Sybil Neville-Rolfe (1885-1955): Background information when reading The Foundling

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The Foundling

A Novel

by Ann Leary

The Foundling by Ann Leary X
The Foundling by Ann Leary
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  • First Published:
    May 2022, 336 pages

    Apr 4, 2023, 336 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Grace Graham-Taylor
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About this Book

Sybil Neville-Rolfe (1885-1955)

This article relates to The Foundling

Sepia-toned portrait photo of Sybil Neville-Rolfe, turned at an angle and gazing away from the camera Dr. Agnes Vogel, The Foundling's complicated eugenicist arch-villain, has many real analogues in history. As the eugenics movement bloomed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, women played an instrumental role in how its ideas took shape. In Britain, Sybil Neville-Rolfe (née Sybil Burney) was the founder of the Eugenics Education Society, a project that sought to harness theories of biological evolution for its own vision of societal advancement. Neville-Rolfe's legacy is a dubious one; she aimed to eradicate poverty and took stances to protect and support women, but her racist, classist and homophobic beliefs led her to advocate for policies that were cruel and discriminatory. Many of her views are directly echoed by Dr. Vogel in Leary's novel.

Neville-Rolfe was born in Greenwich, England on the 22nd of June in 1885, to a family of good standing. At 16, she became interested in prostitution as a social problem, inspired by the writings of novelist and journalist ...

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