In Dune, the Bene Gesserit breeding scheme is, in theory, to have come to full fruition from the union of an Atreides daughter (planned to be born of the Bene Gesserit Lady Jessica and the Duke Leto Atreides) and Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, nephew of the Baron Vladimir Harkonnen (himself secretly the natural father of the Lady Jessica). This plan is disrupted when Jessica chooses to conceive an Atreides son rather than the daughter she had been ordered to produce.

The Bene Gesserit are loyal only to themselves. To attain their goals and avoid outside interference, they often screen themselves with the illusion of being loyal to other groups or individuals. Their every move is calculated toward a result.

I would understand if Lady Jessica was secretive about her mission to produce a daughter given her training as a Bene Gesserit. Not telling her lover, Duke Leto I, that Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam wanted an Atreides daughter seems like a betrayal of her lover.

Lady Jessica

Did she know why the sisterhood expected her to produce a daughter?

And if she did know why, did anybody else in the Atreides household know?

  • 1
    I recall it being suggested later that lady Jessica jumped the gun. Her daughter was to produce the male Bene Gesserit, the kwisatz haderach. I get the impression that only the Bene Gesserit's highest officers knew this.
    – user15742
    Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 23:35

1 Answer 1


What did Jessica know?

Jessica was aware of both the need and reason for her to bear a daughter as well as the Bene Gesserit long-term goal of producing the Kwisatz Haderach from the Atreides bloodline.

“So I had a son!” Jessica flared. And she knew she was being goaded into this anger deliberately.
“You were told to bear only daughters to the Atreides.”
“It meant so much to him,” Jessica pleaded.
“And you in your pride thought you could produce the Kwisatz Haderach!”


Jessica was kept unaware that she was the daughter of the Baron Harkonnen, presumably so that she wouldn't have to lie to the Duke about her heritage and to forestall any objections she might have to her daughter being wed to so close a relative as the Baron's nephew.

He said: “But my mother tells me many Bene Gesserit of the schools don’t know their ancestry.”
“The genetic lines are always in our records,” she said. “Your mother knows that either she’s of Bene Gesserit descent or her stock was acceptable in itself.”
“Then why couldn’t she know who her parents are?”
“Some do . . . Many don’t. We might, for example, have wanted to breed her to a close relative to set up a dominant in some genetic trait. We have many reasons.”

What did the Duke and the other noble houses know?

Given the depths of the Duke's antipathy toward the Harkonnen, it's unlikely that he was aware or would have approved of the most visible part of the short-term plan (to marry an Atreides daughter to the Harkonnen heir) although he was a supremely pragmatic man and could, probably have been talked into it.

“No.” She shrugged. “There’s good political reason–as long as my Duke remains unmarried some of the Great Houses can still hope for alliance. And . . . ” She sighed. “

He, and his fellow nobles, was obviously entirely unaware of the very long-term (and very very secret) BG plan to breed a superhuman capable of transcending time and ruling the galaxy.

Because the Bene Gesserit operated for centuries behind the blind of a semi-mystic school while carrying on their selective breeding program among humans, we tend to award them with more status than they appear to deserve. Analysis of their “trial of fact” on the Arrakis Affair betrays the school’s profound ignorance of its own role

  • Which book is that last quote from? All others I recognize as from the first novel.
    – user15742
    Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 23:37
  • 2
    @fredsbend - It's from Dune, as are all of the quotes in this answer. This one, in particular, is from Appendix III: Report on Bene Gesserit which is why you might have missed it
    – Valorum
    Commented Mar 23, 2019 at 8:24

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