Goslings (17)

By: J.D. Beresford
March 29, 2013

HILOBROW is pleased to present the seventeenth installment of our serialization of J.D. Beresford’s Goslings (also known as A World of Women). New installments will appear each Friday for 23 weeks.

When a plague kills off most of England’s male population, the proper bourgeois Mr. Gosling abandons his family for a life of lechery. His daughters — who have never been permitted to learn self-reliance — in turn escape London for the countryside, where they find meaningful roles in a female-dominated agricultural commune. That is, until the Goslings’ idyll is threatened by their elders’ prejudices about free love!

J.D. Beresford’s friend the poet and novelist Walter de la Mare consulted on Goslings, which was first published in 1913. In May 2013, HiLoBooks will publish a beautiful new edition of the book. “A fantastic commentary upon life,” wrote W.L. George in The Bookman (1914). “Mr. Beresford possesses the rare gift of divination,” wrote The Living Age (1916). “It is piece of the most vivid imaginative realism, as well as a challenge to our vaunted civilization.” “At once a postapocalyptic adventure, a comedy of manners, and a tract on sexual and social equality, Goslings is by turns funny, horrifying, and politically stirring,” says Benjamin Kunkel in a blurb for HiLoBooks. “Most remarkable of all may be that it has not yet been recognized as a classic.”

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The history of mankind is the history of human law. The larger ordinances of the universe are commonly referred to some superior lawgiver, under such names as God and physico-chemical action; names which appear mutually subversive only to the bigot, whether theologian or biologist. These larger ordinances sometimes appear inflexible, as in the domain of physics and chemistry, sometimes empirical as in the development of species, but we may believe that if they change at all, the period of change is so great as to be outside any possibility of observation by a few thousand generations of mankind.

Human law, on the other hand, is tentative, without sound precedent and in its very nature mutable. In our miserably limited record of history, that paltry ten thousand years which is but a single tick of the cosmic watch, we have been unable to formulate any overruling law to which other laws are subject. Climate, race and condition impose certain limitations, and within that enceinte civilizations have developed a system of rules, increasing always in complexity, and have then failed to maintain their place in the competitive struggle. It has been rashly suggested that the overriding law of laws is that rigidity is fatal to the nation. An analogy has been found in the growth of the child. Here and there some bold spirit has ventured the daring hypothesis that if a young child be confined within a perfectly fitting iron shell he will not grow. Such speculations, however, do not appeal to mankind as a whole. Perhaps the truth of the matter is that nothing appals us so much as the idea that man is capable of growth. Is it not inconceivable that any race of men could be wiser, more perfect than ourselves?

Nevertheless, out of all vague speculation one deliciously certain axiom presents itself, namely that mankind cannot live without law of some kind. The most primitive savage has his ordinances. The least primary concussion of individuals develops a rule of practice, whether it takes such diverse forms as “hit first,” or “present the other cheek”; although the latter rule has not yet been developed beyond the stage of theory.

In the unprecedented year of the new plague, the old rules were thrown into the melting pot, but within three months humanity was evolving precedents for a new statute book. The concussions of these three months were fierce and destructive. Women, in the face of death, killed and stole in the old primitive ways, unhampered now by the necessity to kill and steal according to the tedious rules of twentieth-century civilization, rules that women had never been foolish enough to reverence in the letter. All those complex and incomprehensible laws had been made by men for men, and after the plague there was none to administer them, for no women and few men had ever had the least idea what the law was. Even the lawgivers themselves had had to wait for the pronouncement of some prejudiced or unprejudiced judge. Women had long known what our Bumbles can only learn by bitter experience, inspired to vision in some moment of fury or desolation.

woman in field

But within three months of the first great exodus of women from the town, one dominant law was being brought to birth. It was not written on tables of stone, nor incorporated in any swollen, dyspeptic book of statutes; it was not formulated by logic, nor was it the outcome of serious thought by any individual or by a solemn committee. The law rose into recognition because it was a necessity for the life of the majority, and although that majority was not compact, had no common deliberate purpose, and had never formulated their demand in precise language, the new law came into being before harvest and was accepted by all but a small resentful minority of aristocrats and landowners, as a supreme ordinance, indisputably just.

This law was that every woman had a right to her share in the bounty of Nature, and the corollary was that she earned her right by labour.

In those days the justice of the principle was perfectly obvious; so obvious, indeed, that the law came to birth without the obstetric skill of any parliament whatever.


It is now impossible to say why such different types of male humanity as Jasper Thrale, George Gosling or the Bacchus of Wycombe Abbey escaped the plague. The bacillus (surely a strangely individual type, it must have been) was never isolated, nor the pathology of the disease investigated. The germ was some new unprecedented growth which ran through a fierce cycle of development within a few months, changed its nature as it swarmed into every corner of the earth, and finally expired more quickly than it had come into being.

If the male survivors in Europe and the East had been of one type, some theory might be formulated to account for their immunity; but so far as science can pronounce an opinion, the living male residue can only be explained by the doctrine of chances. A few escaped, by accident. In the British Isles there may have been 1,500 men who thus survived. In the whole of Europe, besides, there were less than a thousand. It seems probable that even before Scotland was attacked the climax had been reached; by the time the plague reached England the first faint evidences of a decline in virulence may be marked….

From the first, Jasper Thrale ventured his life without an afterthought. He was fearless by nature. He did not lack those powers of imagination which are commonly supposed to add so greatly to the terror of death, he simply lacked the feeling of fear. In all his life he had never experienced that sickness of apprehension which dissolves our fibre into a quivering jelly — as though the spirit had already withdrawn from the trembling inertia of the flesh. Perhaps Thrale’s spirit was too dominant for such retreat, was more completely master of its material than is the spirit of the common man. For the spirit cannot know bodily fear, it is the apprehensive flesh that wilts and curdles at the approach of danger. And it is worthy of notice that in the old days, up to the early twentieth century, these rare cases of fearlessness in individuals were more often found among women than among men.

Thrale, with his perfectly careless courage, found plenty of work for himself in London during May and early June. He acted as a scavenger, and still went far afield with his burial cart long after every trace of living male humanity had disappeared from the streets of London.

Then one day, at the end of June, he realized that his task was futile, and it came to him that there was work awaiting him of more importance than this purification of streets which might never again echo to the traffic of humanity.

So he chose the best bicycle he could find in Holborn Viaduct, stripped a relay of four tyres from other machines, and with these and a reserve of food made into a somewhat cumbrous parcel, he set out to explore the new world.

He took the Bath Road, intending to make exploration of the fertile West Country. He had Cornish blood in his veins, and his ultimate goal was the county which had almost escaped urbanization. As he then visualized the problem, it appeared that life would offer greater possibilities in such places.

But before he reached Colnbrook, he had recognized that work was required of him nearer home. The exodus was then in progress. He came through armies of helpless women and children flying from starvation; women who had no object in view save that of escape to the country; “Silly Londoners” with no knowledge of how food was to be obtained when their goal was reached.

He did not stay there, however. He was beginning to see the outline of his plan, and at the same time the limitation of his own powers. He saw that enough food could not be raised near London to support the multitude, that the death of the many was demanded by the needs of the few if any were to survive, and that communities must be formed with the common purpose of tilling the land and excluding those who could not earn their right to support. In such a catastrophe as this, charity became a crime.

He intended even then to push on beyond Reading, but in Maidenhead he met a woman who influenced him to a nearer goal.


She stepped into the road and held up her hand.

Thrale stopped; he thought she was about to make the familiar demand either for food or a direction.

“Well?” he said curtly.

“Where are you going?” she asked.

He shrugged his shoulders. “To find room,” he said.

“There is room for you near here,” said the woman, “if you’ll work.”

“At what?” he asked.

“Machinery, harvesting machinery, agricultural machinery of all sorts.”

“Where?” asked Thrale.

She dropped her voice and looked about her. “Marlow,” she said. “It — it’s an eddy. Off the main roads and by the river. There are less than a thousand women there at present, and we are keeping the others out; at least until after harvest. There is plenty of land about, and we’re keeping ourselves at present. Only we do want a man for the machines. Will you come and help us?”

“I’ll come and see what I can do,” said Thrale “I won’t promise to stay.”

“Aren’t there any other men, there?” he added after a moment’s hesitation.

“One at Wycombe,” said the women. “He’s a butcher, but —”

“I understand,” said Thrale.

“And meanwhile you might help me,” said the woman. “I come over here with a horse and cart to raid the seedsmen’s shops. If we leave them the women would eat all the beans and peas and things, you know; enough to feed us for the winter gone in a week, and no one any the better. Isn’t it awful how careless we are?”


She was a fair, clear-eyed girl, with the figure and complexion of one who had devoted considerable attention to outdoor sports. She was wearing a man’s Norfolk jacket (men’s clothing was so plentiful), and a skirt that barely reached her knees, and did not entirely hide cloth knickerbockers which might also have been adapted from a man’s garment. Below the knickerbockers she displayed thick stockings and sandals. Her splendid fair hair furnished sufficient protection for her head, and she had dressed a pillow of it into the nape of her neck as a shield for the sun.

Thrale looked at her with a frank curiosity as they made their way up the town to a seedsman’s shop. She had left the horse and cart there, she explained, while she explored other streets of the town.

“Who are you?” he asked.


“Eileen, of Marlow,” she said. “There doesn’t seem to be another Eileen there, so one name’s enough.”

“Is that how your community feel about it?” he asked. She smiled.

“We’re beginning,” she said.

He pondered that for a time, and then asked, “Who were you?”

“Does it matter?” was the answer.

“Not in the least,” said Thrale. “Never did much so far as I was concerned, but I have a memory of having seen your photographs in the illustrated papers. I was wondering whether you had been actress, peeress, scandal; or perhaps all three.”

She laughed. “I’m the eldest daughter of the late Duke of Hertford,” she said, “the ci-devant Lady Eileen Ferrar, citizen.”

“Oh, was that it?” replied Thrale carelessly. “Where’s this shop of yours?”

The loot was heavier than Eileen had anticipated. The shop had been ransacked, but they found an untouched store, containing such valuables as beans, potatoes and a few small sacks of turnip seed at the bottom of a yard. When these had been placed in the cart, they decided that the load was sufficient for one horse.

They took the longer road to Marlow, through Bourne End, to avoid the hill. Eileen walked at the horse’s head, with Thrale beside her wheeling his bicycle, and during those two hours he learnt much of the little community which he proposed to serve for a time.

It seemed that in Marlow — and the same thing must have happened in a hundred other small towns throughout the country — a few women had taken control of the community. These women were of all classes and the committee included an Earl’s widow, a national schoolmistress, a small green-grocer, and an unmarried woman of property living half a mile out of the town. These women had worked together in an eminently practical way; at first to relieve distress, and then to plan the future. They had wasted little time in discussions among themselves — none of them had the parliamentary sense of the uses of debate. When they had disagreed, they had had plenty of scope to carry out varying methods within their own spheres of influence.

Their first and most difficult task had been to teach the members of their community to work for the common good, and that task was by no means perfected as yet. Co-operation was agreeable enough to those who had nothing to lose, but the women in temporary possession of the sources of food supply were not so easily convinced. In many instances the committee’s arguments had been suddenly clenched by an exposition of force majeure, and property owners had discovered to their amazement that they had no remedy.

But the head and leader of Marlow was a farmer’s daughter of nineteen, a certain Carrie Oliver. Her father had had a small farm in the Chilterns not far from Fingest. He had been a lazy, drunken creature, and from the time Carrie had left the national school she had practically carried on the work of the farm single handed. She liked the work; the interest of it absorbed her.

The Marlow schoolmistress had remembered her when the committee had first faced the daunting task of providing for the future. They had been more or less capable of organizing a majority of the women, but no member of the committee knew the secrets of agriculture and stock-breeding, and in all Marlow and the neighbourhood no woman had been found who was capable of instructing them in all that was necessary.

A deputation of three had been sent to Fingest, and had discovered Miss Oliver in the midst of plenty, cultivating her farm in comfort now that she had been relieved of her father’s unwelcome presence.

She had been covered with confusion when requested to leave her retreat and take command of a town and the surrounding twenty thousand acres or so within reach of the new community.

“Oh! I can’t,” she had said, blushing and ducking her head. “It’s easy enough; I’ll tell you if there’s anything you want to know.”

The deputation had then put the case very clearly before her, pointing out that in Miss Oliver’s hands lay the future of a thousand lives.

“Oh, dear. I dunno. What can I do?” Carrie had said, and when the deputation had urged that she should return with them and take charge forthwith, she had replied that that was quite impossible, that there were the cows to milk, the calves, pigs and chickens to feed, and goodness knew how many other necessary things to be done before sunset.

The deputation had said that cows, calves, horses, sheep, pigs and chickens might and should be transferred forthwith to the neighbourhood of Marlow.

It had taken three days to convince her, Eileen said, and added, “But she’s splendid, now. It’s wonderful what a lot she knows; and she rides about on a horse everywhere and sees to everything. The difficulty is to stop her getting down and doing the work herself.”

Thrale understood that, exceptional male as he was, his position in Marlow would be subordinate to that of Miss Oliver.

“Does she understand agricultural machinery?” he asked.

“Oh, yes,” returned Eileen. “But she hasn’t time, you see, to attend to all that, and it’s so jolly difficult to learn. I’ve been doing a bit. I’m better at it than most of ’em. But when I saw you it struck me how ripping it would be if you’d come and take over that side. Men are so jolly good at machinery. We shouldn’t miss them much if it weren’t for that.”


* “Climate, race and condition impose certain limitations, and within that enceinte civilizations have developed a system of rules…” Enceinte (from Latin incinctus: girdled, surrounded) is a French term used technically in fortification for the inner ring of fortifications surrounding a town or a concentric castle.

* “Women had long known what our Bumbles can only learn by bitter experience, inspired to vision in some moment of fury or desolation.” Mr. Bumble is a character in the novel Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens.

* “the ci-devant Lady Eileen Ferrar, citizen.” The phrase ci-devant comes from the French, meaning “from before” and technically applies to members of the French nobility of the ancien régime after it had lost its titles and privileges during the Revolution.

Stay tuned!

RADIUM AGE SCIENCE FICTION: “Radium Age” is HILOBROW’s name for the 1904–33 era, which saw the discovery of radioactivity, the revelation that matter itself is constantly in movement — a fitting metaphor for the first decades of the 20th century, during which old scientific, religious, political, and social certainties were shattered. This era also saw the publication of genre-shattering writing by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Sax Rohmer, E.E. “Doc” Smith, Jack London, Arthur Conan Doyle, Aldous Huxley, Olaf Stapledon, Karel Čapek, H.P. Lovecraft, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Philip Gordon Wylie, and other pioneers of post-Verne/Wells, pre-Golden Age “science fiction.” More info here.

HILOBOOKS: The mission of HiLoBooks is to serialize novels on HiLobrow; and also, as of 2012, operating as an imprint of Richard Nash’s Cursor, to reissue Radium Age science fiction in beautiful new print editions. So far, we have published Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague, Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”), Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt, H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook, Edward Shanks’s The People of the Ruins, William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land, and J.D. Beresford’s Goslings. Forthcoming: E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man, Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage, and Muriel Jaeger’s The Man with Six Senses. For more information, visit the HiLoBooks homepage.

SERIALIZED BY HILOBOOKS: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague | Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”) | Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt | H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook | Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins | William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land | J.D. Beresford’s Goslings | E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man | Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage | Muriel Jaeger’s The Man With Six Senses | Jack London’s “The Red One” | Philip Francis Nowlan’s Armageddon 2419 A.D. | Homer Eon Flint’s The Devolutionist | W.E.B. DuBois’s “The Comet” | Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Moon Men | Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland | Sax Rohmer’s “The Zayat Kiss” | Eimar O’Duffy’s King Goshawk and the Birds | Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Lost Prince | Morley Roberts’s The Fugitives | Helen MacInnes’s The Unconquerable | Geoffrey Household’s Watcher in the Shadows | William Haggard’s The High Wire | Hammond Innes’s Air Bridge | James Branch Cabell’s Jurgen | John Buchan’s “No Man’s Land” | John Russell’s “The Fourth Man” | E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” | John Buchan’s Huntingtower | Arthur Conan Doyle’s When the World Screamed | Victor Bridges’ A Rogue By Compulsion | Jack London’s The Iron Heel | H. De Vere Stacpoole’s The Man Who Lost Himself | P.G. Wodehouse’s Leave It to Psmith | Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” | Houdini and Lovecraft’s “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” | Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Sussex Vampire.”

ORIGINAL FICTION: HILOBROW has serialized three novels: James Parker’s The Ballad of Cocky The Fox (“a proof-of-concept that serialization can work on the Internet” — The Atlantic); Karinne Keithley Syers’s Linda Linda Linda (which includes original music); and Robert Waldron’s roman à clef The School on the Fens. We also publish original stories and comics. These include: Matthew Battles’s stories “Gita Nova“, “Makes the Man,” “Imago,” “Camera Lucida,” “A Simple Message”, “Children of the Volcano”, “The Gnomon”, “Billable Memories”, “For Provisional Description of Superficial Features”, “The Dogs in the Trees”, “The Sovereignties of Invention”, and “Survivor: The Island of Dr. Moreau”; several of these later appeared in the collection The Sovereignties of Invention | Peggy Nelson’s “Mood Indigo“, “Top Kill Fail“, and “Mercerism” | Annalee Newitz’s “The Great Oxygen Race” | Flourish Klink’s Star Trek fanfic “Conference Comms” | Charlie Mitchell’s “A Fantasy Land” | Charlie Mitchell’s “Sentinels” | Joshua Glenn’s “The Lawless One”, and the mashup story “Zarathustra vs. Swamp Thing” | Adam McGovern and Paolo Leandri’s Idoru Jones comics | John Holbo’s “Sugarplum Squeampunk” | “Another Corporate Death” (1) and “Another Corporate Death” (2) by Mike Fleisch | Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer and Frank Fiorentino’s graphic novel “The Song of Otto” (excerpt) | John Holbo’s graphic novel On Beyond Zarathustra (excerpt) | “Manoj” and “Josh” by Vijay Balakrishnan | “Verge” by Chris Rossi, and his audio novel Low Priority Hero | EPIC WINS: THE ILIAD (1.408-415) by Flourish Klink | EPIC WINS: THE KALEVALA (3.1-278) by James Parker | EPIC WINS: THE ARGONAUTICA (2.815-834) by Joshua Glenn | EPIC WINS: THE MYTH OF THE ELK by Matthew Battles | TROUBLED SUPERHUMAN CONTEST: Charles Pappas, “The Law” | CATASTROPHE CONTEST: Timothy Raymond, “Hem and the Flood” | TELEPATHY CONTEST: Rachel Ellis Adams, “Fatima, Can You Hear Me?” | OIL SPILL CONTEST: A.E. Smith, “Sound Thinking | LITTLE NEMO CAPTION CONTEST: Joe Lyons, “Necronomicon” | SPOOKY-KOOKY CONTEST: Tucker Cummings, “Well Marbled” | INVENT-A-HERO CONTEST: TG Gibbon, “The Firefly” | FANFICTION CONTEST: Lyette Mercier’s “Sex and the Single Superhero”