BEHAVE

Andromeda Romano-Lax

From the author of The Spanish Bow comes a lush, harrowing novel based on the real life story of Rosalie Rayner Watson, one of the most controversial scientists—and mothers—of the 20th century.

“The mother begins to destroy the child the moment it’s born,” wrote the founder of behaviorist psychology, John B. Watson, whose 1928 parenting guide was revered as the child-rearing bible. For their dangerous and “mawkish” impulses to kiss and hug their child, “most mothers should be indicted for psychological murder.”

Behave is the story of Rosalie Rayner,

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From the author of The Spanish Bow comes a lush, harrowing novel based on the real life story of Rosalie Rayner Watson, one of the most controversial scientists—and mothers—of the 20th century.

“The mother begins to destroy the child the moment it’s born,” wrote the founder of behaviorist psychology, John B. Watson, whose 1928 parenting guide was revered as the child-rearing bible. For their dangerous and “mawkish” impulses to kiss and hug their child, “most mothers should be indicted for psychological murder.”

Behave is the story of Rosalie Rayner, Watson’s ambitious young wife and the mother of two of his children.

In 1920, when she graduated from Vassar College, Rayner was ready to make her mark on the world. Intelligent, beautiful, and unflappable, she won a coveted research position at Johns Hopkins assisting the charismatic celebrity psychologist John B. Watson. Together, Watson and Rayner conducted controversial experiments on hundreds of babies to prove behaviorist principles. They also embarked on a scandalous affair that cost them both their jobs–and recast the sparkling young Rosalie Rayner, scientist and thinker, as Mrs. John Watson, wife and conflicted, maligned mother, just another “woman behind a great man.”

With Behave, Andromeda Romano-Lax offers a provocative fictional biography of Rosalie Rayner Watson, a woman whose work influenced generations of Americans, and whose legacy has been lost in the shadow of her husband’s. In turns moving and horrifying, Behave is a richly nuanced and disturbing novel about science, progress, love, marriage, motherhood, and what all those things cost a passionate, promising young woman.

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  • Soho Press
  • Paperback
  • February 2017
  • 416 Pages
  • 9781616958008

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$15.95

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About Andromeda Romano-Lax

Andromeda Romano-Lax is the author of The Spanish Bow, a New York Times Editors’ Choice that has been translated into 11 languages, and The Detour, as well as numerous works of nonfiction. She teaches in the low-residency MFA program at the University of Alaska Anchorage and is a co-founder of 49 Writers, a statewide literary organization. Recently, she has divided her time between Alaska, Mexico, and Asia.

Author Website

Praise

“Riveting.”—People Magazine

“Shocking and thought-provoking . . . The intimate struggles of a woman weighing her value, utility, and satisfaction both within and outside the home certainly resonate today.”—The Boston Globe

“This novel suggests the pain of wanting, and failing, to behave.”—The New York Times Book Review

“A novel to be savored and shared.”—Shelf Awareness

Discussion Questions

1. On page 53, Rosalie’s father asserts (in reference to eugenics) that “scientists are misusing what they don’t understand to divide humanity up all over again.” Does John’s scientific work go against this trend, or in a way does it also “divide humanity up”?

2. A number of times John claims that you have to avoid being “softhearted” or “sentimental” to be a scientist. What scenarios does Behave present to support and challenge this notion? Does it suggest that detachment actually is necessary for effective sci- entific research? To what extent?

3. Based on Rosalie’s descriptions of John and her explanations of his motives and behavior, did the events of his life encourage his behaviorist ideology? Why or why not?

4. On page 133, Annie comments that “Sometimes . . . I think the only way things change is on a whim.” Does Behave support this notion, or does it favor Rosalie and John’s idea of change com- ing from “logical, measured, reasoned decision”?

5. In what ways are Mary Watson and Rosalie depicted as sim-   ilar in Behave? In what ways are they depicted as opposites? What might Romano-Lax be suggesting through the connections between these characters?

6. Describe the role of female friendship in the novel. How does it affect the way Rosalie is portrayed?

7. What role does class play in Behave? How do John’s and Rosalie’s differing financial backgrounds affect their relationship?

8. What does the novel suggest about the professional and personal roles and issues of women in Jazz Age American society? Do any of the comments continue to resonate today?

9. Are John’s attitudes regarding gender roles (for examples, his claim on page 336 that “You’re my wife. That’s your That’s any worthwhile woman’s career”) consistent with his behaviorism? How do you account for his attitudes toward women?

10. Why do you think John chose “an abnormal baby for his most famous experiment” (377)? Do you think it undermines the results of his experiment? Do you think it undermines the rest of his work?

11. Why might, as Romano-Lax puts it, Rosalie Rayner Watson’s life have been “deemed not worth recording or not worth protecting from erasure by others” (385)? What are qualities that make a life more “noteworthy,” and why might this be the case? Have there been any recent changes in which lives are considered noteworthy?