Cheltenham Ladies' College, Bayshill Rd, Cheltenham GL50 3EP, UK
The Homestead, 36 Sitwell St, Spondon, Derby DE21 7FG, UK
The Minack Theatre, Porthcurno, Penzance TR19 6JU, UK
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. She was the sister of Rowena Cade, creator of the Minack Theatre in Cornwall. Several of her novels could be categorised 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.
Katharine Burdekin was born in Spondon, Derbyshire in 1896, the youngest of four children of Charles Cade. Her family had lived in Derby for many years and Joseph Wright of Derby was one of her ancestors. She was educated by a governess at their home, The Homestead, and later, at Cheltenham Ladies' College. Highly intelligent and an avid reader, she wanted to study at Oxford like 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 join her sister at Minack Head in Cornwall. In 1926, she met a woman with whom she formed a lifelong relationship.
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. In the 1930s, she wrote thirteen novels, six of which were published. Her partner describes how Burdekin's wide-ranging reading would precede a period of quiet for a few days. She would then appear to surrender herself to writing and she would write single mindedly until it was complete. She appeared to not plan and each book would be complete within six weeks.
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.
Proud Man (1934) uses the arrival of a hermaphrodite visitor from the future to criticise 1930s gender roles. Published in the same year, The Devil, Poor Devil! is a satirical fantasy about how the Devil's power is undermined by modern rationalism.
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 in the future, this dystopia envisions a sterile, dying Nazi Reich, in which Jews have long since been eradicated, Christians are marginalised, 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". 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 honoured. Burdekin anticipated the Holocaust and understood the dangers presented by a militarised 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.
Burdekin had a period of depression in 1938. Her friend Margaret L. Goldsmith tried to assist by giving her research material on Marie Antoinette. The outcome was a historical novel, Venus in Scorpio, co-authored by Goldsmith and Burdekin (as 'Murray Constantine').
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. 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 gender-free The Children's Country. Before it was published in America it was called St John's Eve. The book described a boy and girl who enter a gender free world and it discusses the freedoms that they find.
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 early information about her came from the research of Daphne Patai.