"A born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better." G.K. Chesterton.
In 1933, shortly after Dr. Halliday Sutherland’s fiftieth birthday, Arches of the Years was published. It was a long time coming. Some years before, his literary agent had told him: “This is a winner. I guarantee it will sell ten editions.” Since then, the guarantee had become increasingly hollow as publisher after publisher rejected it. These crushing disappointments led Sutherland to believe that he had wasted the ten months it had taken him to write.
Arches of the Years was eventually accepted and published by Geoffrey Bles. In its first week, 8,355 copies were sold. It made the Publishers’ Weekly list of best-sellers for that year, and it eventually sold 280,000 copies in 31 editions, and translated into six languages.
Arches brought international fame and financial security to Dr. Sutherland yet, despite its success, he may have been uneasy as to what lay in future. In the Dedication of In My Path (1936), he wrote:
Even as late Victorians we have seen many changes. We have both seen the Man with the Red Flag walking in front of a motor car to ensure that its speed did not exceed four miles an hour. He was guarding life and limb on the Queen’s Highway. To-day the Man with the Red Flag wants to lead a revolution, and during the past seven years on the roads of England over fifty thousand people—men, women, and children—have been killed outright, and over ond-and-a-half million people have been mained, many for life, by motor cars.
We have seen the passing of the Victorian home. The Victorian family has also disappeared. On Monday, 22nd June 1936, a small paragraph in an evening paper announced the greatest disaster in the history of England. During the first quarter of the year, the population had begun to decline at an average rate of sixty per day. This momentous event was ignored by most of the daily papers and by all the politicians. Every day the number of old people in this country is increasing, and the numbers of children and workers are falling. There are many empty class-rooms in the elementary schools.“In My Path” (1936) by Dr. Halliday Sutherland
He may have sensed that he lived on the cusp of a great change and perhaps, like many people today, he was uneasy as to what the “new normal” might look like. He had read about the rise of National Socialists in Germany and his 1931 visit to Rome had brought him face-to-face with Italian fascism. The ideas of his old foes the eugenicists had taken hold and were thriving. The same year that Arches was published, Archibald Church M.P. rose in the House of Commons to introduce legislation for the sterilization of defectives. The bill had been drafted by the Eugenics Society for in those times, as indeed in our own, unelected busybodies used “the science” to protect society (in this case, from those they had othered as “defectives”).
The final chapter of In My Path was called The Perfect Eugenic State, a short story that envisaged a Britain in the far-distant future in which its citizens owned nothing, but whom were happy, not least because there were laws to make it so. They were closely monitored by a state that cared about them, and whose officials intruded to keep them safe. There was also a Lethal Institute to help citizens reach the “blue Empyrean” accompanied by a Sympathiser of their choice.
In our times, such musings about the “new normal” would likely lead to their author being attacked as a tin-foil-hat-wearing-crazy-conspiracy-theorist. Yet Dr. Sutherland’s musings cannot be mocked because, with the benefit of hindsight, we can see that his story was not entirely fantastic: within ten years of its publication, he had learned of the large-scale eugenic murders in Germany and his own son had been sacrificed in the crusade against fascism.
Starting tomorrow, The Perfect Eugenic State will be serialised on this website. Do take the opportunity to briefly escape from your anxieties about your new normal by reading an old new normal, circa 1936.
Illustration by Eric Fraser.