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Fixing the Interwar Meal: Positive Eugenics and Jewish Assimilation in Betty Miller’s Farewell Leicester Square

Betty Miller opens her 1946 “Notes for an Unwritten Autobiography” provocatively, branding herself a “Fifth Columnist” who had at one time worked to undermine her country from within. Rather than any clandestine operation that she participated in as an adult, however, Miller’s stint as a “Fifth Columnist” occurred when she was just a child. While a young girl in a nursery in Ireland, Miller increasingly became captivated by the image of the German Kaiser Wilhelm II. Although Miller understood that the Kaiser must be “the most wicked man on earth,” she nevertheless felt a combination of powerful fascination and pity because he was so seemingly friendless and ostracized.[1] In response, she created a secret society, consisting of just herself and her sister, dedicated to the Kaiser. Although this childhood subversion was short lived, Miller offers it as an example of how “heresy begins at home”:

it is precisely in the nursery that the future victims or members of the Gestapo are busy perfecting their weapons, maturing, with regard to authority, an attitude either of compliance or rebellion; and the time-bomb that explodes in a lavatory in Leicester Square station had its fuse set to that purpose twenty years ago on a nursery hearth-rug, under the feet of omnipotent and oblivious adults. (41)

Political and racial ideologies and their violent outcomes, Miller contends, are inaugurated in the domestic sphere. Conflicting responses to such beliefs, those of adherence or transgression, are ingrained through the seemingly innocuous practices of everyday life.

This attention to the influence of everyday practices on the development of ideology is evident across Miller’s writing, but it is particularly manifest in her fourth novel Farewell Leicester Square (1941), which she described as an exploration of “the social and psychological conflicts of a Jew in the modern world.”[2] Although Miller also deemed Farewell Leicester Square potentially “one of the best novels Victor Gollancz Ltd have ever published,” Gollancz rejected it outright in 1935 despite his having published her first three works in rapid succession (quoted in Jane Miller, preface to Farewell, x). Both Gollancz and Miller were Jewish, and Gollancz was likely wary of Miller’s open critique in the novel of English anti-Semitism and her depictions of the futility of assimilation.[3] Robert Hale eventually published Miller’s novel in 1941. A few historical shifts likely facilitated this later publication: the intensification of the Jewish refugee crisis of the 1930s, the rise of the Third Reich, and the onset of the Second World War. The Kristallnacht pogrom of 1938—in which nearly 100 Jewish people in Germany and Austria were murdered and 30,000 were taken to concentration camps—led to protests in Britain and a slight loosening of immigration restrictions that had been tightening throughout the 1930s.[4] Although British attitudes towards Jewish people remained ambivalent, the Kristallnacht exposed the materially violent potential of civil anti-Semitism.[5] This destructive shift is captured by the novel’s change in title; whereas Miller’s initial 1935 title, Next Year In Jerusalem, indicates a hope for future peace for those in the Jewish diaspora, the revised title, Farewell Leicester Square, intimates a feeling of homesickness and lack of belonging.[6]

While previous studies of the novel have focused on Miller’s varied depictions of anti-Semitism, I argue here that Miller critiques both Jewish assimilation and the positive eugenics movement through the scenes of consumption that structure the novel.[7] The protagonist Alec’s attempts at assimilating into London society are marked by his abandoning of Jewish food rituals and embracing of a succession of British meals, which are alternately coded with militarism, imperialism, and xenophobia. Alternatively, by adopting middle-class motherhood, Alec’s wife Catherine employs the breastfeeding practices of Dr. Frederic Truby King, whose theories were informed by the positive eugenics movement. Although assimilation and positive eugenics are seemingly opposed, Miller foregrounds the way in which both attempt to foster homogeneity through the mimicry and regulation of rituals of consumption. Through a focus on food culture, Miller’s novel exposes the nuances, paradoxes, and inherent impossibility of homogeneity qua absorption, performing a direct attack on the logics undergirding positive eugenics and related discourses of assimilation.[8] Miller debunks the belief that it is possible for humans to harness the material world in order to create a static, corporeal homogeneity, and she reveals the objectifying and disembodying effects of such attempts on the individual body.

In the novel, assimilation and positive eugenics are imbricated in questions of Jewishness and gender. Jewish rituals of the meal and of maternal feeding were central to the branch of positive eugenics that underpinned Truby King’s work. His mentor Caleb Saleeby advocated for the imitation of Jewish rituals of infant feeding and temperance as a means of racial strengthening. Saleeby and King’s positive eugenic philosophies were based on a lauding of Jewishness and Jewish rituals, but a paradox lay at the center of these theories: Jewish rituals of infant feeding, temperance, and hygiene were models that the British should imitate for racial strength, but that imitation had the ultimate goal of creating a strong, militaristic national body that would ultimately exclude otherness.[9] Thus Jewishness became a eugenic model for a strong British race, but one that, as Miller’s novel shows, excluded Jews altogether.

Through this focus, I build here on studies of modernism that have examined the inextricable ties between anti-Semitism and formal experimentation. Scholarship has shown how “the Jewish question” and Rabbinic hermeneutics inform the narrative complexity of Ulysses, how female modernists deploy Jewishness to foster their experimental fiction, and how the figure of “the Jew”—as emblematic of a kind of cultural indeterminacy—facilitates a textual reflection on form, liberalism, nationalism, and empire.[10] While such studies are crucial, there has thus far been little attention to the relationship between constructions of Jewishness and the movement away from narrative abstraction manifest in the fiction of the 1930s and 1940s. In other words, if anti-Semitism is central to formal experimentation, what possibilities emerge in the “outward turn” that characterizes intermodernist and late modernist fiction?[11] Miller’s novel suggests that abstract thinking about race, which is itself redeployed through formal abstraction, has the potential to be challenged by a focus on the material world, on the vibrant materiality of life.

Whereas recent studies of the everyday have focused on time, repetition and routine, and the relationship between the ordinary and global crisis, this project gives sustained attention to the materiality of everyday life, and to food in particular.[12] Liesl Olson has shown how modernists such as Gertrude Stein understood routine and habit as at once assuaging the disruption of war and as best representing it, but Miller’s novel unpacks how such routines can actually serve to encode racist political ideology. If unthinking repetition has the potential to foster division, Miller’s novel suggests that an understanding of the dynamic nature of matter may provide a way of thinking otherwise. Thus, while many late modernist texts, as Thomas Davis argues, focus on the everyday as an expression of global disorder and historical transformation, Miller’s novel shows how attention to the vibrant nature of material life can offer potentially productive connections across seemingly disparate social and political networks.

Miller’s depictions of the shifting nature of bodies and food articulate a “vital materialism” that has the potential to counter contemporary theories of eugenics and assimilation.[13] This interest in the dynamism of matter is perhaps not surprising when one considers the work of her more famous relative, Henri Bergson. Whereas certain positive eugenicists, such as Saleeby, argued that Bergson’s élan vital—the spontaneous life force animating matter—could be harnessed for eugenic ends, Miller’s novel focuses instead on the perpetual change in human and nonhuman.[14] If, as Bergson argues in Creative Evolution, life and matter are tendencies of a cosmic flow, then the élan vital is constantly creating new forms rather than promoting the movement towards homogeneity advocated by eugenics. This kind of perpetual change is epitomized by food consumption because food, as Jane Bennett posits, is a “powerful agent . . . stuff that modifies the human matter with which it comes into contact” (Vibrant Matter, 44). While assimilation and positive eugenics, when taken to their logical ends, presuppose that the regulation of certain alimentary rituals will produce the same effects, Miller shows how bodies and food are perpetually in flux, inviting instability.[15] Through her focus on food culture, Miller’s novel reveals assimilation and positive eugenics to be false promises, predicated on faulty philosophies of absorbing and regulating matter to promote homogeneity.

Rituals of Feeding, Philosemitism, and Positive Eugenics

Early in the novel, Alec reviews the paintings created by Catherine, the woman he will marry, and instantly dismisses them as the “type of modern work which makes little demand on technical ability; and has become, therefore, a happy hunting ground for those who can conceal in it both lack of originality and uncertainty of draughtsmanship.” He notes “the distorted outlines, the deliberately näive perspective, the bulbous legs, oversimplified face” and decides that her painting has a “child-like simplicity of perception,” which he distrusts because the “cult of infantilism had no appeal for him.” He dismisses one canvas in particular as being from the “School of Truby King,” turning it towards the wall (Miller, Farewell, 134). Alec’s condemnation stems from the tension between Catherine’s highbrow, post-impressionist painting and the popular movies that he directs; more pointedly, he is critical of her blind adherence to experimental form. And yet, the “School of Truby King” is an allusion not to a contemporary artist but rather to Dr. Frederic Truby King, a leader in the early twentieth-century infant welfare movement, first in New Zealand and then in Australia and England. His methods were extremely popular and underpinned by the philosophies of the positive eugenics movement, which advocated for the mating and reproduction of those men and women deemed to have superior racial characteristics. King’s addition to the movement was his assertion that if mothers breastfed their children in the “right” way that they would succeed in creating a stronger British race. Alec’s branding of Catherine’s painting and artistic impulse as being from the “School of Truby King,” then, is scathing: he aligns her unthinking highbrow pursuits with the perpetuation of race science.[16]

After King’s bestselling Feeding and Care of Baby (1913) sold over twenty thousand copies in the first five years it was in print, the “Truby King baby” became a household name. The son of English parents who established colonial settlements in New Plymouth, New Zealand, King attended medical school at the University of Edinburgh before returning to New Zealand to practice. In 1907, while medical superintendent of the Seacliff Mental Asylum in New Zealand, King established an infant welfare society, the Plunket Society, to reduce infant mortality rates and improve health outcomes.[17] King’s focus on maternity, while rooted in concern over infant mortality, nevertheless had a distinctly imperial resonance. The movement, he hoped, would not only give assistance to mothers and save babies, but also counter racial degeneracy and produce strong New Zealanders who would ultimately serve as defenders of the British Empire.[18]

The infant welfare movement took on an added urgency in the years during and immediately following the First World War. King’s Plunket Society soon became a model for ensuring the repopulation of England, as “nationalists and imperialists were stirred to ‘repair the war wastage’ of the ‘brightest and most physically perfect’ men in the worst war the world had seen” (Smith, Mothers and King Baby, 63). A network of women—King’s wife Bella, his daughter Mary, the Society’s vice-regal patron Lady Plunket, and mothers who brought his feeding routines across the British Empire—made King’s methods famous; “the Truby King baby became a model among those to whom a British imperial identity mattered” (Smith, A Concise History, 121). In 1918, Lord and Lady Plunket invited King to London to formally establish the Mothercraft Training Centre under the newly created Babies of the Empire Society, and the infant welfare society obtained the patronage of the Duchess of York.[19] Through the Plunket Society, King argued that women had a duty to become mothers to repair the devastation of war; in the wake of the war, King’s perfect motherhood became equated with a kind of perfect patriotism.

King argued that proper breastfeeding practices would not only save children from disease and malnutrition, but also curb mental illness and lead to a stronger British race. He insisted that mothers did not inherently know what was best for infants and that feeding on demand was wrong. Instead, there had to be a scientific process of regulating feedings every four hours.[20] King’s 1913 Feeding and Care of Baby provides further insight into his methodology. In the first chapter, “Natural Feeding,” King declares that “a woman’s milk is not her own”; rather, “it is created for the baby, and the first duty of the mother is to ensure, by foresight, a proper supply of the only perfect food—the baby’s birthright.”[21] In spite of some moderately helpful tips on facilitating latching and stimulating lactation, King’s overall tone is accusatory. He claims that mothers often waste time fostering attention on their children and instead must regulate their children from infancy. King valued infancy, but as the starting point for a regimen of fitness rather than as a time of wonder and play. King outlines the hypothesis behind this strict feeding regimen, writing, “if our physical, mental, and moral destiny are half-determined in the first year of life . . . if these things are really so, then, indeed, is the future of the children, for good or evil, in the hands of the mothers” (37). And yet, King was not leaving feeding “in the hands of the mothers” at all, instead advocating a rigid feeding regimen that included the absolute rule of weighing breast-fed babies before and after feedings and discouraging cuddling in the name of “fitness.”

Fig. 1. “Feeding by the Clock,” in Feeding and Care of Baby, by Truby King (London: Macmillan, 1920), 35.

King’s focus on breastfeeding as a means to racial strengthening was inspired by the eugenics movement, and by Francis Galton’s strain of positive eugenics in particular. Building on the work of his cousin Charles Darwin, and more specifically Darwin’s On the Origins of Species (1859), Galton theorized that selective breeding would result in a stronger race. The popularity of eugenics in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, as Richard Soloway has argued, “was the product of profound social, political, and cultural changes feeding upon a deeply entrenched belief in the primacy of heredity as an explanation for the human condition.”[22] Because eugenics was variously understood as a science, social science, or religion, people with differing positions could turn to eugenics to find what they wanted, politically and ideologically, and ignore the rest. In this way, eugenics appealed to a variety of competing groups: Tory reactionaries and Liberal social reformers, feminists and non-feminists, capitalists and socialists. The contradictory movement became further divided into those who advocated for negative eugenics—centering on barring reproduction through sterilization—and those who focused on positive eugenics, the promotion of reproduction and parenting among those deemed most “fit.”[23] Caleb Saleeby, a disciple of Francis Galton, coined this distinction, and King’s Feeding and Care of Baby (1913) quotes heavily from Saleeby’s Parenthood and Race Culture (1909). In a section of Feeding and Care of Baby that King himself entitles “Parenthood and Race Culture,” for example, he asserts that all parents must read Saleeby’s work. King quotes Saleeby: “But a word must be said as to the other factor which, with heredity, determines the character of the individual—and that factor is the environment.” The most important aspect of “environment,” which “historians hitherto have wholly ignored” is “MOTHERHOOD” (152).

Fig. 2. “Parenthood and Race Culture,” in Feeding and Care of Baby, by Truby King (London: Macmillan, 1920), 152-153.

Saleeby’s argument that proper motherhood was a means of racial strengthening emerged from his interest in Jewish culture; he believed that Jewish people were the perfect example of a race that had struggled to survive and had persisted.[24] While this fascination with Jewish culture was not widespread in positive eugenics, it is yet another example of the way in which the movement was internally conflicting. In Parenthood and Race Culture (1909), Saleeby asserts that Jewish people “have been the most continuously and stringently selected of any race . . . that can be named.”[25] For Saleeby, Jewish people were a eugenic success story because their persecution throughout history functioned as a kind of natural selection. Due to such persecution, “the Jew who was a weakling or a fool had no chance at all,” and only the strong survived (317). Saleeby also believed that Jewish people ensured their strength by abstaining from alcohol. The aspect of Jewish culture that Saleeby admired most, however, was its emphasis on motherhood. Lauding what he perceived to be the essential qualities of the Jewish mother, Saleeby writes:

The Jewish mother is the mother of children innately superior, on the average, since they are the fruit of such long ages of stringent parental selection, and she makes more of them because she fails to nurse them only in the rarest cases, when she has no choice, and because in every detail her maternal care is incomparably superior to that of her Gentile sister. (317)

In Saleeby’s vision, it was the Jewish adherence to both heredity and Mosaic law that led to Jewish strength. Rituals of maternity, consumption, and bodily purity became essential to positive eugenicists such as Saleeby, who saw an adherence to certain Jewish customs as having the potential to impact natural selection. 

Saleeby is an important reference point for this article not only because of his influence on Truby King, who is named directly in Farewell Leicester Square, but also because Saleeby was a student of Miller’s great-uncle, the philosopher Henri Bergson. Saleeby even dedicated his 1914 The Progress of Eugenics to Bergson, his “teacher and friend.” The subtitle of Progress references Bergson’s Creative Evolution (1907) directly: “Creative Evolution Become Self-Conscious.”[26] Decrying negative eugenics, Saleeby writes that it “has been used as an agent of class prejudice, an argument against love, a reason for cruel and wicked surgical operations” (155). Instead, he argues, eugenics should look to Bergson’s argument about the élan vital, or creative life force, as its foundation. He writes, “[h]ere alone have we the philosophical, moral, and practical foundation of race regeneration, of positive, constructive, creative eugenics, which shall come into conflict with no ultimate laws of our being” (153). Although Bergson clearly describes the élan vital as spontaneous and beyond the possibility of human control, Saleeby twists this idea, suggesting that it can be harnessed for ultimately homogenizing ends.[27]

Miller was likely attuned to these debates over child rearing and eugenics through the work of her husband Emanuel, a child psychologist who later became involved in the Eugenic Society.[28] Emanuel Miller worked at the Tavistock Clinic and Portman Clinic alongside Freud, Jung, and Wells, studied Darwin’s work, and founded the East End Child Clinic to examine juvenile delinquency.[29] His interest in the Eugenic Society might at first seem contradictory, given his Jewish background, but it underscores how eugenic questions engaged Jewish and non-Jewish researchers alike. Many Jewish thinkers, as Raphael Falk affirms, understood that Jewish law had regulations on reproduction and that historical and socioeconomic circumstances had created eugenic outcomes. But opinion was mixed about whether Jewishness was a race or a religion, whether Jewishness stemmed from inherent characteristics or if it was socially and culturally shaped. Some scholars, such as Rabbi Max Reichler, argued that eugenic rules regarding reproduction were central to Jewish tradition through Rabbinical law and the Talmud. The belief in distinct inherent Jewish characteristics became central to the Zionist movement, as the “effort to settle in the Promised Land was conceived as an explicit eugenic effort of the Jewish Volk.[30] Other Jewish thinkers, such as the physician and anthropologist Maurice Fishberg, argued that Jewish people were not fundamentally different and encouraged the possibility of assimilation.[31] But while Fishberg was concerned that inbreeding would perpetuate dysgenic effects, non-Jewish eugenic thinkers such as Karl Pearson, a disciple of Francis Galton, became worried about the potentially degenerative effects of the assimilation of Jewish immigrants.[32] Such debates are emblematic of the complexity and divergent thinking within the eugenics movement.

Jewish people were perceived by eugenicists to be strong, spirited, and thriving, while also physically impoverished, abnormal, and inferior. They were at once racially distinct, which supported anti-Semitism on the one hand and Zionism on the other, and capable of assimilation. Miller responds to these contradictions in racial thinking—that Jewish people were perceived as both vital and degenerate, that Jewish rituals could be coopted for an exclusion of otherness—through her depictions of consumption in Farewell Leicester Square.

Breastfeeding, Positive Eugenics, and “The School of Truby King”

Miller’s novel foregrounds an explicit tension in the Truby King method: the distinction between ritual and regulation. While communal food rituals can be positive and affirming, the mimicry and regulation of those rituals to promote exclusion result in objectification and division. From the beginning of the novel, Miller positions Alec’s Jewish mother, Mrs. Berman, as a maternal figure who fosters familial connection through her preparation of the food and ritual of the meal. The reader first encounters Mrs. Berman coming up from the kitchen in the basement, having finished cooking, ready to begin sewing. The narrator describes her hands as those of an “artist,” which “had fashioned the whole life of this household.” On a daily basis, her artistic hands prepare “for [the family] all the food that was to knit together bone and muscle; they kindled, with unfailing regularity, the frail blonde light of the Sabbath candles” (Miller, Farewell, 13). Mrs. Berman’s culinary work sustains not only the physical strength of her children, knitting together bone and muscle, but also their familial, religious, and communal connection.[33]

Alec’s love interest Catherine is an artist figure, as well: she is an aspiring painter. At the beginning of their courtship, Alec imposes distinct aspects of his mother onto Catherine. When Alec sees Catherine combing her hair, for example, he falls into a dream, musing on his own mother’s selflessness. He soon imagines his mother sitting at the head of their dining table, “ceaselessly watching their plates, their appetites, their well-being and ignoring her own: carelessly; with impunity: as if she were sufficiently supplemented by their lives” (Miller, Farewell, 131). He thinks specifically about the Shabbat meals that his mother crafted, “the radiant white cloth on Friday night, the pointed flames on the candles, the curtains cosily drawn, the meal waiting, the sense of family festivity,” and experiences a “paralyzing loneliness” (132). In mapping these attributes of his mother onto Catherine, Alec exhibits a tension between his longing for the ritual and connection he experienced with his family and his desire for a new middle-class London lifestyle, one that will ultimately require him to eschew his Jewish heritage.

Although Catherine admits that as a bohemian artist she has never thought of herself as “a wife . . . a Mrs Somebody-or-Other,” she indeed does become Alec’s wife, a second Mrs. Berman (140). And it soon becomes clear that her seemingly progressive outlook is a pose. In the conversation that precedes their decision to marry, for example, Catherine admits to Alec that she does not believe that anti-Semitism exists in London, while also suggesting that concentration camps may exist only in one’s mind. These troubling statements are in keeping with other racially charged encounters that Alec has with Catherine throughout the novel. When Alec first sees Catherine and her brother Basil, for example, he immediately feels different, sensing “down to the roots of his being the contrast which emerged between himself and them” and experiencing “racial distinctness” as a Jewish person for the first time (33). When Alec meets Catherine a second time, he is at once struck by her plainness, her lack of glamour, and what he perceives to be her particularly British femininity. He also experiences her racism first hand: she uses the slur “dago” to describe the man who purchased her childhood home (107).

Although Alec wants Catherine to embrace the rituals of his mother, she instead adheres to the distortion of that motherhood, the “scientific motherhood” of which Truby King is a part. Catherine’s turn to scientific motherhood is illustrated in the chapter aptly titled “Gynaecological,” where Miller details Catherine’s prenatal doctor visits. During these visits, male advice is privileged, and pregnant women silently size one another up and vie for the doctor’s attention. Throughout this competition there is nevertheless an attempt to hide the female body, whether through large coats or bagged specimen jars. When Catherine is finally called into see Mr. Whitstable—or, perhaps, Mr. “stable wits”—Miller describes the exchange as akin to a kind of test with correct and incorrect answers. Miller writes, “Like examiner and candidate . . . they proceeded to use the usual syllabus of questions: exercise: nipples: cramp: bismuth. ‘Good,’ he said each time: ‘good’” (187). Catherine is all too willing to comply, as Mr. Whitstable “had once told her she was a model patient, and she would rather disavow all her symptoms than have him forgo this opinion of her.” But the doctor’s visit is nevertheless depicted as an uncomfortable social call in which male scientific authority reigns supreme. When the examination is finished, Catherine describes being relieved that “the ordeal was safely over” (188). In this scene, Miller displays not only how Catherine’s turn to scientific motherhood is in keeping with her status as British icon, but also the negative effects of the system.[34]

However, it is not just scientific motherhood of which Miller is critical. Catherine’s application of the Truby King method when she breastfeeds her son, David, reveals Miller’s more pointed critique of positive eugenics. After a dinner with Catherine’s friend Venetia and Venetia’s father, Colonel Rowton, Alec encourages Catherine to bring Venetia with her to the nursery when she breastfeeds in order to “demonstrate some of the elementary facts of life to her” (Miller, Farewell, 203). Amidst the cotton, safety pins, and creams, a Scottish Nanny sits in the nursery with David in her lap. The friends watch as Nanny weighs the child before his feeding. Moving to Nanny’s chair, Catherine ties an apron around her waist and unbuttons her housecoat. Miller writes, “With the efficiency, the serene lack of modesty that characterizes the nursing mother, she bared her breast—‘Left first this time, is it, Nanny? I always forget’—and swabbed it with cotton-wool.” As Nanny is leaving the nursery, she reminds Catherine that David must get his “full time,” commanding that she must “keep him to it.” Catherine and Venetia begin talking, but it soon becomes clear that Catherine is distracted; she is keeping an eye on Nanny’s travelling clock to make sure that she knows exactly when to switch breasts. The emphasis on weighing David and ensuring precisely timed feeds, as well as Catherine’s questions about the process, reveal that she is still learning the Truby King method. Catherine’s subsequent exasperated assertion, “Oh my dear. It’s impossible to preserve any dignity when you're regarded merely as a human feeding-bottle” expresses the ultimate effects of King’s methods: Catherine does not perceive herself as a woman feeding her child at all (205). Rather, she exists as an artificial and scientific extension of feeding; she becomes an object, the bottle itself.[35]

In addition to portraying the mechanizing and objectifying effects of the Truby King method, Miller complicates the logic of infant feeding as a eugenic tool. King’s methods have implications not only for Catherine’s subjectivity but for David’s as well; David’s physical ingestion of Catherine’s milk involves a symbolic digestion of King’s eugenic rhetoric. Although Catherine and Alec have given their son the name David to “combine the Semitic and the fashionable,” he nevertheless grows to look strikingly like Catherine’s brother, Basil (Miller, Farewell, 206). David is described as slender and fair, with an elegant head, immature nose, and shallow lips. He is the physical antithesis of his father, who has “matt, foreign skin” and “dark, screened eyes” (120). Alec finds it “at times incredibly, and even subtly wrong, that this being, his own son, should be cast in the mould of a stranger: should look at him through the eyes of a quite alien and even hostile entity” (214). By emphasizing the extent to which David looks like Catherine and Basil and not at all like Alec, Miller dramatizes the intended homogenizing effects of King’s methods. And yet, while David might not appear to be Jewish, he is still taunted and called a “Jew” at school, an encounter that triggers the dissolution of Alec’s marriage to Catherine. Through this instance of anti-Semitism, Miller exposes both the problematic racial logic of the 1930s and the flaws in Truby King’s philosophies.[36] Although the intended outcome of King’s method might be a strong British son, David’s peers only read him as other, as an outsider. The Truby King method advocates that breastfeeding in the “right” way will create a strong British race; however, as this moment makes clear, its eugenic possibilities are only truly open to those who have been pre-approved access. It underscores that race is not genetic but is rather socially and culturally constructed.

By revealing the futility of the Truby King method, Miller thus contests the idea, advocated by Saleeby, that the Bergsonian élan vital can be harnessed for eugenic and racially homogenizing ends. Instead, she underscores that all bodies, human and nonhuman, exhibit a constant newness, re-creation and change. By focusing on this indefiniteness, Miller also dramatizes the more progressive theories of sexual selection articulated in Darwin’s The Descent of Man (1871). Elizabeth Grosz has argued that Darwin’s theory of sexual selection destabilizes natural selection by inviting indeterminacy. Bergson, she writes, further “develops Darwin’s idea that species are separated by degrees of difference; they are forms of variation that contain a common beginning and a common elaborative force but that diverge, fan out, and differ from each other more and more as time passes” (Becoming Undone, 40). This understanding of indeterminacy is perhaps most acutely manifest in Catherine’s comment, stated while she is breastfeeding David, that every marriage “fundamentally and of its very nature” is “mixed” (Miller, Farewell, 207). Through these depictions of the flawed logic of positive eugenics, Miller shows how an awareness of the constantly changing nature of matter can serve to disrupt rigid conceptions of race.

The Ritual of the Meal and the “Assimilation of Identical Food”

A dinner scene involving Alec, Catherine, Venetia, and Colonel Rowton directly precedes Catherine’s breastfeeding of David. The juxtaposition of the two moments affirms that the meal scenes in the novel can and should be considered along with the maternal and breastfeeding scenes; both engage with discourses of racial homogeneity. Initially, Alec notices a certain amount of awkwardness in the dinner conversation, which he ascribes to the Colonel’s anti-Semitic views. And yet after dinner, a marked change is described as having occurred in the group. The narrator notes, “[T]he meal had been good: complexions were a little higher: eyes more animated.” For a brief moment, “[a] common level had been established,” as “the material beings of Alec Berman and Colonel Rowton were related by the assimilation of identical food” (Miller, Farewell, 202). Miller’s branding of the process of consumption, digestion, and subsequent “relation” between the material beings of these two characters as a kind of assimilation is telling; it underscores how the process of racial assimilation in the novel is marked by both ingestion and attempted bodily recreation. Through the novel’s meal scenes, Miller reveals how collective attempts at racial purification result in individual broken bodies.[37]

This relationship that Miller presents in the novel between the ritual of the meal, ingestion, and racial assimilation is perhaps not surprising, given the latter’s etymological roots. One of the earliest definitions of assimilation relates to the absorption, ingestion, and embodiment of another form for its own purpose.[38] These resonances of the alimentary meaning of assimilation are manifest in its national and racial connotation. Zygmunt Bauman argues that people who are considered strangers in a community are often offered the opportunity to suppress what might make them culturally distinct in the hope that they will become “indistinguishable from the hosts, and by the same token guarantee their reclassification as insiders, entitled to the treatment the friends routinely receive.”[39] Bauman’s pointed use of scientific language in this passage—hosts, reclassification—underscores how assimilation was initially defined as a biological imperative. Miller draws on both the alimentary and racial connotation of the term to mark Alec’s struggle to assimilate.

The Bermans’ Friday evening Shabbat meal, which is depicted very early in the novel, serves as a touchstone for the subsequent meals in which Alec strives to assimilate. The meal proceeds in a familiar sequence:

[P]reliminary helpings of chopped herring, redolent of onion and vinegar; slices of the sweet twist loaf: golden-brown triangles of fried plaice; savoury fish balls; well-seasoned salad of diced celery and beetroot; stewed pears soaking in cream; and a rich cheese-cake, the final crumbs of which were finished up with a cup of good milky coffee. (Miller, Farewell, 25).

In this detailed inventory of the meal, the food items are not only gustatory, but also rich with Jewish tradition. The portions of herring, the Challah bread, and the cheesecake all bind the Berman family together, connecting them to a shared Jewish past.[40] The meal serves as a rite of initiation into the Berman family for both Alec’s sister’s suitor, Jack, and for the reader.

By situating this detailed Shabbat meal early in the novel, Miller sets up a tension between the positive, communal, inclusive nature of the Jewish ritual of the meal and the subsequent meals that become a means to Alec’s attempted racial assimilation.[41] The first formal meal that Alec takes part in after renouncing his family occurs in a converted army hut at Middle Bay, and only men serve and consume. Here, Alec begins to learn a kind of patrilineal meal making. Alec, his friend Brian, and Catherine’s brother Basil all dine, while Hazlitt, a disabled First World War veteran, serves the group. The meal begins with grapefruit, a food imported from Barbados and thus the spoils of imperialism, which is “uneasily nested in its green Woolworth glass” (Miller, Farewell, 87). Hazlitt is described as collecting the “plundered rinds” of the grapefruit when the men are done with them. After the group is finished with their dinner of roast meat and vegetables, Hazlitt limps in, bringing dessert: an apricot tart, celery, cheese, fruit and nuts, and a tray with a Cona coffeemaker on it. The men are described as “nick[ing] slices off a cheese so pungent that it seared the tongue” and “crush[ing] walnuts between the tongs of a nut-cracker” (88). This nicking, crushing, and plundering, taking place as it does under the auspices of the limping Hazlitt in a converted army hut, carries militaristic undertones. Although Hazlitt might seem to exemplify British masculinity—a man who fought in the First World War—his wounded body serves as a reminder of the harsh fate of that masculinity. There is a clear dissonance to his being the only person who served in the War and his being charged with serving these men food. Thus, although the meal may function as an initiation into the raced, gendered, and classed Britishness into which Alec is attempting to assimilate, Miller demonstrates that a potential end result of that Britishness is a broken body. Miller makes these elements clear to the reader, but Alec, whose sight is privileged throughout the novel, ironically cannot see the possible outcome.

The trope of disembodiment continues in the next extended meal scene, at the London restaurant Chien Andalou. Here, Alec and Catherine are portrayed as dismembering one another. The restaurant’s name refers to Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali’s surrealist short film Un Chien Andalou (1929), and through it, Miller invites a reading of this dinner scene with the surrealist film in mind. In both the restaurant and the film, people are rendered as objects that have the potential to be violently taken apart and inflected with new meaning. Most famously, the film opens with the shocking close up of a razor blade cutting into an open eye. In the novel, we first learn the restaurant’s name through distorted perception; Miller writes, “The big plate-glass windows of the Chien Andalou were mantled in a mist through which the lights, the figures of the diners within, appeared remote and blurred” (Farewell, 113). This distorted perception once again extends to Alec, who anxiously attempts to “place [Catherine], superimpose her, as it were, on the physique of any passer-by who remotely resembled her,” but he is “[f]oiled each time by different, alien features” (113, 114). Out of control of the situation and unable to find Catherine, Alec becomes limp, wounded, and emasculated, like a “marionette with one string broken” (115). Throughout the subsequent meal, the narrative point of view switches between Alec and Catherine’s perceptions of one another. Alec’s thoughts are focused on Catherine’s shoulders, which he decides are “too wide, gaunt,” and her waist, with “sharp, spare hips.” There is violence in his description of her dress, “skin-tight about her flat nervous frame” with “the frail crescent of each breast outlined” (116). Although Catherine at times attempts to conceal herself from Alec’s gaze, she is simultaneously objectifying Alec. Her attention is turned to Alec’s dark eyes, his “matt, foreign skin,” and his mouth; she wants to “learn the sense of his hair,” while she notes that there are “defects” to his face, his ears, and his height (120, 122). In this meal scene, both Catherine and Alec attempt to craft the “ideal” of the other, but Miller makes clear that the creation of either homogenous ideal is a process of individual disembodiment.

During this meal, which takes place on Frith Street in Soho, the servers are once again positioned as foils for Alec. A young Italian waiter arrives with a trolley of hors d'eouvres, including “[a]nchovy, Russian salad, sweet-corn, Spanish onions, herring, olives, [and] sauerkraut” (119). The Italian server offers myriad snacks from other European countries, those that have been refined for British tastes, but Alec turns away from his suggestions and opts for smoked salmon instead. This selection is emblematic of Alec’s desire for assimilation: while Eastern European immigrants introduced smoked salmon to London’s East End in the late nineteenth century, it later became a gourmet food in British restaurants, particularly after the smoking technique was used on salmon from Scotland.[42] Catherine and Alec are also served by a waiter described as “incredibly concave within his toil-worn dress-suit” and with a “voice suggest[ing] an immeasurable remoteness from any world in which the choice of a sweet was a matter of importance” (Miller, Farewell, 119, 121). Although he plays his role in their meal, the waiter’s lack of interest in their food choices and “toil-worn” clothes betray a social class excluded from enjoying the restaurant space.

This exclusion and disembodiment extends to the aesthetics of Alec’s popular filmmaking. His movie Farewell Leicester Square has been adapted from a “recent lending-library success” and is described as “the sort of picture of middle class London life that Alec . . . could be trusted to do with his eyes shut” (63). Alec’s work is an adaptation of middlebrow fiction, but the film is of the unthinking variety. Consumption structures the film’s premiere: crowds are described as “[h]ungry for spectacle,” “sheep-like victims of predestination” who will soon become “swallowed up” by the space of the theater (3, 4, 5). These crowds are hungry to consume Alec’s star, Hetty Follet, who is identified throughout the novel as an accumulation of her body parts: “the slight fluting of the nostrils, tender pout of the upper lip,” the “perverse contrast of deeply blackened lashes [that] accentuated her transparent eyes, [and] the bouquet of blonde hair coiled back beyond her ears” (62). The extras who fill in for Hetty are likewise identified by their body parts: “Eyebrows ruled in at perverse angles: teeth which had been artificially faced for whiteness; faces, breasts, surgically remodelled” (150). Alec wonders why one extra in particular abandons her individuality and “accept[s] this rôle of dummy,” which causes an “amoral reduction in her status as a human being” (150). And yet, ironically, it is just the kind of glaring anonymity inherent to Alec’s filmmaking that he desires through his own attempts at assimilation.

Despite Alec’s personal attempts at racial assimilation and the aesthetic promotion of assimilation through his filmmaking, he eventually recognizes its impossibility, and he articulates the terms of its false promise most clearly during a meal at a Chinese restaurant in Piccadilly Circus. This scene drives home the futility of homogenization by means of ritual absorption, and it directly references the way in which certain British modes of racial purification were ironically coopted from Judaism. It is before this meal, in the apex of polite London society, that Miller positions the most public moment of anti-Semitism in the novel. Alec has travelled to the restaurant with his friend Lew, a Jewish man with whom he interned at Ladywell films. Before Alec and Lew even enter the restaurant, however, they overhear a newspaper vendor exclaim, “Buy the only newspaper not run by Jewish finance! . . . Clear out the Jews! . . . England for the English!” (175). Alec decides to confront the newspaper vendor, but he is disarmed and dismayed by how human and insignificant this man seems. Instead, Alec buys a paper and proceeds to the entrance of the Chinese restaurant. Adjacent to the entrance, the two find a poster that lauds long-distance flight and, almost immediately following, encounter a notice that reads, “No Japanese Served Here.” After reading the notice, the two wonder bemusedly about the usefulness of airplanes that can bring countries close together if “this sort of mania keeps them more isolated than they were in the time of Christopher Columbus” (176).

Miller’s positioning of the anti-Semitic remark outside of the Chinese restaurant ties Alec’s desire to assimilate into a broader history of enforced assimilation through imperialism. Colonization and global trade have brought the Chinese restaurant to London, but the same imperial project has fostered contemporary antagonism between the Japanese and the Chinese. When Japan was opened up to Western trade in the 1850s, the country instituted a number of industrial, military, and cultural reforms modeled on Western imperial powers.[43] Such modernization was enacted, in part, to prevent what happened to China from happening in Japan: the First and Second Opium Wars, in particular, had resulted in the cession of Hong Kong to Britain and a series of unequal treaties. As a rising imperial power seeking raw materials, Japan eventually undertook its own expansion efforts, invading Taiwan in 1895, annexing Korea in 1910, and occupying China’s Shandong Province during the First World War. In an attempt to destabilize Western supremacy in the 1930s, Japan advocated for Pan-Asian solidarity among countries with perceived cultural and racial similarities. Although ostensibly a means of liberation from Western rule, Pan-Asianism was nevertheless used to justify Japan’s increasing colonization, particularly its takeover of Manchuria in 1931 and its all-out invasion of China in 1937.

The ongoing Asian war theater, as enacted in Piccadilly Circus, exhibits both the contemporary challenges to British Empire and the perils of imperialism. More pointedly, Miller suggests that England’s imperial expansionist policies have fomented the current confrontation in Asia. While positive eugenics and assimilation might be employed to strengthen the British Empire, in this moment Miller connects the drive for homogeneity to Britain’s decline. As the newspaper vendor’s conflation of Englishness with non-Jewishness confirms, such imperialist policies are built on the fusion of racism and nationalism. The anti-Semitic sentiment exposes the extent to which the racist ideology justifying imperialism abroad is itself an infection at home in the metropolis. The eradication of difference necessary for inclusion in the British state is further alluded to in the meal that Alec and Lew consume. As in the previous dining experiences, the two are served by a male, in this case a “formal-looking Chinaman” who serves small dishes with crispy noodles and rice that they consume with a knife and fork (Miller, Farewell, 178). Lew “[p]hilosophically” and “liberally” mixes all of the contents of the dishes together and splatters them with a black sauce, an action that can be read as an ironic undercutting of the realities of imperialism and liberal philosophies of inclusion: any difference present in the meal is completely blacked out with the sauce (179).

During their meal, Alec and Lew openly discuss both anti-Semitism and attempts at racial purification. Lew half-jokingly and half-seriously calls those striving for racial purity a “[l]ot of copy-cats,” rhetorically asking, “Who thought up this race-purity campaign, anyway?” He continues, “When we were running it, we made quite a respectable thing of it.” Alec agrees, saying that “[t]hey plagiarize . . . [f]irst Jesus, and now this” (178). These comments, of course, are ironic and work two ways, cutting against both Jewish attempts at racial purity and the “copy-cats” of the positive eugenics movement. As Alec looks out the window onto Piccadilly Circus, he concludes, “[h]e knew only the colours, the accents of this one culture which he had absorbed—to which he was passionately attached—and to which, it seemed, he had no right. . . .” (177). Given the novel’s thematization of the split between British popular culture and high culture, this reference to the “one culture” that Alec has absorbed is striking; Miller reveals that despite the perceived separateness and distinctness of the two cultural modes, they overlap in their promotion of anti-Semitism, exclusion, and homogeneity. Alec has attempted to reorient his body to polite London society, but it has not been granted the right of inclusion: he exists on the other side of the glass, an outsider. Alec’s process of racial assimilation, as a means of ritual consumption and embodiment, has come up against its limits.

Soon, Alec finds himself unable to eat, pushing his food away and placing his hand on his head “as though screening from the other people in the room an inward shame” (179). This rejection of food and feeling of shame—a kind of disgust and indigestion in its own right—characterizes Alec’s body’s individual response to the blatant moment of anti-Semitism and subsequent conversation about race purity campaigns. By describing this involuntary, visceral somatic response to racism, Miller suggests yet another reason why attempts at assimilation are potentially futile. The very dynamic, unpredictable nature of the human body as it comes into contact with other matter in the world, whether human or non-human, renders the attempt to assimilate, to suppress difference through ritual consumption, a false promise. Thus, while Miller shows how positive eugenics remains impossible due to the somatic mixing of bodies in marriage and of bodies and food through breastfeeding, here she indicates that assimilation remains impossible, in part, due to the very uncontrollability of the individual body.

After Alec’s attempts at assimilation and his marriage to Catherine fail, he returns home to his family in Brighton. The novel ends in the way that it began, with a family meal:

There was grapefruit, of course: that had become a commonplace, even in the Berman household; chopped herring in a big glass dish, pickled cucumber, big rosy shreds of smoked salmon, fried fish neatly tucked up in its blanket of bread-crumbs, fish-balls in a lemon mayonnaise, potato salad, Russian salad: then cheesecake, beautifully rich and crumbly, fruit salad with meringues; and, with the coffee, Violet’s pièce de résistance: a fluffy tiered cream-cake tied with a ribbon. (307)

The herring, fish balls, and cheesecake are all food items from the first Shabbat meal, but the Russian salad and smoked salmon allude to the meal at Chien Andalou, while the inclusion of grapefruit recalls the meal at Middle Bay. This mixing of food items associated with the other meals in the novel underscores that the substance and ritual of the meal are not fixed. Likewise, Alec, who has returned home a changed and changing man, concludes the novel not with one rigid British identity or with one fixed Jewish identity; instead, much like the meal itself, Alec emerges as both Jewish and British.

This melding extends to the final form of Miller’s work: the experimental middlebrow novel.[44] Through an alignment of positive eugenics with Catherine’s highbrow painting and of assimilation with Alec’s work in the film industry, Miller portrays blind adherence to either mode as fostering anti-Semitism and encouraging racial homogeneity. In their place, Miller offers her own work, a fusion of formal experimentation—including flashbacks, close-ups and tracking shots that mirror the film industry in which Alec works—with the popular woman’s novel of the 1930s. The hybrid form of the novel, then, enacts what Miller proposes as the hybrid nature of everyday life. While Catherine’s brother Basil may condemn “modern feminine novelists with their ‘tedious catalogues,’” Miller’s careful cataloguing of food and feeding is precisely where her caution against positive eugenics and assimilation lies (Farewell, 99).

Although it may be, as the narrator states, “hard to believe that potentialities of evil and violence lay beneath [the] surface of good humour and good manners,” that is exactly what Miller’s novel reveals: how seemingly banal rituals of good manners, of meals and of infant feeding, ever unchecked and unanalyzed, can become the foundation for evil and violence (181). By depicting the non-static, dynamic nature of the materiality and ritual of food, Miller debunks the belief that it is possible to create British racial homogeneity by co-opting and regulating food rituals. Instead, Miller shows how an understanding of the vital materialism of bodies and food has the potential to counter contemporary theories of eugenics and assimilation.


[1] Betty Miller, “Notes for an Unwritten Autobiography,” Modern Reading 13 (1945): 39-46, 40.

[2] Quoted in Jane Miller, preface to Betty Miller, Farewell Leicester Square (London: Persephone, 2000), vii–xix, ix. In her 1945 novel On the Side of the Angels, for example, Miller examines how military uniforms foster both anonymity and irresponsibility, negatively impacting the relationships between soldiers and civilians who have been excluded from the ranks. Such exacting descriptions of everyday life also characterize Miller’s early novels. In The Mere Living (1933) and Portrait of the Bride (1935), Miller portrays a single day in the life of an Irish immigrant family and the first year of a marriage, respectively. In all, Miller’s career includes seven novels, essays in Horizon, Cornhill, The Twentieth Century, and a biography of Robert Browning (1952), which earned her recognition from the Royal Society of Literature. Miller is a writer worth revisiting, I assert, because her keen attention to everyday life animates the contradictory social and political impulses of the 1930s and 1940s.

[3] In her preface to the novel, Jane Miller notes that Gollancz was “well-known for his Jewish family’s long history of comfortable accommodation to English life and ways” (ix). Likewise, Neal Ascherson writes that Gollancz likely understood the novel to be “terrifyingly provocative, not only an attack on the solid English assimilation of his own family but a tactless outburst against the English at precisely the moment, two years after Hitler’s assumption of power, when their tolerance and hospitality were most needed” (“The Remains of der Tag,” The New York Review of Books, March 29, 2001, 44).

[4] See Louise London’s Whitehall and the Jews: 1933-1948 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

[5] See Tony Kushner’s The Persistence of Prejudice: Antisemitism in British Society During the Second World War (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1989) and Lara Trubowitz’s Civil Antisemitism, Modernism, and British Culture, 1902-1939 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

[6] “Next Year in Jerusalem” is a phrase spoken at the end of the Passover Seder; it can refer to Messianic longing, a desire for Jewish return to Israel, or a general hope for the future. “Farewell Leicester Square,” on the other hand, is a line from the music hall song “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” which was made popular during the First World War. It is based on the song “It’s a Long Way to Connemara,” which was inspired by the homesickness felt by Irish expatriates in London.

[7] Kristin Bluemel argues that Miller’s vivid portrayals of anti-Semitism serve to expose what Alec’s filmmaking does not, while Sarah Sceats focuses on the novel’s deployment and negotiation of ambivalence. Claire Tylee affirms that Miller draws on the conventions of the women’s novel of the 1930s to make her female readership aware of their own racism. See Bluemel’s “The Urban Geography of English Antisemitism and Assimilation” in Antisemitism and Philosemitism in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, ed. Phyllis Lassner and Lara Trubowitz (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2008), 175–95; Sceats’s “Divided Loyalties: Betty Miller’s Narratives of Ambivalence” in “In the Open”: Jewish Women Writers and British Culture, ed. Claire M. Tylee (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2006), 83–95; and Tylee’s “Hyphenated Identity in the ‘Woman’s Novel’: Racisms and Betty Miller’s Farewell Leicester Square” in At Home and Abroad in the Empire: British Women Write the 1930s, ed. Robin Hackett, Freda Hauser, and Gay Wachman (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2009), 119–36.

[8] Miller shares an interest in food culture with Marghanita Laski, another author in her London circle. As Andrea Adolph argues, Laski’s 1946 novel To Bed with Grand Music uses food consumption to broach questions of female sexuality, while her 1944 novel Love on the Supertax uses restaurant meals to explore wartime shifts in the understanding of social class. See Adolph’s “‘At Least I Get My Dinners Free’: Transgressive Dining in Marghanita Laski’s To Bed with Grand Music,” Modern Fiction Studies 59, no. 2 (2013): 395–415.

[9] For a comprehensive overview of the debates surrounding philosemitism—and its relationship to anti-Semitism, semitic discourse, and ambivalence—see Phyllis Lassner and Lara Trubowitz’s Antisemitism and Philosemitism in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries.

[10] See Neil Davison, James Joyce, Ulysses, and the Construction of Jewish Identity: Culture, Biography, and “the Jew” in Modernist Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996); Ira Nadel, Joyce and the Jews: Culture and Texts (London: Macmillan, 1989); Maren Linett, Modernism, Feminism, and Jewishness (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Jacqueline Rose, “Dorothy Richardson and the Jew” in States of Fantasy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 117–32; Brian Cheyette, Constructions of ‘the Jew’ in English Literature and Society: Racial Representations, 1875–1945 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993); Jonathan Freedman, The Temple of Culture: Assimilation and Anti-Semitism in Literary Anglo-America (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); Marilyn Reizbaum, James Joyce’s Judaic Other (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999).

[11] In The Extinct Scene, Thomas S. Davis identifies a general (although not exclusive) turn toward exteriority as characteristic of late modernist writing. The Extinct Scene: Late Modernism and Everyday Life (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015).

[12] See, in particular, Davis’s The Extinct Scene, Liesl Olson’s Modernism and the Ordinary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), Siobhan Phillips’s The Poetics of the Everyday: Creative Repetition in Modern American Verse (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), and Byrony Randall’s Modernism, Daily Time, and Everyday Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

[13] Vital materialism, as theorized by Jane Bennett, is the idea that all bodies, both human and nonhuman, are alive with their own forces and trajectories. See Jane Bennett, Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010).

[14] In Creative Evolution, Bergson introduced the élan vital to explain evolutionary effects. This life force, which was not itself material, animated matter and attempted “to engraft on to the necessity of physical forces the largest possible amount of indetermination” (127). Ironically then, with its focus on indetermination and variation, the Bergsonian concept of the élan vital actually seems to work against eugenics entirely. Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution, trans. Arthur Mitchell (New York: The Modern Library, 1944).

[15] Both Alec’s assimilation into London life and Catherine’s embracing of the Truby King method involve a turning towards those food rituals considered in good taste and an absorption of the materiality of that meal. It is this kind of bodily reorientation that evokes Sarah Ahmed’s argument, central to both Queer Phenomenology and The Promise of Happiness, that becoming oriented means being directed towards those objects that are already understood to be “tasteful,” or enjoyable to those with good taste. It is through habit that people work on their bodies so that they are taken in the “right” direction. Sarah Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006); The Promise of Happiness (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010).

[16] This criticism is line with the work of Donald J. Childs and Marius Turda. Childs asserts that modernists such as Woolf, Eliot, and Yeats deployed the language of eugenics to extend “the imperial sway of the scientific discourse of the body into . . . the realm of the imagination” (14). Turda similarly argues that “eugenics should be understood not only as a scientistic narrative of biological, social and cultural renewal, but also as the emblematic expression of programmatic modernism” (2). See Childs’s Modernism and Eugenics: Woolf, Eliot, Yeats, and the Culture of Degeneration (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), and Turda's Modernism and Eugenics (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).

[17] See Mary Truby King’s biography of her father, Truby King, The Man: A Biography (London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1948), as well as Philippa Mein Smith’s Mothers and King Baby: Infant Survival and Welfare in an Imperial World: Australia 1880-1950 (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 1997) and A Concise History of New Zealand (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

[18] This preparation to defend Empire was manifest in New Zealand’s Defence Act of 1909, which made military training compulsory for all boys over twelve.

[19] For a detailed history of the Plunket Society’s work, see Linda Bryder’s A Voice for Mothers: The Plunket Society and Infant Welfare, 1907–2000 (Auckland, NZ: Auckland University Press, 2003). 

[20] King’s methods are part of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century transition to what Rima D. Apple has deemed “scientific motherhood,” which defined motherhood as a woman's primary rule but “accentuated the inadequacy of maternal instinct and highlighted the positive necessity for mothercraft education” and medical expertise (114). For further discussion of the transition to scientific motherhood, see Apple’s Mothers and Medicine: A Social History of Infant Feeding, 1890-1950 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1987).

[21] Truby King, Feeding and Care of Baby (London: Macmillan, 1920), 3.

[22] Richard A. Soloway, Demography and Degeneration: Eugenics and the Declining Birthrate in Twentieth-Century Britain (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990), xxii.

[23] While Francis Galton led the positive eugenic movement in England, Charles Davenport led the negative eugenics movement in the United States. Clare Hanson engages with this distinction in Eugenics, Literature, and Culture in Post-war Britain. Her argument that “eugenics is not (despite Galton's initial ambitions) a science, but a social and cultural movement that has derived much of its power from its dissemination across a range of discursive fields” is in line with my analysis of the deployment of eugenics across feeding manuals, popular domestic tracts, literature, and art (10). Eugenics, Literature, and Culture in Post-war Britain (New York: Routledge, 2013).

[24] Christine Rosen notes that Saleeby was one of the first eugenicists to explore and popularize the eugenic benefits of Jewish laws and customs. In the Jewish experience, “Saleeby found a compelling example of a group whose racial success rested on their continual adherence to the unwritten laws of heredity and an articulated code of moral behavior,” which “produced the ideal race” (37). Saleeby’s ideas introduced the question of the eugenic significance of Jewishness to a broad public, as his work was “written for the same market that found domestic advice books appealing” (41). See Christine Rosen, Preaching Eugenics: Religious Leaders and the American Eugenics Movement (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).    

[25] Caleb Williams Saleeby, Parenthood and Race Culture: An Outline of Eugenics (New York: Moffat, Yard, and Company, 1909), 316.

[26] Caleb Williams Saleeby, The Progress of Eugenics (London: Cassel, 1914), v.

[27] Saleeby also places the élan vital in the realm of vitalism. But, as Elizabeth Grosz writes, “Bergson is careful to distinguish his position from vitalism, the claim that there is a special substance, force, or form that distinguishes life from non-life, although his concept of the élan vital is commonly regarded as a form of vitalism.” Becoming Undone: Darwinian Reflections on Life, Politics, and Art (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011), 33.

[28] In her introduction to On the Side of the Angels, Miller’s daughter Sarah affirms that “Betty made much use of my father's professional knowledge in her own work” (15).

[29] Kate Bassett, In Two Minds: A Biography of Jonathan Miller (London: Oberon, 2012), 14.

[30] Raphael Falk, “Eugenics and the Jews,” in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Eugenics, ed. Alison Bashford and Philippa Levine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), 470.

[31] In The Healthy Jew, Mitchell Hart also provides the example of Dr. Albert Reibmayr, who asserted that the resistance of Jewish people to intermarriage resulted in immunity from contagious diseases. This stereotype of the “healthy Jew,” as Hart further explains, is nevertheless a counterpart to the stereotype of the “diseased Jew” that Sander Gilman has theorized. Mitchell Hart, The Healthy Jew: The Symbiosis of Judaism and Modern Medicine (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).

[32] In a 1925 article in the Annals of Eugenics, Pearson argued that Jewish immigrants were inferior to the native population and discouraged their immigration. Karl Pearson and Margaret Moul, “The Problem of Alien Immigration into Great Britain, Illustrated by an Examination of Russian and Polish Jewish Children,” Annals of Eugenics 1 (1925): 1–128.

[33] This interest in acculturation and maternity is evident elsewhere in Miller’s writing. In her 1945 novel On the Side of the Angels, for example, Miller also portrays the vulnerability of motherhood in wartime and positions breastfeeding practices, those that do not conform to the Truby King method, as means of potential protest; in one moment in particular, the protagonist Honor Carmichael uses the need to breastfeed her son as an excuse to escape from an unwanted conversation.

[34] Catherine’s turn to the Truby King method is also in keeping with her emphasis on precision and system: “Catherine loved to have everything cut-and-dried: extracted some sort of deep pleasure from the exercise of precision. System, she always said; with system you can get anything done. . . . She could not tolerate blunders, and increasingly, these days, the slowness or inefficiency of others (which, perversely, she found herself watching out for) set her teeth on edge, like a discord. Any interference with the routines she planned disturbed her to a quite disproportionate degree” (215).

[35] Catherine’s evolution in the novel manifests Jane Garrity’s argument that select Englishwomen who could bear healthy white citizens in the interwar period were prefigured as mothers of the British race. However, while Garrity’s project focuses on interwar women writers who eschewed motherhood to re-imagine themselves as daughters and full citizens of England and who, in their writing, erased the physical body, Betty Miller’s novel does the very opposite: it foregrounds the female reproductive body and maternity. See Jane Garrity, Step-Daughters of England: British Women Modernists and the National Imaginary (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2003).

[36] In the context of the Nazi racial ideology of the 1930s, as Claire Tylee affirms, boys such as David would be considered racially Jewish by virtue of having a Jewish grandparent.

[37] Sceats has also noted the importance of some of the novel’s meal scenes, although her analysis is focused on Alec’s internal struggle to achieve a coherent identity. See Sarah Sceats, “Betty Miller and the Marrano Self” in Jewish Women Writers in Britain, ed. Nadia Valman (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2014), 81–96.

[38] The OED definition for assimilation reads “the process whereby an animal or plant converts extraneous material into fluids and tissues identical with its own” by way of “absorption of nutriment into the system.”

[39] Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and Ambivalence (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991), 71.

[40] The double loaf Challah signifies manna from heaven; each loaf has six strands, which allude to the twelve tribes of Israel. In the Book of Judith, cheesecake is fed to the Assyrian general Holofernes; it causes him to overindulge on wine, which allows her to slice off his head. Herring was a staple of Jewish trade in central and Eastern Europe. See Gil Marks’s Encyclopedia of Jewish Food (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2010).

[41] Alec’s desire to assimilate is a response to his enthusiastic consumption of popular culture and to the thinly veiled anti-Semitism that he experiences. In this way, he exhibits the kind of “radical assimilation” that Todd M. Endelman describes. However, where Endelman asserts that “[d]espite the increase in antisemitism in the interwar period, English society remained sufficiently tolerant to absorb those Jews from the older community who wished to forget or put aside their origins and blend unobtrusively into the mainstream,” Miller’s depiction of Alec’s experience reveals how difficult and problematic this very blending could be (201). See Endelman’s Radical Assimilation in English Jewish History: 1656-1945 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990).

[42] H. Forman & Son, established in 1905, is just one example of a London smokery that introduced the Eastern European method to Scottish salmon.

[43] The changes enacted during the Meiji restoration included, among other things, strengthening the military, creating a national dialect, promoting land reforms, and building shipyards and mills.

[44] As Nicola Humble affirms, other middlebrow writers such as Ivy Compton-Burnett, Enid Bagnold, and Elizabeth Bowen occupied a similar hybrid status through their deployment of stylistic complexity. While Humble asserts that middlebrow fiction both consolidated and resisted certain class and gender identities, I argue that Miller uses the experimental middlebrow novel to counter British anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia. See Nicola Humble, The Feminine Middlebrow Novel, 1920s to 1950s: Class, Domesticity, and Bohemianism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).