Katharine Burdekin

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Katharine Burdekin (23 July 1896 – 10 August 1963) (born Katharine Penelope Cade) was a British novelist who wrote speculative fiction concerned with social and spiritual matters.[1] She was the sister of Rowena Cade, creator of the Minack Theatre in Cornwall. Several of her novels could be categorized as feminist utopian/dystopian fiction. She also wrote under the name Kay Burdekin and under the pseudonym Murray Constantine. Daphne Patai unraveled "Murray Constantine's" true identity while doing research on utopian and dystopian fiction in the mid-1980s.

Early life[edit]

Katharine Burdekin was born in Spondon, Derbyshire,[2] the youngest of four children. She was educated by a governess at home and later, at Cheltenham Ladies' College. Highly intelligent and an avid reader, she wanted to study at Oxford, as did her brothers, but her parents did not allow it. She married Olympic rower and barrister Beaufort Burdekin, in 1915, and had two daughters from this marriage, in 1917 and 1920. The family moved to Australia, where Katharine Burdekin started writing. Her first novel, Anna Colquhoun, was published in 1922. Her marriage ended in the same year, and she moved back to the UK. In 1926, she met a woman with whom she formed a lifelong relationship.

Writing career[edit]

Burdekin wrote several novels during the 1920s, but she later considered The Rebel Passion (1929) to be her first mature work. Both The Burning Ring and The Rebel Passion are fantasies about time travel.[1] In the 1930s, she wrote 13 novels, six of which were published. In 1934, Katharine Burdekin began using the pseudonym Murray Constantine. The political nature and strong criticism of fascism in her novels allegedly inspired her to adopt the pseudonym in an effort to protect her family from the risk of repercussions and attacks. The true identity of "Murray Constantine" did not become known until long after Burdekin's death.[3]

Proud Man (1934) uses the arrival of a hermaphrodite visitor from the future to criticise 1930s gender roles.[1] Published in the same year, The Devil, Poor Devil! is a satirical fantasy about how the Devil's power is undermined by modern rationalism.[4]

Burdekin's best-known novel, Swastika Night, was published in 1937 under the Murray Constantine pseudonym, and republished in 1985 in England and the U.S. Reflecting Burdekin's analysis of the masculine element in fascist ideology, Swastika Night depicts a future in which the world has been divided between two militaristic powers: the Nazis and the Japanese. Set hundreds of years into the future, this dystopia envisions a sterile, dying Nazi Reich, in which Jews have long since been eradicated, Christians are marginalized, and Hitler is venerated as a God. A "cult of masculinity" prevails, and a "reduction of women" has occurred: deprived of all rights, women are kept in concentration camps, their sole value residing in their reproductive roles. Swastika Night has been described as a "pioneering feminist critique".[5] The novel bears striking similarities to Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, published more than a decade later: the past has been destroyed and history is rewritten, language is distorted, few books exist apart from propaganda, and a secret book is the only witness to the past. Swastika Night was a Left Book Club selection in 1940—one of the few works of fiction thus honored. Burdekin anticipated the Holocaust and understood the dangers presented by a militarized Japan while most people in her society were still supporting a policy of appeasement. A pacifist committed to communist ideals, Burdekin abandoned pacifism in 1938 out of the conviction that fascism had to be fought.

She wrote six further novels after the end of World War II, but none were published in her lifetime. These novels also reflect her feminist commitments, which, however, increasingly took a spiritual direction. One of Burdekin's unpublished manuscripts, The End of This Day's Business, was published by The Feminist Press in New York in 1989; it is a counterpart to Swastika Night and envisions a distant future in which women rule and men are deprived of all power.[1] This vision, too, was subjected to Burdekin's critique; she had little patience with what she called "reversals of privilege" and aspired to a future in which domination itself would finally be overcome.

She wrote several children's books, including The Children's Country.

Katharine Burdekin died in 1963. With the growing interest in women's utopian fiction in the last few decades, her work has been the object of considerable scholarly attention. Most of the information currently available about her comes from the research of Daphne Patai.


  • 1922 Anna Colquhoun
  • 1924 The Reasonable Hope
  • 1927 The Burning Ring
  • 1929 The Children's Country (under the name Kay Burdekin)
  • 1929 The Rebel Passion
  • 1930 Quiet Ways
  • 1934 The Devil, Poor Devil (as Murray Constantine)
  • 1934 Proud Man (as Murray Constantine)
  • 1937 Swastika Night (as Murray Constantine - reprinted under her real name in 1985)
  • 1940 Venus in Scorpio (Murray Constantine and Margaret Goldsmith)
  • 1989 The End of This Day's Business


  1. ^ a b c d John Clute, "Burdekin, Katherine P(enelope)" in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, edited by John Clute and Peter Nicholls. London, Orbit,1994. ISBN 1-85723-124-4 (p.175).
  2. ^ Katharine Burdekin - Proud man
  3. ^ A review of Proud Man in the Manchester Guardian, 1 June 1934, suggested "Constantine" was the pseudonym of Olaf Stapledon. See Robert Crossley, Olaf Stapledon: Speaking for the Future,Syracuse University Press, 1994 ISBN 0815602812 (p. 427).
  4. ^ Brian Stableford, The A to Z of Fantasy Literature, Scarecrow Press,Plymouth. 2005. ISBN 0-8108-6829-6 (p. 56)
  5. ^ Gregory Claeys, "The Origins of Dystopia" in Claeys,(ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature Cambridge University Press, 2010. ISBN 0521886651 (p.126).


  • BookRags
  • Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 225, British Fantasy and Science-Fiction Writers, 1918-1960 (edited by Darren Harris-Fain, 2002).

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