Dreams and Visions: A Study of American Utopias, 1865-1917

Dreams and Visions: A Study of American Utopias, 1865-1917

Dreams and Visions: A Study of American Utopias, 1865-1917

Dreams and Visions: A Study of American Utopias, 1865-1917

Synopsis

Charles J. Rooney offers an analysis and descriptive bibliography of American utopian fiction between 1865 and 1917, the most productive period in the history of this genre. Rooney explores the history and sources of utopian writing in America, as reflected in the attitudes and values of the utopian writers, the problems they were most concerned with, and the types of solutions they offered. A quantitative analysis of the 106 works he identified as utopian reveals that utopian authors were most concerned with the increasing disparity between rich and poor. Rooney points out that although no one section of the country monopolized the output of utopian writing, the backgrounds of the authors were surprisingly similar. He finds that the solutions they proposed reflected their values and intellectual heritage as well as their political, economic, and social expectations of American society.

Excerpt

The word utopia has become unpopular lately. the increasing cynicism of our time, with its dystopias, anti-utopias, science fiction, and the visionary extremes of a nightmarish Marxism-- all have produced an antipathy to the dreamer and visionary. Yet, the nuclear age has produced a tentativeness about the future. More and more we are questioning the direction of history. We are in a period of historical change; and, when the old and new meet, history has shown revolution and war to be inevitable. We can no longer afford this alternative. Some kind of intelligent plan, a reasonable model, is needed for the advent of the twenty-first century. Such a plan, before it becomes a reality, is nothing less than a utopia--a mental picture of a "good place" to live and be. Even our process-oriented culture needs a model to evaluate its progress; a means always needs an end. Today, these mental pictures of the good life are no less important than those of the later half of the nineteenth century, for we need the encouragement of knowing that the seemingly idle dreams of that time have become, for the most part, an unassuming segment of our daily lives.

Even so, until twenty years ago, few people, including historians or literary scholars, were aware of the full extent of utopian writing. Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward seemed to be the sole reference point. By 1947, Vernon L. Parrington, Jr.'s, book had increased the list of writers to a couple of dozen, but the extent and range of these authors was not truly known until an odd and fortuitous event in 1961.

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