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March/April 2012
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The Fixed Period, by Anthony Trollope (1882)

IN THE LATE twentieth century, the tiny, new country of Britanula wants to solve the problems of old age. Research has determined that supporting old people costs society far more labor and expense than is warranted by what old people produce. Adult children spend years caring for parents, while waiting to inherit. And surely, physical and mental deterioration must mean that enjoyment of life is diminished.

To the narrator and President of Britanula, the solution is obvious. After hot parliamentary debate, sixty-seven years is legally determined as the end of the Fixed Period. A "college" is built to receive everyone on his or her sixty-seventh birthday. After one year of residence, the throat of the "deposited" is to be ceremonially slit and the remains cremated.

The first inhabitant to reach sixty-seven is the President's best friend Crasweller. Crasweller is still hale, hearty, and active in business. As an ardent political supporter of the Fixed Period, he finds deposition difficult to refuse. Those who adhere to what the President sees as mere feelings—especially Crasweller's daughter Eva—oppose Crasweller's deposition by all means in their power.

Trollope's view of future womanhood is strictly Victorian. However, his view of future technology should delight steampunkers. It includes steam tricycles, steam cricket bowlers, and most telling of all, a 250-ton steam-swiveler.

Anthony Trollope (better known for Barchester Towers and the Palliser novels) died the same year The Fixed Period was published. His age? Sixty-seven.

—Frances Grimble

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