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Books Editorial

warlowexp.jpg The Warlow Experiment
 

Alix Nathan, Serpent’s Tail

1793. Herbert Powyss lives on a small estate in the Welsh Marches. He longs to make his mark with the Royal Society in London and dreams of one day presenting a science paper of real consequence. He hits on the idea of studying the effects of isolation on humans and to that end places an advert in the press requesting that someone submits to living in rooms beneath his house. They will have food delivered by a dumb waiter, their chamber pot emptied, but absolutely no contact with anyone for seven years. At the end of the experiment, they will receive the sum of £50 per year for the rest of the lives. Step forward John Warlow. The monstrous experiment has more than a touch of Frankenstein about it, with this Enlightenment-thinking-gone-wrong tale unleashing all manner of unintended consequences for all concerned. It can also be read as a metaphor for the works of human rights advocate Thomas Paine, who, as Warlow languishes beneath the house, is firing up Powyss’s servants with his pamphlets on egalitarianism.