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The Spectre of Utopia

Utopian and Science Fictions at the "Fin de Siècle"


Matthew Beaumont

In the late nineteenth century, a spectre haunted Europe and the United States: the spectre of utopia. This book re-examines the rise of utopian thought at the fin de siècle, situating it in the social and political contradictions of the time and exploring the ways in which it articulated a deepening sense that the capitalist system might not be insuperable after all. The study pays particular attention to Edward Bellamy’s seminal utopian fiction, Looking Backward (1888), embedding it in a number of unfamiliar contexts, and reading its richest passages against the grain, but it also offers detailed discussions of William Morris, H.G. Wells and Oscar Wilde. Both historical and theoretical in its approach, this book constitutes a substantial contribution to our understanding of the utopian imaginary, and an original analysis of the counter-culture in which it thrived at the fin de siècle.


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Chapter 5The Bellamy Library: William Reeves and Radical Publishing 121


Chapter 5 The Bellamy Library: William Reeves and Radical Publishing Dreams are no longer summoned with closed eye, but in reading […]. The imaginary is not formed in opposition to reality as its denial or com- pensation; it grows among signs, from book to book, in the interstice of repetitions and commentaries; it is born and takes shape in the interval between books. It is a phenomenon of the library. — Michel Foucault, ‘Fantasia of the Library’ I Early in 1845, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels plotted to publish a series of books – ‘the best French and English works on the subject of Social Reform’ – which would help them to cement the political commitment of those ‘who yet cannot make up their minds to go the whole length of the Community system’.1 Marx sketched a plan for what he christened ‘The Library of the Best Foreign Socialist Writers’, compiling a catholic list of authors, from Bentham and Godwin to Owen, and from Babeuf to Saint-Simon and Fourier.2 Engels translated ‘A Fragment of Fourier’s on Trade’ as a first contribution to the Library. The project itself, which ran 1 Friedrich Engels, ‘Rapid Progress of Communism in Germany’, in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 4 (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1975), 241. 2 See Karl Marx, ‘Plan of the “Library of the Best Foreign Socialist Writers”’, in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 4, 667. 122 Chapter 5 into publishing dif ficulties, was however never realized. It remained a mere...

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