The Contextual Significance of the Malthusian Belt
“And round her waste she wore a silver-mounted green morocco-surrogate cartridge belt, bulging (for Lenina was not a freemartin) with the regulation supply of contraceptives” (Huxley, p.43). Aldous Huxley’s 1932 science fiction novel, Brave New World, is filled with scientific contextual references from the early twentieth century, and one notable reference – the “Malthusian belt” (Huxley, p.43) – makes a significant acknowledgement to the effort to reduce reproduction in the lower-class, therefore ensuring the desirable traits of the upper-class are carried on, and population levels are managed.
To support the Bokanovsky Process, the women in this dystopian novel, (excluding the freemartins who are steril) are required to carry with them their supply of contraception to ensure the prevention of any natural conception – cue the Malthusian Belt. Named strategically after the movement inspired by the findings of Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus, an economist and scholar in the field of demography, who wrote a book in 1798, An Essay on the Principle of Population, the belt not only carries contraception for the women, but also the resounding belief that over-population is the downfall of humanity. In 1877, a British organisation, the Malthusian League, was established to act as an advocate of contraception, and to educate the public on the benefits of family planning. “The principle of population held that the power of population was inherently greater than the power of production, which guaranteed that material constraints would relegate some to lives of misery” (Hodgson, p.717). This utilitarian group ended in 1927, but the effects of this movement are still visible in Huxley’s novel written only four years later.
In this society, contraception, and the repulsion and horror of pregnancy in general, becomes so significant that the women have made accessories of their belts which are worn like handbags, or a pair of shoes. Gone is any discretion on the topic of contraception, instead, women take their contraception with them everywhere they go, much like one would their cellphone or car keys today. Lenina is gifted this new Malthusian belt by Henry Foster and it becomes the object of Fanny’s admiration: “I simply must get one like it!” (Huxley, p.43-44), and thus, the overriding conditioning of consumerism in this society is supported and encouraged yet again, even with contraception-carriers. This feminine accessory, the Malthusian belt, highlights the significance placed upon reducing and preventing pregnancies, not only in the narrative, but in the early twentieth century Europe.
- Hodgson, Dennis. “Alison Bashford and Joyce E. Chaplin the New Worlds of Thomas Robert Malthus: Rereading the Principle of Population Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016.” Population and Development Review, vol. 42, no. 4, 2016, pp. 717-721
- Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. Vintage Classics, 2007.