Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Anti-Love Potions

By Michael Cook

What are the potential uses and consequences of a pill that could make people fall out of love?

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The British novelist and playwright Somerset Maugham has never faded away. His 1925 novel The Painted Veil was made into a film only a couple of years ago for the third time.

What I liked when I first read his stories was the geometric precision of his plots and his Edwardian gift for epigrams. “She plunged into a sea of platitudes, and with the powerful breast stroke of a channel swimmer made her confident way towards the white cliffs of the obvious.” If only I could write like that!

But he had the misfortune of immense popularity, and the critics have not been kind to him.

What I liked less and less as I grew older was his brutal cynicism. Much of that must be attributed to a tormented emotional life: a very unhappy childhood, a very unhappy marriage, and a succession of gay lovers. He used an early affair as the basis for his 1915 novel Of Human Bondage. This dealt with Philip Carey, a young doctor, and his senseless and unrequited passion for a Cockney waitress: “He did not care if she was heartless, vicious and vulgar, stupid and grasping, he loved her”. The novel must have struck a chord, as three films have been based on it.

Here was a man, if ever there was one, made for the “anti-love biotechnology” discussed by bioethicists from Oxford University, including Julian Savulescu, in a recent issue of the American Journal of Bioethics....

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.