One summer morning, Aurora Rodriguez slipped into her 18-year-old daughter Hildegard’s bedroom and stood over her, the revolver she carried to protect her from the hunting men. Slowly and carefully, he shot the sleeping girl three times in the head and once in the heart. He then left the house and went to a lawyer’s house next door, waking him up to confess to the murder.
Killing her child was the last desperate resort of a loving mother, she said, and claimed it was the only way to save Hildegard from being kidnapped by the novelist HG Wells – who she was sure was working for the British Secret Service.
After giving birth to the girl, conceived through a sperm donor with the eugenic goal of creating a superhuman ‘model woman of the future’, Aurora believed she had the right to take the life she had so carefully crafted.
His daughter was, in fact, a child prodigy, who wrote two books as a teenager, gaining international fame as a campaigner for women’s rights and sexual freedom. But this was not enough for his mother, who in her judgment was like the figure of Dr. Frankenstein, frustrated at not producing the ‘perfect child’.
This tragic story, associated with the chilling theory of eugenics that was fashionable among early 20th-century writers and thinkers that ‘good breeding’ could eliminate undesirable traits, is little known in Britain. However, it has been legendary for 90 years in Spain, where Hildegard is known as the Red Virgin. Now, more viewers will be introduced to her life as she is the subject of an Amazon TV drama starring Najwa Nimri and Alba Planas.
In Spain, Hildegard Rodriguez (pictured) is known as the Red Virgin. At age 18, he was shot three times in the head and once in the heart
Aurora Rodríguez was born in 1879, the daughter of a prominent liberal politician and Freemason in Madrid. At age 16, his older sister gave birth to a son, Pepito, who soon demonstrated a gift for music. At his father’s request, Arora took charge of the child’s education, drilling him in piano practice for hours every day.
This went on for three years, until his sister claimed her younger son back. Aurora was furious, accusing her family of exploiting the boy’s talent.
Deprived of this humanitarian project, he decided to start one of his own. He had no desire to marry: thoughts of sex haunted him. As a feminist and socialist, she considered sex as a strategy to enslave women and reduce them to the level of breeding stock. But at age 30, she decided she was willing to have sex for as long as it took to get pregnant.
He needed a partner who met the criteria of his education and social class, who would agree to a physical relationship without any emotional attachment, and who could be trusted to claim paternity as the biological father.
Finally, he chose Albert Pallas Montseni, a military chaplain. As soon as she was sure that she was expecting a child, she cut off all contact with Palla.
For nine months she followed a strict regimen to ensure the health of the fetus, bathing twice a day and waking every hour during the night to commit to a pseudo-scientific ritual of changing positions.
On December 9, 1914, Aurora gave birth to a daughter and named her Hildegard. She claimed the name meant ‘Garden of Knowledge’ and started schooling the child. His goal, he later declared, was ‘the most perfect woman who was the measure and ultimate redeemer of humanity’. Hildgart once explained to the English sexologist Havelock Ellis: ‘I was a eugenic child.’
Eugenics was a term coined by explorer and anthropologist Francis Galton, cousin of evolutionist Charles Darwin. He developed a twisted theory of natural selection for humans.
Najwa Nimri, left, and Alba Planas star as Aurora and Hildegard in the new Amazon drama
By ranking people according to class and race, Galton taught that the so-called lower orders must be subject to strict selection. A few of the best specimens of that race may be allowed to become parents alone, and not many of their offspring are allowed to live. If a higher caste is substituted for a lower one, all these terrible miseries are removed.
Her views were accepted not only by the Nazis, but also by many suffragettes who were keen to see birth control and abortion legalized and readily available.
Marie Stopes, now considered a pioneer of family planning, was an ardent eugenicist. Interracial marriage should be outlawed, he believed, calling for the sterilization of the ‘haplessly rotten and racially diseased’.
Her views are now considered so repugnant that in 2020 the charity Marie Stopes International hid her name behind an acronym, becoming MSI Reproductive Choice.
When Hildegart was 11 months old, she knew her alphabet and could trace letters on blocks of wood. At two he was reading, at three he could hold a pen and write a letter, and at four he could type and play the piano.
By the age of ten he spoke German, French, English, Italian, Portuguese and Latin in addition to Spanish. He started university at the age of 13. Aurora also taught him about reproduction, although sex education was banned in Spain at the time.
‘I remember,’ writes Hildegart, ‘when I was about three years old, I learned that the rose was a hermaphrodite. At that time, one of our maids was named Rosa, and that very day I ran to her and said: “Rosa, you are a hermaphrodite!”
‘He asked what it was, and when I intelligently explained that it meant being male and female at the same time, there was, as you can imagine, a scene.’
Shocking story: Aurora Rodriguez said the only way to save Hildegard from being kidnapped by novelist HG Wells was to kill her child (pictured)
Although he was taught about sex, his upbringing lacked affection. Aurora was proud that Hildegard had no friends her own age and no other adults played any significant role in her childhood. He almost never hugged.
When she was 11, Hildegard Rodriguez pioneered the feminist cause of sexual liberation.
He lectured to packed audiences, preaching that women would never be free until they could have sex outside of marriage like men without fear of pregnancy. Before the age of 16, while studying for her law degree, she published two books, Sex and Love and The Sexual Rebellion of Youth, as well as three pamphlets on the subject.
Such views were offensive in Catholic Spain but Hildegard was able to speak them because she was clearly an innocent.
At the same time, he became an ardent socialist. This combination earned her the sobriquet of the Red Virgin. In 1930 he wrote to Havelock Ellis. His books on sexual psychology were so controversial that they could not be printed or sold in Britain. Most notorious was Sexual Inversion – a sympathetic study of male homosexuality among the professional class.
Another, Auto-Eroticism, dealt with masturbation, and a third, The Erotic Rights of Women, argued that men did not have a monopoly on sexual pleasure. Havelock Ellis, then 71, was infiltrated by Hildgart, as she approved of his left-wing politics. He went to hear his speech and reported that he received a five-minute standing ovation.
She also contacted Dorothy Sanger, America’s leading advocate for birth control, asking for help in obtaining educational materials and contraception.
‘My mother has read your book, My Fight for Birth Control, many times,’ he wrote, ‘and I send you her warmest wishes.’
At his trial, Aurora tried to justify the murder, saying: ‘The sculptor, having discovered the smallest imperfection in his work, destroys it’.
Aurora kept close control over her precocious daughter, joining her on stage and insisting that they both dress in head-to-toe black to discourage lecherous men. But he couldn’t promote Hildegard as a public icon and set her apart from her favorite suitors. One was the Catalan lawyer Antonio Villena. Another was the socialist writer Abel Velilla, whose attentions worried Aurora so much that she ordered him to keep his distance.
By 1932, when Hildegard was 17, Spain had deposed its king and become a republic. A fascist opposition was developing with Nationalist General Francisco Franco gaining influence.
At the same time, Hildegard began to form her own opinions instead of reciting the words taught to her by her mother. He expressed doubts about communism, was Marx wrong? which has drawn death threats from left-wing extremists.
The final crisis occurred when Havelock introduced Alice Hildgart to the novelist HG Wells, whose prophetic writings (including The War of the Worlds) advised mankind to mend its ways. The couple exchanged letters and the then 66-year-old ardent socialist invited the teenager to travel to England to work with him. But as a shameless woman, it is unlikely that her interest in him was purely political.
Hildegard refused, but her mother was convinced that the two Englishmen would reward her daughter. He suspected them of being British secret agents – a ridiculous accusation, but no more crazy than Aurora’s other ideas.
In May 1933, he kept Hildegard under house arrest, even disconnecting the telephone.
He was also reeling from the discovery that, far from being a genetically pure father, Pallas was a promiscuous rapist who had sexually assaulted his own niece.
By the perverse logic of eugenics, Aurora was not created a ‘perfect girl’ but a monster who had to die.
At his trial, Aurora tried to justify the murder, saying: ‘The sculptor, having discovered the smallest imperfection in his work, destroys it.’
Havelock Ellis was horrified by the murder. He called her Saint Hildegard and ‘a miracle’.
Julian Vadillo, professor of contemporary history at Madrid’s Carlos III University, said: ‘Hildegart’s murder was like an earthquake. ‘Her death means the end of the greatest hope of Spanish feminism.’
Arora was in jail for 26 years. At first, he tried to continue his socialist mission by campaigning for the formation of a trade union for prisoners. But his delusions consumed him. In the late 1930s, during the Spanish Civil War, she developed schizophrenia and was transferred to Madrid’s Simpozuelas mental hospital, run by nuns.
In 1948, aged 69, she wrote to the Mother Superior for parole: ‘I have been here 15 years. I am old and rarely get visitors.’ The pardon was refused and seven years later, he died of cancer.
To occupy himself at the shelter, he made rag dolls. The nuns didn’t let him stay.
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