The Sunday Break .... with Alison Morton
No experience is ever wasted. My three years MA in History course has turned out to be useful in a way I’d never dreamed of. At the time (2003-6) it not only allowed me to study history in a methodical way and hone my research skills but also gave me the opportunity to explore a neglected part of 1930s women’s history. Fascinating. And I bagged a distinction!
But the unexpected golden egg was the ton of research I already had in my hand when I started writing my latest novel INSURRECTIO.
The politicised brutality and military expansionism of the National Socialist (Nazi) regime in 1930s and 1940s Germany is well known and exhaustively documented. Even today, we are fascinated by the seemingly unstoppable growth of their appeal. How could a cultured, highly scientific European society be gripped by a demagogue with a populist, nationalistic and often destructive message? Historians are still arguing about that one. But the focus of my MA study was on the woman’s world under this regime.
Post-1918 Germany saw the unfurling of new freedoms for women in an atmosphere of emancipation and democracy. Forty-nine women were elected to the first parliament in 1919 and a good part of the old Prussian Civil Code and restrictive societal values affecting women began to fade. However, the new German constitution did retain Imperial laws such as criminalisation of abortion and limited access to birth control, laws which were viewed as essential for promoting marriage and repopulating Germany after the war. Despite the labour market opening up, most women were stuck in lower paying and lower skilled jobs than their male counterparts, regardless of education or training and usually obliged to leave the workforce after they married. ‘Doppelverdiener’ – two-income families – were viewed with suspicion. Surely the woman was taking a man’s job when she didn’t need it?
But a ‘New Woman’ emerged under the 1920s Weimar Republic; independent, smoking and drinking in public places, voluntarily childless, rejecting the old ‘rules’ and seizing opportunities in the arts, at universities, in journalism, law, science and entertainment. Hand in hand with this went a general relaxation of sexual and societal norms and the expansion of liberal, international thinking especially among the younger population and intellectual classes.
The Nazi party had started small in 1920, just one of several vocal political groups in post-1918 Germany. But despite early setbacks, it organised, recruited and persisted; fortified by its strong propagandist message, it built neighbourhood, local, district and regional hierarchical groups and ratcheted up its presence, so that by the 1933 takeover its political organisations (mainstream, social, youth, women’s) were immediately ready to take over all aspects of life. And it happened very fast.
Professional women’s functions – lawyers, judges, teachers, professors, even the post of senior astronomer – were handed over to men. Women were to confine their activities to the home or lower status service jobs; their main duty was to produce the next generation. However, by 1940, due to the needs of administering a continent of conquered territories, the military and political machines had an increasing need for supplementary personnel. Young women filled the gaps as military auxiliaries, postwomen, firefighters and eventually defensive fighting troops in 1945. You can find out how the Nazi ideology regarding women crumbled in the face of necessity and the story of the increasing significance of these half million women in the German war effort in Military or Civilians? The curious anomaly of the German Women’s Auxiliary Services during the Second World War.
|'No women in the public sphere'|
When it came to writing INSURRECTIO, the historical research was done! The ultra traditional, rather idealistic Ancient Roman view of women sitting at home, managing the household, weaving their husband’s clothes and producing children regularly coincided perfectly with women’s place according to Nazi ideology. So when in INSURRECTIO the power-grabbing Caius Tellus reverted to traditional Roman male values and implemented his aim of ‘no women in the public sphere’ in Roma Nova, I had the perfect pattern. Caius cancels women’s commissions in the military, dismisses all ranks, dismisses women police, civil servants, university lecturers, senators and makes women hand over assets and business ownership to the nearest male relative. The women heading the Twelve Families are to be replaced by men and the Families reduced to a charitable organisation. Women will hold only servant and junior clerk jobs. But much worse is to come.
In INSURRECTIO, our heroine, Aurelia Mitela, tries to resist Caius and his forces of unreason and brutality. But fuelled by his very personal grudge against her and his determination to destroy all she stands for in Roma Nova, Caius looks set to prevail. And standing up to tyranny brings it own internal conflicts. You’ll have to read INSURRECTIO to find out what happens. ;-)
Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site
Buying links for INSURRECTIO
Buying links for INSURRECTIO
Buying links for AURELIA (multiple retailers/formats):