Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice; moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.
—Oxford Union Debate, December 3, 1964
This motion was adapted from Barry Goldwater’s speech at the Republican National Convention on July 16, 1964, in which he accepted the party’s presidential nomination. One month after Lyndon B. Johnson’s landslide victory over the firebrand conservative, the motion was debated in an altogether different though no less performative context. Amongst those speaking for the motion at the Oxford Union were two unlikely bedfellows: the poet, Hugh MacDiarmid, an avant-gardist in the cultural sphere and vanguardist in the political, outspoken Scottish nationalist, and professed communist ideologue, and the political activist and cultural icon, Malcolm X, former Nation of Islam minister, revolutionary black nationalist, and, increasingly during this period, anti-colonial internationalist.
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.
As a scholar of early-twentieth-century literature, I have not found it necessary to address contemporary political issues in my work. However, the election of Donald Trump has forced me to change my thoughts about writing in general and more specifically, about publishing on modernist women writers. In the present academic climate, many who read and teach in the perpetually unpopular field of women writers also contend with heavy teaching loads, difficult family commitments and/or precarious employment.
“My new book is a Utopia in the form of a novel”—this is how George Orwell characterized Nineteen Eighty-Four in a letter to a friend on 4 February 1949. As its reception history abundantly documents, it turned out to be an interpretive challenge to read the novel as a utopia.