Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Political Fantasy and Speculative Fictions

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Political Fantasy and Speculative Fictions

Article excerpt

Kate Macdonald, general ed. Political Future Fiction: Speculative and Counter-Factual Politics in Edwardian Fiction. 3 vols. London: Pickering & Chatto, 2013. Hardback. ISBN 9781848933484. 275 [pounds sterling]/$495.

Volume 1. The Empire of the Future. Richard Bleiler, ed. (Samuel Barton. The Battle of the Swash and the Capture of Canada. 1888; and Robert Cole. The Struggle for Empire: A Story of the Year 2236. 1900). xxxiv + 254 pp.

Volume 2. Fictions of a Feminist Future. Kate Macdonald, ed. (Allan Reeth. Legions of the Dawn. 1908; and Una L Silberrad, The Affairs of John Bolsover. 1911.) xvi + 305 pp.

Volume 3. Speculative Fiction and Imperialism in Africa. Stephen Donovan, ed. (Joseph Conrad, and Ford Madox Hueffer. The Inheritors. 1901; and John Buchan, A Lodge in the Wilderness. 1906). xxxviii + 340 pp.

Strictly speaking, the Edwardian Age extended from the death of Queen Victoria in January 1901 until the death of Edward VII in May 1910; more loosely, the term is applied to the first decade of the twentieth century. If we are feeling particularly generous we might stretch the term out until the start of World War I. Politically, it was a period marked by a gradual liberation from the narrowest social and moral strictures of the Victorian Age, increased agitation for women's rights, and a slow improvement in the lot and the aspirations of the working and lower middle classes. All of which are recognizable in the work of such archetypal Edwardian novelists as Arnold Bennett in Anna of the Five Towns (1902) or H. G. Wells in Kipps (1905), Ann Veronica (1909), and The History of Mr Polly (1910). How such ideas and developments translate into the six novels collected here as part of Pickering & Chatto's Political Future Fiction: Speculative and Counter-Factual Politics in Edwardian Fiction is, of course, open to question. We might, for instance, accept that five of the six do count as Edwardian, with a little fudging around the edges, though a work from 1888 clearly does not. But then, there is little consistency in what these three volumes contain. Five of the books are British, one is American. Three books are unequivocally set in the future (though in one case a future indistinguishable from the author's present), but two are contemporary and one is set in the recent past. They are all political, though in very different ways; but all fiction is, to some degree or other, political. I'm not even totally convinced that they are all fiction; John Buchan's novel is a polemical argument with a light dusting of fiction to make it palatable.

The editors of the individual volumes all make ritual remarks about how underrated these novels were in their own day, and how they deserve to be better known today. As Bleiler says about Cole's The Struggle for Empire, it was "one of the myriad books that not only failed to change the world, but also failed to attract a contemporary audience" (107), which he seems to consider bewildering. Yet Cole's novel, along with that by Reeth in particular would, I am sure, have been seen at the time as poorly written and clumsily constructed, full of enthusiasm but no great skill (this was, let us not forget, the period when writers as varied as Rudyard Kipling, Henry James, and John Galsworthy were producing some of their most popular work). On the other hand, several were widely read; for example, Buchan's A Lodge in the Wilderness (1906) went through multiple impressions right up to the 1940s. And it is difficult to argue that The Inheritors (1901) by Joseph Conrad and Ford M. Hueffer (before he changed his name to Ford Madox Ford) is forgotten when it was republished by Liverpool University Press as recently as 1999, and a critical edition is due from Cambridge University Press in 2014.

Given all that, it is hard to identify any single coherent thread other than the sort of vague political impetus that might have been found in just about any novel of the period that binds these various works together. …

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