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The Mind's Isle

Imaginary Islands in English Fiction

Adrian Kempton

Taking as its point of departure The Odyssey, Plato’s account of Atlantis and The Voyages of Sindbad the Sailor, this book examines the profound influence of these works on the development of island fiction as a genre specific to English literature. Close readings of island fictions from the past four centuries reveal the many ways in which they adapt, rewrite and refer back to these foundational texts, forming an important and intriguing literary tradition. Examples of the genre include such universal classics as Utopia, The Tempest, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels, Treasure Island and Lord of the Flies.

Islands have always attracted travellers, writers and dreamers. This book leads the reader on a voyage of exploration to understand exactly what lies behind the island’s powerful appeal to the literary imagination. Along the way, it explores the cultural and historical background to Britain’s island status and its legacy of colonialism and imperialism.

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Chapter 2: Blueprints for perfect societies: Utopia, Bacon and Neville

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← 62 | 63 →

CHAPTER 2

Blueprints for perfect societies: Utopia, Bacon and Neville

John Pilger’s award-winning 2013 documentary film Utopia concerns the Northern Territory of Australia, the least developed part of the continent and home to the indigenous aborigines who first peopled it. In the context of the history of racism and apartheid in Australia, the title, referring to the name of an actual location some 120 miles north-east of Alice Springs, is intended ironically.1 For ‘utopia’ has come to refer to any real or imaginary place believed to be ideal or perfect.

As a literary subgenre, utopian fictions can be subdivided into three main varieties: the account of an ideal country or state as existing now or in the future (Huxley’s Island); the satirical utopia, in which the description of a newly discovered land is used primarily as a means of criticizing one’s native country (Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels); and the dystopia, generally set in a science fiction future world of totalitarian state control. What the great classics of this third category reveal – Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (1920), Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), George Orwell’s 1984 (1949, written on the Scottish island of Jura) and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953) – is that there may be little to differentiate the three categories of utopian fiction, and that utopian dreams can easily be transformed into dystopian nightmares. ← 63 | 64 →

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