The Disappearance

The Disappearance“Thefemale of the species vanished on theafternoon of the second Tuesday of February at four minutes and fiftytwo seconds past four o'clock, Eastern Standard Time The event occurred universally at the same instant, without regard to time belts, and was followed by such phenomena as might be expected after happenings of that nature” On a lazy, quiet afternoon, in the blink of aneye, our world shatters into two parallel universes as men vanish from women and women from men After families and loved ones separatefrom one another, life continues in very different ways for men and women, boys and girls An explosion of violence sweeps one world that still operates technologically social stability and peace in the other are offset by famine and a widespreadbreakdown in machinery and science And as we learn from the fascinating parallel stories of a brilliant couple, Bill and Paula Gaunt, the foundations of relationships, love, and sex are scrutinized, tested, and sometimes redefined in both worlds The radically divergent trajectories of the gendered histories reveal stark truths about the rigidly defined expectations placed on men and women and their sexual relationships and make clear how much society depends on interconnection between the sexes Written over a half century ago yet brimming with insight and unsettling in its relevance today, The Disappearance is a masterpiece of modern speculative fiction.

Born in Beverly, Massachusetts, Philip Gordon Wylie was the son of Presbyterian minister Edmund Melville Wylie and the former Edna Edwards, a novelist, who died when Philip was five years old His family moved to Montclair, New Jersey and he later attended Princeton University from – He married Sally Ondek, and had one child, Karen, an author who became the inventor of animal clicker tr.

The Disappearance PDF/EPUB ´ Paperback
  • Paperback
  • 407 pages
  • The Disappearance
  • Philip Wylie
  • English
  • 17 February 2019
  • 9780803298415

10 thoughts on “The Disappearance

  1. says:

    This novel represents speculative fiction at its best. What if, one day, all the women on Earth disappeared, leaving men alone -- and, on a parallel Earth, all men disappeared, leaving women alone? This novel traces the fate of both worlds, and in so doing questions the foundations of contemporary governments, religions, sexual politics, and even family structures. Wylie asks the big questions about the ways in which we've ordered society and the unexamined assumptions that undergird these arrangements, all the while drawing three-dimensional characters and compelling plotlines. Fifty-nine years after its original publication, it remains an utterly fascinating and thought-provoking read.

  2. says:

    Philip Wylie's The Disappearance was published in 1951 and absolutely reeks of the 1950s, from the gender roles and attitudes about sexuality (homosexual and heterosexual) to its Cold War era fears and technologies.

    The premise of the novel is that "one minute it was the world as we know it. Then suddenly it became two worlds--one male, one female, each as before, but each without the opposite sex!" No scientific explanation is ever provided for this; the point is not, in the end, the science but the sociology and psychology behind and following the event. The novel follows the men's and women's stories in separate (generally alternating) chapters, focusing on one married couple in particular, Bill and Paula Gaunt. In the women's world, chaos quickly ensues as technology grinds to a halt (the men ran those things); in the men's world, however, things are no better. Where the women must struggle to find food and energy and to fight disease, the men find themselves giving in to violence, both on a local and global level. Much of the U.S. is destroyed as a result of the continuation of Cold War threats and tensions and nuclear warfare.

    The Disappearance lasts for four years and during that time both men and women must learn about who they really are, who their men/women really were (as much as that can be known), and the ways in which they are not really that different from each other. Wylie attacks religion, sexual mores, and the social training that has grown up around gender roles, arguing that these things have stunted both men and women and that the only real solution is to see "man-plus-woman" as a whole person, complementary and equal in importance.

    In this, Wylie is ahead of his time, prefiguring the free love movements of the 1960s and the feminist movement of the 1970s. However, he cannot escape the prejudices of his time. Left alone to run the nation, women give in to silliness, spending their energy at first on designing official outfits to be worn; homosexuality is seen as ridiculous and regressive; and men prove incapable of fending for themselves around the house while women's homes, despite the other difficulties they face, are nice, homey, and decidedly not tacky (as the men's homes apparently are). These remaining sexist and homophobic moments are disheartening given the otherwise positive momentum of the book, but they are valuable as relics of the 1950s. For a contemporary reader, the book is occasionally painful because of these moments, but it serves as a potent reminder of where relations between men and women stood at the time.

    This combination of outdated ideas and prescient critique would make The Disappearance a really interesting book to teach if it weren't for the other element of the book that marks it as thoroughly of its time: the style. To modern tastes, the book is overexplained, overnarrated, and unaccountably formal and thus requires time to get used to. And at nearly 400 pages, I'm not sure undergraduates would be willing and able to spend the time and energy required to accustom themselves to such an old-fashioned style. I'll provide just a couple of examples from early in the book. Here is the first paragraph of the book:

    "The female of the species vanished on the afternoon of the second Tuesday of February at four minutes and fifty-two seconds past four o'clock, Eastern Standard Time. The event occurred universally at the same instant, without regard to time belts, and was followed by such phenomena as might be expected after happenings of that nature" (3).

    Wordy, with lots of prepositional phrases, strangely formal and distant, this is not writing that reaches out and grabs a modern reader, even if the premise is immediately intriguing. Here is one more example from the beginning of chapter 2, the reader's initial introduction to Paula Gaunt:

    "Paula Gaunt was a woman of warmth, of engagingly varied moods, and of many capacities. She was perceptive and sympathetic--as a rule. She had one minor vanity: she dyed her hair the shade of red she'd been born with. As far as she could tell, Bill had not caught on, although she'd begun to dabble with henna fifteen years ago when the first gray strands had appeared. She called the original color 'copper pink'--and henna had not restored it. But other chemicals had been effective. Through frequent visits to expert hair-dressers she had maintained to the age of forty-six the hue and luster of her unusual adornment. The trouble was, not to know whether Bill knew. Since this was a matter of pride, and slightly obsessively, she gave it undue importance" (17).

    Again, wordy and not the kind of writing that grabs a reader. It also suffers from the tendency to produce characterization through omniscient description instead of through seeing the character in action.

    Perhaps the most obvious flaw of the book, to my view, is the lack of any convincing explanation for the Disappearance, however. Even taking into consideration that Wylie's main concern is not the science of the event, using it primarily as a leaping off point for his reflections and arguments, the resolution is so weak as to be irritating. The men and women disappear from each other's lives suddenly and mysteriously; they reappear in the same way. Edwinna, Bill and Paula's daughter, provides one speculation about what caused the separation and reunification: "I always told myself, this is a penance We asked for it; if we stick through it--keep our hopes quiet--then, some afternoon, they'll put us back the way we were" (370). This is the best we get and this is far from scientific. This is, in fact, downright mystical, making The Disappearance a 400 page morality tale. At the end, lesson learned, everyone can live happily ever after, and we, the readers, can hopefully learn this lesson without having to experience the same thing ourselves.

  3. says:

    When compared to other SF literary masterworks I read recently, The disappearance is a solid effort. It didn't blow me out of my socks, but it was interesting nonetheless. I can't say that it's a page-turner - after all, the writing style is rather dated and relies quite a bit on heavy descriptions. Also, the phenomenon of the disappearance of one gender was dealt in a "Deus ex machina" kind of way, but I shouldn't nitpick - this is speculative fiction, isn't it? Despite those quibbles, Wylie's novel is a fine exploration of gender relations and their impact on society.

    This work starts from a snapshot of middle-class (or perhaps even affluent) white folks' lives in the fifties, but soon evolves into an animal of its own as the author depicts two parallel worlds inhabited by one sex. Although Wylie paints a grim picture of both alternate realities (the men end up in nuclear war, the women regress into a hunter-gatherer type of society), I was personally more interested in the goings-on in the female reality, because the world in the fifties was made by men for men. When I take into account that this work was published in 1951., I'm quite impressed by the criticism towards the societal mores, gender roles and run-of-the-mill marriages Wylie put forth. True, the author uses his characters as mouthpieces, but I really can't hold that against him, especially when I consider what they said and when did they say it. I would like to paste here quite a few quotes, but to illustrate my point, I'll just put one:

    “There’s that.” Paula gazed curiously at the girl and returned to her theme. “We couldn’t, actually, most of us, love men completely, because the whole picture of life was too unloving! Follow some of your feelings for one little evening and you were disgraced! Even divorced! Yet they insisted you should have freedom and initiative! Get even a political opinion contrary to your husband’s and, for most wives, hell moved in!

    They sent you to school and made you work and told you good marks meant everything. If you were like me, you topped all the boys in your class. You went to college. You studied. You earned degrees. You married. And then— what? You had to learn a lot of new things about running a house and raising babies and taking care of measles and ordering groceries and then about architecture and interior decoration and plumbing and how to run a waxer. Meanwhile, the years of hard, hard work to get an education went down the sewer! You married a brighter man with an even better education and your light went right out, no matter how bright it was! Is it any wonder women feel hostile about men? Aggressive?” Her eyes flashed.
    (pp. 194-195)

    In my opinion, the quote above rings true for many women even today, and let alone in the 50's. What's more huge is that a man who lived in the early 20th century had the insight and the guts to write something like that. Heck, nowadays there are quite a few books on the market (e.g. the YA market) that skipped the last cca. 60 years of women's rights! And for that reason alone, I'm bumping up what would have been a 3 star rating into a 4 star rating.

  4. says:

    I was looking for this novel for a long time. The Disappearance was the very first book I bought when I arrived at Seattle in 2013, for Clarion West. I was intrigued by its premise, and I waa very curious to find out if the book was any good.

    I'm not disappointed. I liked The Disappearance. For a novel written in 1951, it's a solid science fiction narrative, containing not only a good premise, but also an interesting view of male-female relations which was far from the norm when the book was written.

    But one of the strengths of this book is also its weakness - the need Philip Wylie has to explain virtually everything in terms of lectures is so big his protagonist, Bill Gaunt, is a well-respected philosopher and professor, a know-it-all type, capable of developing Theories of Everything (they didn't call them like this then) to explain The Disappearance (that's what they called the strange event that made "the female of the species vanish on the face of the Earth" all of a sudden, without reasonable explanation.

    ----MINOR SPOILERS FROM HERE---------------

    Now, the same thing happened to women - to them, it was as if the male of the species had vanished completely at the same time. For us SF buffs the explanation is rather simple: each gender went to a parallel Earth. This is never addressed by the scientists (Hugh Everett's many-worlds interpretation wasn't formulated until 1957)

    The novel, however, is plainly racist. Not Lovecraft-racist, mind you, but racist in the sense that in no moment Wylie seems to think black people are capable of being more than we would call today NPCs in game jargon - they are just there but hardly can think for themselves. This seems inexcusable, since he discuss sex in as upfront a manner as he can, both from the POV of Bill Gaunt and of his wife, Paula.

    Speaking of sex, another ticklish subject is homosexuality - Wyle doesn't flinch from it, but he dismisses it a sort of childish behavior. Gaunt doesn't feel sexual desire for anyone his own sex (although, IMO, there are a couple of very closeted scenes that are open to debate), while Paula feels it and accepts it - BUT only intelectually.

    In spite of all these things, how the story unfolds is something intriguing to observe along the novel. How each gender can survive without the other? What could be their initial reactions? And their post-traumatic recovery and coping strategies?

    More recent stories have tackled the subject much more efficiently, such as Brian K. Vaughn's Y: The Last Man. But it's interesting all the same to see how Wylie did it - even if it was far from ideal.

  5. says:

    Of all my books, this is in the top 10 of my favorites. No, I lie! This is number one, such that I return to reading it again and again. The first copy I bought decades ago wore out, and I recently had to buy a new copy. If there were a six-star rating, this novel would receive one.

    Today I once again am rereading Philip Wylie's The Disappearance, which is a book everyone should read at least once.

    Set back in the 1950s, Mr. Wylie thoughtfully writes about how men and women survive when the other sex disappears all over the world. They aren't dead, just no longer there in one split second. Planes crash when male pilots no longer exist. Pregnant females see their clothes suddenly hang on their flattened bodies when the hoped-for male baby is gone.

    Some men resort to odd behavior to satisfy their loneliness, while others rise to heroic levels in a time of crisis. Meanwhile in their parallel world, many women discover they have hidden strength that was unusual for that time in history.

    The two main characters are a married couple from Florida, but this novel is really about all humanity throughout the world. When reading this novel, I often wonder how I would react in a similar situation. If you do decided to get into he Disappearance", you might find yourself asking the same question.

  6. says:

    This is the fifth time I have read the book but the first in almost thirty years. It was almost like reading the book for the first time. Not quite science-fiction, not quite dystopian, The Disappearanceby Philip Wylie is a study of the male and female psyches set amidst a varied array of essays commenting on the ills of American attitudes and philosophies leading into the early Cold war period.

    In characteristic Wylie fashion, his protagonists are literate, highly intelligent beings who seem to want to right the ills of society. As a speculative novel, what may have appeared obvious to some sixty years ago when the novel first was published, now seems to have been astoundingly understated. things are worse today than Wylie imagined! If you are looking for a story, cskip this novel. Its tale is relatively straightforward and predictable for the most part and not especially exciting. But for commentary on the once and future America, this is a superb book. Best read now and then twenty or thirty years from now, read it again. Wylie's ideas seem enduring and for this novelist/essayist, that is indeed a compliment. A book in which the whole is far greater than the sum of its parts.

  7. says:

    I loved aspects of this book, and many other aspects made me cringe. Let's get the negatives out of the way first. There are a lot of racist, classist, sexist, homophobic ideas and scenes in this book. It's a product of its time, and I have a feeling it was quite progressive when it was written back in 1951, but even so, it can be very cringe-inducing at times, and is disappointing overall because of this.

    However! It is worth reading, with a critical eye. The story is really fascinating, and the execution is well done. I really enjoyed the male author's speculation as to what women would do without men around - he's surprisingly generous with his predictions, though he sells us short. I also liked the focus on love, and the discussions of esoteric philosophy, mandalas, Jungian psychology, and other fun avenues of exploration that make this book a very prescient one. It's like Philip Wylie could see the future - or maybe he just helped to write it.

  8. says:

    I read this book way back in the late 60's and had forgotten about it until my mother mentioned rereading it. The premise of the book caught my interest and I have to admit I couldn't remember any of the details so I read it again. What a difference a few decades make!

    I was shocked by the racism and sexism. The attitude that women and 'colored' people were so ill prepared to live in a world without men to tell them what to do was really disturbing. Especially since the book was written just after the end of WW II and it was apparent how much women and people of color contributed to many areas of life while the men were off fighting! I don't know why it didn't seem so shocking at my first reading of the book. Maybe because I was very young and just skimmed over those attitudes.

    The idea of the two genders living parallel lives is still intriguing, but overall the book was not a fun read.

    The book was written in 1951 as the world needed to come to grips with the realization that science through the atomic bomb had created a means to end all life on earth. Men were returning from war and resuming jobs, women had to vacate their war jobs and return to home-making... People may well have been in great turmoil. However, I felt the story was unnecessarily slow as the main male character engaged in endless philosophizing.

    The book is a harsh reminder of how quickly our daily lives could fall apart if disrupted in anyway whether through a natural disaster, terrorism, or disease. We are no better prepared to handle a national emergency now than they were in 1951. There is the lesson we all need to consider.

  9. says:

    This features a concept that was a lot more successfully employed in the comic book series Y the Last Man. One day at 4:05pm all the women disappear in the world. Though actually to the women all the men disappear. Then for four years the two sexes have to try to survive.

    Since this was written in 1951, there's a lot of misogyny involved. Basically while the men's world goes on somewhat normally (except for the brief nuclear war) the women end up on the brink of starvation with disease running rampant. This after much of the world burned down because there aren't women firefighters.

    Honestly, in a cataclysm most of us--men or women--would be pretty useless. I mean I have an accounting degree, so what good is that in the apocalypse? The same for lawyers, ad execs, etc etc. I was really disappointed too that at first Paula, the main character's wife, seems poised to lead the women but then decides she'd rather stay home and mend dresses. Because running the world is hard. [eye roll]

    In the middle of the book is a really boring philosophical essay that I had to eventually skip over for the sake of my sanity. Much of this is as dry as an essay. Overall it was pretty disappointing.

    That is all.

  10. says:

    A stunning example of speculative fiction. What if all the men disappeared from the world,leaving just the women ? What if the same thing happened to the men,with all the women disappearing from their world.The world seems to split into two alternate realities,one with just men remaining,and the other with just the women.In this novel from 1951,Philip Wylie explores the consequences of an event like that and uses this clever idea to examine the role of gender in society.His characters are well defined and come across as fully developed,not just mouthpieces for him to express his own opinions. He isn't afraid to look at issues that would have been highly controversial in the early fifties,such as homosexuality and gender discrimination.Highly recommended. If you enjoyed this look out for the short stories of James Tiptree Jr,Theodore Sturgeon's Venus Plus X and Brian K Vaughn's ,Y:The Last Man series of graphic novels.All of these explore similar gender related issues.

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