Friday, August 17, 2018

Created He Them

Alice Eleanor Jones (1916–1981)
From The Future Is Female! 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women

Photograph of “The House of the Future,” 1956, a full-scaled installation designed by Alison Smithson, in collaboration with her husband Peter Smithson, for the Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition in London and Edinburgh.
“Readers are tired of the yarn based on the super-hero and the ravishing babe,” author Leigh Brackett advised in 1944 in an essay on “The Science-Fiction Field” for Writer’s Digest. She urged would-be authors to expand the boundaries of a genre in which “you can get away with practically anything.” Similarly, notes Lisa Yaszek, Astounding Science Fiction editor John W. Campbell “encouraged writers to think through the social implications of science and technology; in essence, to put a human face on the sometimes overwhelmingly abstract issues attending new inventions ranging from television to the atomic bomb.”

Numerous women writers during the 1940s and 50s answered these and similar clarion calls with stories that, as Yaszek puts it, “invited readers to think more specifically about how science and technology might impact women and their families in the private space of the home.” Such stories were almost immediately (and disparagingly) labeled “diaper fiction” and later as “housewife heroine SF.” Yet the new stories were appreciated for their innovation and literary quality by many readers and editors. Anthony Boucher, the influential editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, praised them for their “sensitive depictions of the future from a woman's point of view.”

Although she published only five science fiction stories, Alice Eleanor Jones was one of the standout writers who introduced readers to the “housewife heroine.” Yaszek, who has written extensively about Jones, singles out “Created He Them” as a paragon of the genre, and she has included it in The Future Is Female! 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women, from Pulp Pioneers to Ursula K. Le Guin, the new anthology she edited for Library of America. “Darkly dystopian and profoundly antipatriarchal,” she writes in the introduction, “it sounds a housewife’s note of protest against the expectations and conformities of the baby boom years.”

A Philadelphia native, Jones earned her PhD in English from the University of Pennsylvania in 1944, writing a dissertation on the seventeenth-century dramatist Shakerly Marmion. She married fellow graduate student Homer Nearing Jr., who became a professor at Pennsylvania Military College and who published during the early 1950s comic stories featuring a hapless space-age math professor. Jones’s five science fiction stories appeared in genre magazines from April to December 1955. Somewhat ironically—given that “Created He Them” details the deprivations suffered by a housewife in the wake of World War III—Jones used the check from her first story to go on a shopping spree, buying herself (as she told a local reporter) “an extra special dress, the sort that wives of professors normally only look at in shops.” Jones focused her subsequent literary energies on better-paying mainstream publications, including Redbook, Ladies’ Home Journal, The Saturday Evening Post, Woman’s Day, American Girl, and Seventeen, to which she contributed both fiction and nonfiction well into the 1960s.

Notes: The story title is a reference to Genesis 5:2 (King James Version): “Male and female created he them; and blessed them, and called their name Adam, in the day when they were created.”

Much of the above introduction has been adapted from Lisa Yaszek's 2006 essay "From Ladies’ Home Journal to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction: 1950s Science Fiction, the Offbeat Romance Story, and the Case of Alice Eleanor Jones” and from the biographical note on Jones in The Future Is Female.

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