I read Dune several years ago, and this has always bothered me. Jessica's decision to bear a male child was such a big deal amongst the Bene Gesserit that they call it 'The Jessica Crime'.

However I don't understand why it was such a serious issue. Jessica could always have a daughter later, preventing the breeding program from failing after generations of work. Furthermore, the Bene Gesserit didn't expect Paul to be the Kwisatz Haderach so there was no need for them to worry about him turning into an uncontrollable, powerful being.

  • Question that just came to mind: How much more did you read? JUST Dune - the first book? Some of these questions, I think, don't get really answered until at-least a few books in. Especially when you tie in the additional books (Prequels, Heroes, etc). Just like you don't know Why computers are banned if you only read the first book or two.
    – WernerCD
    Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 14:42
  • I read till God Emperor of Dune, and three of the prequels. Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 16:03
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    Well she did have a daughter. problem was, Alia was an Abomination.
    – user35971
    Commented Dec 26, 2014 at 3:11

7 Answers 7


The Bene Gesserit did not order Jessica to bear "a" daughter, but to bear "only" daughters. Gaius Mohiam tells Jessica; "You were ordered to only bear daughters for the Atreides."

There are several reasons for this: a male born just one generation out from the BG's target for the Kwisatz Haderach was a potential wild-card, much as Count Fenring had himself been a somewhat dangerous mutation along the path to the Kwisatz Haderach; redundancy, as the more female Atreides children to carry the bloodline the more options the BG had for mating with Feyd-Rautha, or simply preserving the genes if their breeding programme did not work out; and politics, as the BG openly admitted to Jessica that they wished to marry an Atreides daughter to a male Harkonnen to "seal the breach."

A male child jeopardises all of this.

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    Yes. I would add that the BG were control freaks of the highest degree. They regard discipline as a key virtue, and it enabled them to survive and maintain their breeding program for millennia. So disobedience was extremely rare, and it was shocking to them when it occurred. Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 9:30
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    Indeed, especially for one as highly-regarded as Jessica. To bring some material from the nuDune books into it, Mohiam stated that Jessica would make a fine Reverend Mother some day. For her to openly disobey the Sisterhood in such flagrant fashion must have been the Bene Gesserit equivalent Barack Obama releasing a sex tape with Sarah Palin. Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 9:44
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    Ewwww. But I think you're understating the shock value of what Jessica did. It's more like the Pope announcing he's a gay atheist and then marrying another man. Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 9:50
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    Hang on, the current Pope isn't a gay atheist? Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 9:54
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    Maybe. But on the other hand, daughters would be valuable for sealing marriage alliances with other noble houses, or as additional heirs if something happened to Paul. They might even have made Leto happy. I think Jessica's unwillingness to have more children might have been more to do with her (borderline-creepy) fixation on Paul. He was her special child, destined for great things, and Jessica didn't want any distractions during his childhood. (Re. the Pope -- not when I last checked, although he may just be biding his time before coming out.) Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 10:01

The BG used computers to generate a breeding program. This programs main goal was to create the pinnacle of humanity: a Male Wizard - the Kwisatz Haderach. He would be Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother, Mentat, and Guild Navigator, all in one being. - and just as or more importantly - under the control of the BG.

IIRC, Jessica wasn't "in the know" about the breeding program when she made her mistake. she didn't know what was at stake - a thousand years of careful planning and the ultimate goal in her daughter and then her grand-son. She thought, as you, what's wrong with a son? I can always have a daughter later.. and it's for the man I love.

The "crime" was what caused the BG to lose control of not only the KH, but also lose control of the breeding program for 3500 years.

Additionally, the program would have sealed a thousand year blood feud between the Atreides and Harkonnens.

All of this ruined because of love...


The term originated from the Bene Gesserit's prescient powers, and their inability to venture into a specific region of prescient knowledge. This region, though mysterious in nature, was known to be unattainable to females. Specifically, the spice melange allowed the Bene Gesserit to unlock genetic memory, but only on the female side. For reasons unknown, they could not see into the male side, and the very thought of trying was terrifying to them. Further, melange also exposed the Sisterhood (and others) to a very limited form of prescience - thoughts, feelings, images into the very near future, but no more.

Bene Gesserit Attempt to Create the Kwisatz Haderach

The Bene Gesserit desire to uncover this knowledge and its associated powers drove them to initiate a long-running genetic breeding program that would yield a male with mental powers capable of bridging space and time, and that he would be under direct control of the Sisterhood. The Bene Gesserit knew that, not only would their Kwisatz Haderach possess Other Memory on both the male and female side, but that he would be able to predict the future precisely. He would be Bene Gesserit Reverend Mother, Mentat, and Guild Navigator, all in one being.

After the emergence of this male - Paul Atreides - the term Kwisatz Haderach was also understood as meaning "one who can be many places at once", and became synonymous with Paul. In time it also came to encompass his sister, Alia Atreides, and his son Leto Atreides II, since they all had similar abilities.

The initial Bene Gesserit plan was to breed the daughter of Duke Leto Atreides to a Harkonnen male, which would produce the Kwisatz Haderach. This was to be the culmination of more than 10,000 years of careful breeding. This plan would have seen the end of the centuries-old feud between the Great Houses Atreides and Harkonnen, and placed a prescient, Bene Gesserit-controlled male on the Golden Lion Throne, the Kwisatz Haderach. However, because of her love for Duke Leto, the Lady Jessica disobeyed her fellow Bene Gesserit and gave birth to a son instead of a daughter, to give him an heir, Paul.

It seemed fairly certain from early in Paul's life that he would in fact be the Kwisatz Haderach, since he showed an ability to see into the future. It was when he was fifteen years of age that the Bene Gesserit sent a Reverend Mother to test Paul's prescience and his training in the Bene Gesserit ways. This event appeared to be a significant catalyst for the events that would befall the universe for the next several thousand years, since Paul's testing with the Gom Jabbar, as well as the Sisterhood's silent complicity in his father's death, proved to instill significant negativity in Paul against the Sisterhood. As a result, when he reached young adulthood, and ascended to the Golden Lion Throne, he vowed that he would never be under the control of the Sisterhood. As a result, the Sisterhood lost control of their breeding program, their Kwisatz Haderach, and the possibility of placing a Bene Gesserit on the throne.

  • The Kwisatz Haderach would be a guild navigator? Also, I wouldn’t know any source for Jessica not knowing she was involved in the breeding program.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 7:38
  • Jessica didn't realise she was supposed to be the grandmother of the Kwisatz Haderach, but she knew full-well she was part of the breeding programme. Also, all that was believed capable by the Kwisatz Haderach was that he would be capable of dealing in "higher-order dimensions." While Guild Navigators could do this, so could Bene Gesserit (while Mentats could not), and there were other sensitives who also had some abilities in the area, so there was absolutely no reason to believe the KH would have Navigator abilities. Remember, that wasn't just prescience, it was very advanced mathematics. Commented Mar 21, 2014 at 10:05
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    I"ve been re-reading Dune, and there is a point at which Paul considers joining the Guild and believes it to be one of a few possible futures where he and his mother can survive the Harkonnen/ Sardaukar attack. He discards this option, however, on the grounds that while his "strangeness" would be treated "as something of value," he would have to become a Navigator. This implies that Paul's abilities, while great, are not equal to those of a Guild Navigator; at least, not without living in the same spice-saturated atmosphere and undergoing the same mutations. Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 5:24
  • @JamesSheridan 1) You're probably right about her knowing of the program but not her place in it. 2) I think the point is he is able to do it, even if he's less capable without going through the transformation. I've only gone through the entire series once (and before that, parts of the series a LONG time ago). I don't remember him dealing with Navigation and relied more on the KH wiki than memory because it sounds "right" for those parts. I'll probably reread (er... listen to via Audio Books) in the near future. Love Dune.
    – WernerCD
    Commented Mar 25, 2014 at 14:15

The point is that there are no possible excuses why she'd have a male child - the child's gender (as a BG) was completely within her control; she knew the duty/order, and she intentionally disobeyed.

This raises risks for the breeding program (say, the intended father can very well become unavailable/killed), and also sends a dangerous message to other BG's, that disobeying is possible - so it needs to be made an example of. Putting her wishes and love above the breeding program is a crime/sin by itself. The other cases of such refusals, IIRC, resulted in that person being forced to do it.

Even simply not having that child while having a possibility would also be completely unacceptable - according to BG, having that daughter is the only reason for her existence and more important than her wellbeing or her wishes or her survival.


I've wondered about this myself many times over the years. Thinking about it, and reading these thoughtful replies, I've come to one conclusion which doesn't seem quite so explicitly stated: Paul is not exactly what they envisioned the KH would be like. Having, god help me, read through God-Emperor of Dune, I would suspect that Leto was something closer to what they had in mind. Minus the worm body. At least, I don't seem to recall earlier books really delving into Paul's ability to examine the past so much as the future, while Leto was able to delve into the past. Although I don't remember if Leto was prescient. But with his body of knowledge to draw upon, in addition to his own intelligence, he could more or less predict what would happen.


They were not only looking for someone with power but with the political influence need to become emperor. If you read carefully, they also have a deal to put a BG on the throne as a wife of an emperor. Jessica's daughter and Fade-Raltha were supposed to have a son (KH) and marry into the royal family and give the BG full power over all.


The Bene Gessirit put a lot of thought and work into their breeding program. Any member that decided for themselves to depart from the plan would be committing a huge sin, particularly one that was never estimated to be a candidate for reverend mother status. (This is said explicitly in Dune as a huge underestimation of lady Jessica by the sisterhood) Female Atriades could be wed to the Harkonnen heir and end the feud and combine the houses into one. This is how Paul accended to emperor, marrying the sonless emperor’s eldest daughter. Paul’s existence makes this impossible as he will be heir and the houses cannot be combined if they both have male heirs. A daughter becomes a much less attractive bargaining chip if she does not bring the house along with her. Further, a daughter cannot be a Kwizat Haderach. A son creates a risk of an unexpected Kwizat Haderach that the sisterhood may not be able to control, as that is what happened. A daughter that is the lady of the new joint Atraides/Harkonnen house that the sisterhood expects to be able to conceive the Kwizat Haderach is much more likely to be able to control said son.


We're not told what the mortality rate of pregnancy is in the Dune universe, but in our modern society, it's higher than you might think. The human body is a vast series of compromises and, as a result, we have some fairly difficult births and a bad one can lead to death and infertility. Thus, pregnancy that does not directly impact their goal is a risk with no benefit from the perspective of the BG.

I also wonder if perhaps there's a more old-fashioned idea of "taint" going on. Did you know that, within dog-breeding, a female dog is no longer considered to be pure-bred if she's had sex with a dog outside her breed? Similarly, there have been longstanding beliefs in human culture that having sex outside of the proscribed manners and partners can cause longstanding changes. It's almost a Lamarckian belief, but it does persist. Wouldn't surprise me horribly if the BG hold onto a few irrational beliefs such as that.

  • They do hold onto the belief that only offspring produced by intercourse is desirable; sperm donations or artificial wombs - such as those used by the Tleilaxu - are considered obscenities. This is likely partly due to the Bene Gesserit's belief that the Tleilaxu have backed themselves into a genetic dead-end, but that can't be all there is to it, seeing as how it should be relatively easy to avoid the Tleilaxu's mistakes. And seeing how the Tleilaxu themselves bred their own Kwisatz Haderach in far less time than the BG did, there are obvious advantages to the process, viewed dispassionately. Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 12:03
  • @JamesSheridan I've always been under the impression that the BG were mortified of the very idea of a KH and the reason for barring Jessica from bearing sons was that they had calculated in advance that her son would likely turn out to be a KH.
    – jwenting
    Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 13:18
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    @jwenting: That makes absolutely no sense. THe Bene Gesserit breeding programme was deliberately geared towards the creation of a Kwisatz Haderach. It was only after Muad'dib proved that a KH would be beyond BG abilities to control - not to mention dangerous - that they began actively avoiding the creation of a KH, to the point of flat-out killing men that showed the potential, if the hints in Heretics of Dune are taken at face value. Commented Mar 20, 2014 at 13:50

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