TOPIC 1 FOR UNPLANNED: TODAY’S ALTERNATIVES OF ADOPTION, FOSTERING AND ABORTION
It is not easy to imagine what might happen today if the events described in the novel were contemporary. Circumstances are very different today and it might be helpful to discuss current choices and what the most appropriate outcome for the unborn baby would have been. The options are:
DISCUSSION POINTS FOR TOPIC 1 OF UNPLANNED: HOW MIGHT MIGHT FRANCES MARY ACT DIFFERENTLY TODAY?
- Frances Mary and her parents would likely report the incident to the police and involve a Sexual Assault Referral Center (SARC) to conduct a confidential forensic medical examination. Originally known as a Rape Crisis Center, the first such establishment occurred during 1976. In war-time, the incident would have become public knowledge, and unmarried pregnant women were shunned. Sympathy would have gone to the perpetrator because of his importance; also, it would have been one person’s word against the other (no witnesses). It is almost certain that the complaint would have been handled by a male police officer, and subject to gender bias. At the start of the war, there were only several hundred women employed as police officers in the UK, and only 45 police forces out of 183 hired women.
- The offer of marriage from George may have been influenced by the rape laws in force at the time. Marital rape was exempt from rape prosecutions, a ruling that was abolished in the UK during 1991.
- Abortion was unavailable during the war, and did not become legal in Britain until 1967, with the passing of the Abortion Act, that allowed pregnancies of up to 28 weeks to be terminated (later reduced to 24 weeks). During 2018 in England and Wales there were approximately 205,000 abortions. In the United State, the 1973 Roe v Wade Supreme Court ruling granted the right to choose. The most recent data for the USA indicates around 876,000 abortions during 2018, down from 1.3 million in 2000, with over 85 percent involving unmarried mothers and less than 0.5 percent as victims of rape. It is probable that with hindsight Frances Mary would have chosen abortion.
- Adoption was possible for Frances Mary, but the rules were being changed under the UK Adoption of Children (Regulation Act) 1939; its implementation was delayed until June 1943, two months before Frances Mary became pregnant. The new regulations required adoption societies to be registered, financial inducements were outlawed and informal adoptions (for example, within the family) were to be regulated by local authorities. “Boarding” as it was called (similar to fostering) was permitted as an alternative to being placed in a public assistance institution (formerly known as a workhouse), or orphanage.
- The author will never know with certainty why his mother decided to keep him. Was it because she was deeply religious and swayed by the playing Ave Maria as her child was born, or because as a young infant, she was sent herself to live with a childless aunt and uncle, hated it, and returned home? Maybe the offer of accommodation from Dot Daniels lessened the risk to Frances Mary of keeping the baby.
TOPIC 2 FOR UNPLANNED: SHOULD THE AUTHOR HAVE BEEN AWARE OF WHAT WAS HAPPENING DURING HIS EARLY CHILDHOOD AND WHAT MIGHT HE HAVE DONE AS A CONSEQUENCE?
DISCUSSION POINTS FOR TOPIC 2 OF UNPLANNED
- His mother was ashamed by the illegitimacy and refused to talk about his birth. She saw no purpose in telling him and kept the story secret for 63 years. Was this justified? Did he have the right to know?
- John was always suspicious and somehow intuitively knew he was different. As a young child, he recalls sitting on the school bus headed for primary school and hearing some boys talking about the “bastard” boy who lived across the village green. The boy’s last name was different from his parent’s surname. He felt they were also talking about him. His blessing was that his mother changed his last name to be the same as his stepfather's. How would you describe his mother’s love towards him?
- There was also his grandfather who cared, and on occasion, after strong disagreements with his stepfather, he would tell his grandson “that man is not your father”. If John asked his mother about the statement, her reply was always that her father was being “silly”. Should she have confessed the truth (despite the feeling of shame) or have continued the charade as she did?
- The author never felt an urgency to investigate his origins until his mother began to age. He always had good relationships with his mother. Prosecuting his biological father would never have happened. Was it better for John to concentrate on his future than worry about his past?
- There is nothing during the author’s upbringing that generated guilt or embarrassment; he was very close to his mother who protected him when needed. Was it this relationship that secured his future? If you were in the same situation, what might you have done?
TOPIC 3 FOR UNPLANNED: WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU WERE THE FATHER OF AN ILLEGITIMATE CHILD, RETURNING TO LIVE WITH YOUR FAMILY AFTER THE WAR?
DISCUSSION POINTS FOR TOPIC 3 OF UNPLANNED
- The father’s first challenge was to decide whether or not to tell his wife about what happened. George had seen very little of his son since birth and had spent no time with his two-year old daughter. He had walked out on Frances Mary and had refused a Court order to provide child support. He chose silence as his strategy. What would you have done?
- For the next 10 years he enjoyed a successful career and a happy home life. It is easy to imagine how quickly he pushed the events of Yorkshire outside his mind. But then he contracted tuberculosis; his secret was out as the police visited his wife to serve a Court order on him for back-payment of child support. Faced with these conditions, what actions might you have taken had you been George?
- We have to speculate that his health never fully recovered and he suffered from depression that evidently caused hostility from him towards his family. This anger likely reached a peak when his wife had him forcibly placed under psychiatric care. His reaction was to fake his suicide and run away to Jersey. Had you have discovered him in Jersey what might you have done?
- Afterwards, his final few years was spent living with his mother and touring Europe. He was estranged from his wife and his children (now married), who were told not to have anything to do with him or they would lose their relationship with their mother. Was this appropriate justice for his past transgressions?
TOPIC 4 FOR UNPLANNED: BEFORE COVID-19
Today’s global health focus is COVID-19, but during the period covered by the book, it was other diseases that interfered with daily life, often lacking adequate treatments. Included were diabetes, tuberculosis, polio, whooping cough, influenza, chicken pox, German measles (rubella) and the regular (rubeola) measles that today can be avoided through the application of vaccines. There were also bipolar mental illnesses that were not properly understood and, of course, cancer. It is worth contemplating how medicine has advanced during recent decades.
DISCUSSION POINTS FOR TOPIC 4 OF UNPLANNED
- Henry Savage’s wife first wife died of cancer when the only treatments available were surgery and radiation. They sold their farm close to the river because of the dampness, mist and fog and moved a few miles away to higher, drier land. It would not be until 30 years later that alternative cancer therapies began to emerge.
- Henry Savage contracted diabetes but was able to stabilize his illness using insulin (first introduced in the UK in 1923), although the amount needed depended on his physical activity for the day. There were days when he took too much, causing confusion, dizziness and irritability, up to including comas, and sometimes too little that caused tiredness and trouble concentrating. Additionally, dietary care was important, with requirements to eat plenty of fish, eggs and green leafy vegetables, and to avoid carbohydrates. Insulin was injected daily into his thigh using a glass and metal syringe. Contrast these difficulties with the conveniences of treatment today.
- John suffered the usual range of childhood diseases that were considered inevitable at the time. As a one-year-old he contracted the bacterial infection of whooping cough, a highly contagious disease that can be fatal for babies. The illness creates uncontrollable, violent coughing which can make it hard to breathe. Treatment was available using antibiotics, and since the late 1940s, vaccination has been available.
- There were other childhood diseases for John once he began school. Measles was the first disease he brought home, which was then passed on to the rest of the family. Isolation and home care were the remedies until the measles virus was isolated in 1954 and a vaccine developed.
- Other illnesses included chicken pox (an itchy rash of blisters plus fever), German measles (mild illness with a rash maybe lasting three days) and mumps (that causes puffy cheeks and a swollen jaw). Today, all of these ailments can be treated with vaccines. You may wish to reflect on the illnesses you experienced as a child, how they were treated and today’s attitudes towards certain vaccinations (the concern over measles).
- George Luckett’s life took a turn for the worst during late 1956 when he contracted the bacterial infection of tuberculosis. Until then he had been a very successful civil engineer, provided for his family and enjoyed regular holidays with his children. Was this appropriate punishment for abandoning Frances Mary and refusing to pay court-instructed child support? As a result of his incarceration at the sanatorium his wife discovered the existence of the illegitimate child. Sympathy might nonetheless have been appropriate; tuberculosis was a particularly unpleasant disease and accounted for around 20,000 deaths in England and Wales annually. It was treatable with drugs, but highly infectious. Even today, the World Health Organization estimates a 2018 a worldwide annual death rate from tuberculosis of 1.5 million, compared to 1.1 million deaths from COVID-19, January to October 2020. There is an estimated 10 million annual tuberculosis cases, compared with 36.5 million cases of COVID-19 during the past nine months. Do you have any experience with tuberculosis?
- Poliomyelitis, an infectious viral disease, affecting the central nervous system, that is extremely rare today, but that was not so during the years covered by the novel. It was a repeated cause of temporary and permanent paralysis, usually affecting the legs, and transmitted through contaminated water and food, or contact with an infected person. In the book, it appears in San Francisco during 1952 and risks Emma’s life. During this same period, about 8,000 people in the UK were paralyzed due to polio, and 5 to 10 percent lost their lives after their breathing muscles became immobilized. Everything began to change during the mid-1950s when the Salt vaccine became available. At first it was an injection – as received by the author at primary school – but by the beginning of the 1960s, it had developed into the “sugar lump” vaccine. One of its earliest applications in the UK was in the City of Hull (the author’s university town) where an outbreak in October 1961 caused the total population of 300,000 to be vaccinated. Do you have any experiences/memories of polio?
- Maybe because of living on an isolated farm, Frances Mary and her family had little contact with influenza. There were two moderate pandemics in the UK during the period 1944 to 1974:
- Asian Flu 1957-58; 33,000 estimated UK deaths/1.1 million worldwide, and 116,000 in the US.
- Hong Kong Flu 1968-69; 80,000 estimated UK deaths/1.0 million worldwide, and 100,000 in the US.
- Last but not least are the mental health symptoms experienced by George Luckett as his business and marriage began to fail. He was given anti-depressants to treat his aggressive behavior and loss of temper, although his children understood it was treatment for his migraine following his manic periods. He eventually was sectioned into a mental hospital to receive electroconvulsive therapy against his will that was given to patients who did not respond to anti-depressants. How would you react if your spouse insists that you be forcibly detained for psychiatric treatment?
“While the protagonists’ names used in the second edition of this book, which is retitled Unplanned, vary from those in this video, the story depicted is essentially unchanged.”