The One Book – Naomi

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic tale of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the characters are faced with an all-powerful, single ring – the one ring. This ring has the potential to bestow malevolent power upon whomever wears it, and therefore, must be destroyed. Much like this ring, knowledge has always served to empower people and limiting access to knowledge can help to create a compliant citizenry.

In Swastika Night, the protagonist, Alfred, is entrusted with a seven centuries old book which contains all of the history that had been erased by the Nazi regime. This book had been written by a Nazi who, seeing the destruction of books throughout Germany and fearing for the preservation of history, memorized all he could and wrote it down in one book. The book had been carefully guarded and shared from father to son in a single family for 700 years.

Initially, I was thrilled at the concept that this book was protected and contained information that could be found no where else. But then it struck me: this book had been written by a single man who was trying desperately to remember all that he could.  The text describes the composition of the book in this way: “Von Hess says in his introduction that it took him over two years to prepare the book itself. And when he started to write it he had to do it all from memory” (74). There is so much opportunity here for inadvertent, or flagrant, error. This concept was completely glossed over by the men who held the book.

When Alfred got possession of the book, he was elated and felt justified in all his suspicion of the German Empire, but really, there is potential for Alfred to fall victim to another set of false history. I am surprised that this was not considered. As Alfred read through the book it seemed as though everything he read simply confirmed his own doubts about what he had been taught throughout his life. Honestly, I think more suspicion would have been warranted here.

Burdekin, Katharine. Swastika Night. 1937. The Feminist Press, 1985.


Some Big Picture Queries

  1. What is Britishness and how does it change or amalgamate over time? How do notions of Nation, Nationalism, and duty inform our comprehension of Britishness?
  2. What impact does Empire and Imperialism still have on our readings of British Literature? What implicit ideologies must we make ourselves aware?
  3. How do attitudes about and constructions of femininity and masculinity feature in the works we read? How do they change or stay the same across the decades?
  4. How does literary style change and what informs those changes?
  5. What themes/political issues/social concerns persist across the literature we read this semester? What becomes less important, de-emphasized? What becomes more vital?
  6. What needs to happen within the critical conversations (scholarly debates) to widen our understanding and interpretations of these works, especially those for which there is little critical attention?

Feel free to use these questions as starting points for your thinking about the content. You may use these questions to springboard your posts, response papers, and projects. You may also add to this list by contributing more questions and comments to this post, and I hope you will.