|Date of birth||10,154 A.G.|
|Date of death||10,256 A.G.|
|Occupation||Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother|
|Spouse||Leto Atreides I
Gaius Helen Mohiam 
|First appearance||Dune: House Harkonnen|
|Final appearance||Children of Dune |
|Portrayed by||Francesca Annis (1984 film)
Saskia Reeves (2000 miniseries)
Alice Krige (2003 miniseries)
Saskia Reeves in the 2000 Dune miniseries
Alice Krige in the 2003 Children of Dune miniseries
Lady Jessica (10,154-10,256 A.G.) is a fictional character in the Dune universe created by Frank Herbert. A key character in the 1965 science fiction novel Dune, Jessica also plays an important role in the later novel Children of Dune (1976). The events surrounding Jessica's conception, her birth and her early years with Leto are chronicled in the Prelude to Dune prequel trilogy (1999–2001) by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. The character is brought back as a ghola in the Herbert/Anderson sequels which conclude the original series, Hunters of Dune (2006) and Sandworms of Dune (2007).
Lady Jessica was portrayed by Francesca Annis in the 1984 David Lynch film Dune. Saskia Reeves played the role in the 2000 Sci-Fi Channel TV miniseries Frank Herbert's Dune, and was succeeded by Alice Krige in the 2003 sequel, Frank Herbert's Children of Dune.
According to the dedication of The Road to Dune (2005), the character of Jessica is patterned after Frank Herbert's wife Beverly Herbert.
|“||What can I say about Jessica? Given the opportunity, she would attempt Voice on God.||”|
The original series
In accordance with Bene Gesserit protocol, Jessica was conceived by the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and the Bene Gesserit Helen Mohiam as part of the Bene Gesserit breeding program; she was raised to be a legal concubine to the Duke Leto Atreides I, and instructed to produce for him a daughter, but no sons. This daughter was to be wed to Feyd-Rautha, nephew of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and heir to House Harkonnen, healing the generations-old rift between House Atreides and House Harkonnen, and producing the Kwisatz Haderach for the Bene Gesserit. The Kwisatz Haderach is the long-sought-after male Reverend Mother-equivalent who possesses the Other Memory of his male line (something the all-female Bene Gesserit lack), as well as the female line.
However, Jessica falls in love with Leto, and produces a son for him, Paul (there is some indication that Jessica believed she could achieve the Kwisatz Haderach herself, one generation early). Paul is the Kwisatz Haderach, and eventually sets the Imperium on a course lasting thousands of years in the person of his son, Leto Atreides II. Much to the frustration of the Bene Gesserit, they do not control Paul, and the events of the coming millennia leave Jessica noteworthy as a figure of history who committed a great wrong (according to the Bene Gesserit); in the coming centuries, for a Bene Gesserit to choose her love over the instructions of her order is known as "the Jessica crime."
As Dune begins, Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam (Jessica's former instructor) is still furious over Jessica's insubordination, but is somewhat intrigued by the potential she sees in 15-year old Paul. House Atreides is given the planet Arrakis in fief-complete, taking possession (from House Harkonnen) of the only melange-producing world in the Imperium. The change of fief is a trap, however; shortly after committing themselves there, the Atreides are overcome by a Harkonnen invasion with the tacit support of the Emperor (using the Emperor's Sardaukar disguised as Harkonnen soldiers). The plot is made possible by the betrayal of the Duke by the family's Suk doctor, Wellington Yueh; Duke Leto is killed, and House Atreides is essentially destroyed. Paul and Jessica narrowly escape to the desert, finding refuge with the Fremen thanks to the legends planted there by the Bene Gesserit's Missionaria Protectiva, which practices religious engineering. Jessica casts Paul as the Lisan al'Gaib, the messiah, and herself as the Reverend Mother who shall bring him, even though she has not yet experienced the spice agony that transforms an acolyte into a full Reverend Mother.
Paul soon molds the Fremen into a massive army with which he can retake the planet and restore his House. The Fremen have their own 'wild' Reverend Mothers, women who undergo their own version of the spice agony to awaken their Other Memory. With the Reverend Mother of their home sietch about to die and the group about to travel into the desert, Jessica accepts the ritual of the spice agony and becomes the Sayyadina of the tribe. Unfortunately, Jessica is pregnant with the Duke's daughter, Alia Atreides. For a fetus to undergo the spice agony results in what the Bene Gesserit call Abomination: because the ordeal awakens the ego-memories of one's ancestors, these children (also called "pre-born") experience this heightened awareness before they have formed a personality of their own. This makes them vulnerable to eventually being overtaken by one of their ancestral personalities. It is revealed that Jessica's father is none other than the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen; in Children of Dune, his is the ego-memory that possesses Alia, leading her to attempt the complete destruction of the restored House Atreides while she rules as regent.
Children of Dune
By the time of Dune Messiah, Jessica has returned to Caladan, the ancestral home of the Atreides. She has also, by some accounts, returned to the Sisterhood following the death of her Duke, and while she cannot influence Paul, she does act as distant counselor. It is also implied that she and Atreides Weapons Master Gurney Halleck have become lovers.
In Children of Dune, Jessica returns to Dune to inspect Paul's children, Leto II and Ghanima, to see if they can be returned to the control of the Sisterhood. Leto notes the identity of Jessica's birth mother: Tanidia Nerus. Realizing that Alia is fully possessed, Jessica survives an assassination attempt by Alia and flees to the desert once more, taking refuge with Fremen leader (and old friend) Stilgar in his sietch. A civil war has divided Arrakis, with Fremen revolting against the transformation of the desert started by Pardot Kynes. Alia's husband, Duncan Idaho, also realizes that Alia is possessed. When Alia instructs Duncan to make her mother disappear, Duncan kidnaps her on the orders of the Preacher, a mysterious desert figure that some suspect is Paul Atreides, who disappeared into the desert. Duncan takes her to Salusa Secundus, the home of exiled House Corrino and the previous Emperor, where the Preacher has told Jessica, through Duncan, to train the pupil she finds there: Prince Farad'n Corrino. She trains him in the Bene Gesserit way, and at the end of Children of Dune, he becomes Ghanima's concubine and Leto's Royal Scribe.
When strangers meet, great allowance should be made for differences of custom and training. — The Lady Jessica, from Wisdom of Arrakis
In Chapterhouse: Dune it is noted that she "lived out her years on Caladan." According to the Appendix IV: The Almanak en-Ashraf (Selected Excerpts of the Noble Houses) in Dune, Lady Jessica dies in the year 10,256 A.G. after 102 years of life.
Prelude to Dune
In the Prelude to Dune series, it is revealed that Jessica's mother is in fact Mohiam; according to the authors, this fact was pulled directly from Frank Herbert's working notes for the original Dune series. In the storyline, Mohiam blackmails the homosexual Baron Harkonnen into a sexual encounter; when the first daughter she conceives proves genetically undesirable, she is forced to return. At this point the Baron drugs and viciously rapes Mohiam, and in retribution she secretly infects him with the disease that will later leave him horribly obese. The daughter born of this second union is Jessica.
The Prelude series also follows Jessica and Leto's relationship from their first meeting through the birth (and subsequent kidnapping and return) of their son Paul. It is indicated that Jessica's choice to bear a son is partially due to her desire to help Leto overcome the devastating loss of his first son, Victor, by his concubine Kailea Vernius.
Journal entries are attributed to Jessica via epigraph in the Prelude to Dune series:
- The greatest and most important problems of life cannot be solved. They can only be outgrown. — Dune: House Harkonnen
- It is not easy for some men to know they have done evil, for reasoning and honor are often clouded by pride. — Dune: House Corrino
- There is no mystery about the source from which love draws its savage power: It comes from the flow of Life itself — a wild, torrential, outpouring that has its source in the most ancient of times... — Dune: House Corrino
Notes and references
- Herbert, Frank. Dune, Appendix IV: The Almanak en-Ashraf (Selected Excerpts of the Noble Houses).
- Jessica's later involvement with Gurney Halleck is inferred in Children of Dune as Alia notes, "Gurney Halleck would be with [Jessica] ... Some said he'd become her mother's lover."
- Established in the Prelude to Dune prequel trilogy by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson.
- A ghola of Jessica is created in Hunters of Dune and also appears in Sandworms of Dune; these may or may not be considered appearances of the original character.
- Herbert, Frank. God Emperor of Dune. Of Siona Atreides: "In the way genes occasionally do, her features copied those of a long dead ancestor: gently oval and with a generous mouth, eyes of alert awareness above a small nose.
- Herbert, Frank. God Emperor of Dune. "Luyseyal was young, however, with the sensuous oval features of the Jessica-type, and those genes tended to carry a headstrong nature."
- Herbert, Frank. God Emperor of Dune. "Idaho stared speechlessly at [Irti's] face, stopped in a completed step. It was the face of a woman known only to his deepest fantasies — a soft oval with penetrating dark eyes, a full and sensuous mouth ... 'Jessica,' he whispered ... It was the face of Jessica resurrected out of a past he had believed gone forever, a genetic prank. Muad'Dib's mother recreated in new flesh."
- Herbert, Frank. Chapterhouse: Dune.
- Herbert, Frank. Children of Dune. "It'll be in their breeding records: Jessica out of Tanidia Nerus by the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen."
- Jessica actually makes this statement to a Guild banker in Dune, during a banquet at the Arrakeen palace before the death of Duke Leto I.
- "Chat with Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson: Dune: House Harkonnen". SciFi.com (Internet Archive). 2000. Archived from the original on November 5, 2007. Retrieved November 5, 2007.