Narrating Utopia: Ideology, Gender, Form in Utopian Literature

Narrating Utopia: Ideology, Gender, Form in Utopian Literature

Narrating Utopia: Ideology, Gender, Form in Utopian Literature

Narrating Utopia: Ideology, Gender, Form in Utopian Literature

Synopsis

Utopian societies exhibit a variety of ways of organizing the financial, political and emotional relationships between people. For all this diversity, however, one thing that exhibits far less variation is the story, the framing narrative that accounts for how the narrator reaches the more perfect society and obtains the opportunity to witness its distinctive excellences. Narrating Utopia is about that story, the curious hybrid of the traveler's tale and the classical dialogue that emerges in the Renaissance, but whose outlines remain clearly apparent even in some of the most recent utopian writing. "...a well-written and worthy addition to the filed of utopian studies."--SFRA Review

Excerpt

This is a book not so much about utopia, as about the stories people tell about utopia. It does not set out to provide a survey of utopian thought (of which there are already a number of excellent studies), nor indeed an exhaustive history of utopian literature. Rather, its preoccupation is with the nature of utopian narrative—with that curious hybrid of the traveller's tale and the classical dialogue which emerges in the Renaissance, and whose outlines remain clearly apparent even in some of the most recent utopian writing.

Utopia itself, unsurprisingly, exhibits an enormous range of configurations. Embodying as it does social and political alternatives to the society of the writer's own time, its nature is obviously affected by numerous variables: the historical circumstances prevailing at the time and place of composition; the writer's gender and class background; psychological factors—variables which in turn give rise to a bewildering assortment of imagined social structures. Utopian society may be centralized and regimented, or anarchic and diverse; it may be religious, or secular; there may be free love, or rigid control of sexuality; the family may be central to its operation, or abolished altogether. Some utopias have detailed provisions for the division and distribution of wealth and possessions, while in others money and private property have been done away with. In terms of its extent, utopia may be confined to a remote island, or embrace the entire globe. Yet for all this diversity, one thing that exhibits far less variation—at least so far as literary utopias are concerned— is the story, the framing narrative which accounts for how the narrator or central character reaches the more perfect society and obtains the opportunity to witness its distinctive excellences. This study sets out to examine the nature of that story, and its relation to the social structures that utopia depicts.

Given that a central premise of utopian fiction is that the world could be changed for the better—that it might be possible to create a society preferable to that which exists—it is understandable that the first concern of many readers is with the nature of that society. How does it work? Would it work? If it worked, would it be desirable—and if so, for whom? Beyond that, however, arises the further question of the purpose served by the representation of such a society. What function does the imagining of utopian alternatives serve? What is the effect on the reader? Is the purpose of utopian fiction narrowly didactic, aimed at securing the reader's assent . . .

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