Marguerite Corporaal and Evert Jan Van Leeuwen (Eds.). 2010. the Literary Utopias of Cultural Communities, 1790-1910

By Gomez-Galisteo, M. Carmen | European English Messenger, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

Marguerite Corporaal and Evert Jan Van Leeuwen (Eds.). 2010. the Literary Utopias of Cultural Communities, 1790-1910


Gomez-Galisteo, M. Carmen, European English Messenger


Marguerite Corporaal and Evert Jan van Leeuwen (eds.). 2010. The Literary Utopias of Cultural Communities, 1790-1910. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi.

As Peter Liebregts mentions in the foreword to this volume, literary utopias existed long before More's Utopia was written, yet the term he coined came to be the name for idealized, perfect societies. Over the centuries, literary utopias have proven a useful space for writers' imaginations to roam freely. The discovery of America, a utopian place in itself, seemed to both confirm and put an end to utopias. America was the place where ideas that were once considered unrealizable could now be put to the test: perhaps there was no longer any need to write about other, better worlds if one had just been discovered. Divided into fourteen chapters, a foreword and an afterword, this volume shows that utopian literature did continue to be written and published.

In the first essay, C. C. Barfoot uses the figure of Joseph Johnson to bring attention to the often overlooked but essential role of publishers. As a publisher and/or friend of William Blake, William Godwin, Thomas Paine and Mary Wollstonecraft, Johnson became a patron of these authors as well as of the society known as 'The Lunar Men'. Bryan Waterman uses 'The Friendly Club' and Alcuin to illustrate the contemporary concern of whether sincere talk between the sexes was possible or if gallantry and delicacy forbade it. According to these ideas, men were to teach women through conversation, which caused much speculation when men were seen too often with single women. Evert Jan van Leeuwen analyzes the influence of Edward Bulwer Lytton and Godwin on Edgar Allan Poe in that the three men envisioned a better society where intellectual improvement was to be attained and the popular fiction writer was to instruct society through his writings.

Marilyn Michaud interprets the short-lived Brook Farm (1841-1847) as an example of pessimism in 1820s America as to how the Republic was unfolding. However, rather than a radical departure, with its emphasis on righteous citizens, Republican virtue, equality based on personal independence (i.e., individual property), an agrarian society, and emphasis on education, "the ideological goals of the Brook Farm community were, in many ways, profoundly traditional. [...] a return to republican ideology as the basis for social and personal improvement" (69). In "Utopian Waste at Brook Farm, Fruitlands and Walden Pond", Richard Francis sees waste as the opposite of utopia and analyzes it in these three communities. Because utopias can never be fully realized in the real world, they can only exist in books. This is not to diminish their role in inspiring thinkers and idealists, for "literary utopias do not simply record the utopian impulse--they enact it" (92). Teresa Requena Pelegri examines Hawthorne's criticisms of Transcendentalism in his stories "The Celestial Railroad," "Earth's Holocaust," "The Old Manse," or "The Minister's Black Veil." Hawthorne, who lived in Concord, the birthplace of Transcendentalism, and also at Brook Farm for eight months, had no absolute faith in human goodness and disagreed with many Transcendentalist tenets, as shown in his fiction.

Daniel Ogden explains Thoreau's fierce advocacy for individualism, urging people to "front" "the essential facts of life" and to act "extra-vagantly" (defying conventionalism). …

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