude hard green apples: no halo, mildew, or blight. Seduced at 15, life has no holes or corners for them. I admire, but deplore. Such an old maid, they make me feel. ?And how do you manage not- not- not to have children?? I ask. ?Oh, we read Mary Stopes of course!? Figure to yourself my dear ...

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1. “The Thing You Are!”: The Woman Rebel in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland Saga

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pp. 22-46

The biography of American author and feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman might suggest that she herself was a heroine in a birth control advocacy narrative. Married at twenty-three, she suffered a complete breakdown in 1885 after the birth of her first and only child, Katharine. Though Gilman attained fame as a lecturer and political activist in the ...

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2. “Six Sons at Eton”: Birth Control and the Medical Model in Joyce and Woolf

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pp. 47-75

...?Hold, flay, grill, fire that laney feeling for kosenkissing disgenically within the proscribed limits like Population Peg . . . It may all be topping fun but its tip and run and touch and flow for every whack when Marie stopes Phil These lines from Shaun/Juan?s sermon in James Joyce?s Finnegans Wake(1939) remind readers that as birth control took shape in the public imag-...

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3. “That Means Children to Me”: The Birth Control Review in Harlem

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pp. 76-98

...?The slums of our large northern cities are matched in vice and poverty in the Negro quarters of the southern cities. Certain streets of all these fair cities are lined with rows of closely built wooden shanties?sometimes row behind row?where the colored people live. There are a few ?apartment? The New Emancipation: The Negroes? Need for Birth Control, as Seen by ...

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4. “Unbridled Lust” and “Calamitous Error”: Religion, Eugenics, and Contraceptionin 1930s Family Sagas

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pp. 99-123

...?We are deeply touched by the sufferings of those parents who, in extreme want, experience great difficulty in rearing their children. However, they should take care lest the calamitous state of their external affairs should be the occasion for a much more calamitous error. No difficulty can arise that justifies the putting aside of the law of God which forbids all acts intrinsi-...

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5. “She Takes Good Care That the MatterWill End There”: The Artist’s Douche Bag in Three Guineas and If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem

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pp. 124-147

Depression, which saw family size constrict in England and the United States, birth control lost some of the veneer of social scandal it retained from Sanger?s trial and the censorship of contraceptive information. In 1930, local health authorities in Great Britain began to be permit-ted to distribute information on contraception, a practice that became ...

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Conclusion: Birth Control’s Afterlives

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pp. 148-164

...?Whatever anyone thinks about Birth Control it is certain that the world has arrived at such a position that this is one of the most important sub-?London Evening Standard, quoted in the February 1922 issue of theThis book attempts to document through literature a moment in the history of sexual culture in the United Kingdom and the United States ...


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pp. 165-186


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pp. 187-200


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pp. 201-206

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About the Author

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pp. 219-219

Layne Parish Craig holds a PhD in English literature from the University of Texas at Austin. She has published articles on Irish literature, gender studies, and topics in literature and medicine in journals including the James Joyce Quarterly, ?ire/Ireland, and thirdspace. She resides in Fort Worth, Texas, where she is a faculty member of the English Department ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780813562124
E-ISBN-10: 0813562120
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813562117

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: The American Literatures Initiative
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OCLC Number: 863034880
MUSE Marc Record: Download for When Sex Changed

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Eugenics in literature.
  • Birth control -- Social aspects -- United States.
  • Feminism and literature.
  • Birth control in literature.
  • Women and literature.
  • English literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • American literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Birth control -- Social aspects -- Great Britain.
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