By: Booth Tarkington
December 16, 2021

1910s-20s postcard from Algeria, “Femme kabyle”

HiLoBooks is pleased to serialize Booth Tarkington’s 1926 Radium Age sf story “The Veiled Feminists of Atlantis” for HILOBROW’s readers. Tarkington, an avid sf reader, wrote this satire of the sexes — shortly after American women won the right to vote — for the fortieth anniversary issue of Forum.

ALL INSTALLMENTS: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5.


Among certain occultists of the esoteric Buddhist group there was once this tradition concerned with the sinking of Atlantis. The continent disappeared as the climax of a conflict between the practitioners of White Magic and those who were experts in Black Magic. Magic, which was of course only science kept secret, had gone far in Atlantis, and the magicians ruled the continent. The general populace was morally unfit to be trusted with knowledge of the discoveries made by initiated chemists, psychologists, electricians, and biologists, just as a portion of our people to-day are unfit to be trusted with automobiles and gunpowder; and therefore the Atlantean scientists were an organized secret society, keeping their knowledge strictly to themselves and using it for the general good. Of course they easily became the ruling class, and the government was naturally a dictatorship, probably a hidden one, so that the populace believed itself to be a governing democracy.

Apprentices to the magicians were carefully selected; only young men of promising intelligence combined with the highest sense of honor and the most humanitarian impulses could be permitted to acquire knowledge potentially dangerous, but mistakes were made in selection; ambitious and prying outsiders obtained copies of some of the sacred books, deciphering them and possessing their meanings; there arose factions, too; and, moreover, some of the greatest among the magicians, or scientists, could not control their own human impulses, and used their knowledge for selfish ends. Thus the opposing camps were formed. On one side were the benevolent White Magicians, who wished to use the secrets of nature for the benefit of the world at large; and on the other were the Black Magicians, whose purpose was to secure power to fulfil their own desires.

In this conflict, forces so terrific were employed by both parties that at last the very continent was riven and sunk beneath the waters of the ocean; the White Magicians, in their gigantic despair, thus destroying not only themselves but all their world as well, in order to annihilate their enemies of the dark cohorts and to prevent the further dissemination of knowledge which man was not yet fitted to receive. This is to say, they perceived that civilization was a failure with them; that man was better dead than left in possession of knowledge (meaning power) ungenerously employed; that evolution had produced civilization too rapidly upon Atlantis, and must begin the work anew elsewhere.

Such, roughly, was the tradition, as I learned it from curious books years ago, — so many years ago, indeed, that it had passed almost altogether out of my mind when a chance meeting last winter with a French archaeologist in the Djur Djurra Mountains of the Atlas Range recalled and freshened it. This was at Michelet, that surprisingly Alpine appearance among the Algerian clouds where the traveler expects to see Swiss chamois hunters descending the snowy peaks rather than robed and tatooed Arabs, and one must continually doubt that one is in Africa. Professor Paul Lanjuinais, of the Institute, was staying at the inn, and beside the rather inadequate fire in the small smoking room, we fell into talk of the Kabyle people, or “White Arabs,” among whom our own party had been motoring. M. Lanjuinais was in the Djur Djurra region for the purpose of research among the Kabyles, he informed us, and presently he mentioned the Atlantean theory of their heavily disputed origin.


RADIUM AGE PROTO-SF: “Radium Age” is Josh Glenn’s name for the nascent sf genre’s c. 1900–1935 era, a period which saw the discovery of radioactivity, i.e., 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. More info here.

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” | Francis Stevens’s “Friend Island” | George C. Wallis’s “The Last Days of Earth” | Frank L. Pollock’s “Finis” | A. Merritt’s The Moon Pool | E. Nesbit’s “The Third Drug” | George Allan England’s “The Thing from — ‘Outside'” | Booth Tarkington’s “The Veiled Feminists of Atlantis” | H.G. Wells’s “The Land Ironclads” | J.D. Beresford’s The Hampdenshire Wonder | Valery Bryusov’s “The Republic of the Southern Cross” | Algernon Blackwood’s “A Victim of Higher Space” | A. Merritt’s “The People of the Pit”.