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The Shape of Utopia

Studies in a Literary Genre


Phillip E. Wegner

Upon its original publication in 1970, Robert C. Elliott’s The Shape of Utopia influenced both some of the major scholars of an emerging utopian and science fiction studies, including Darko Suvin, Louis Marin and Fredric Jameson, and authors of new utopian fiction ranging from Ursula K. Le Guin to Kim Stanley Robinson. The book establishes a deep genetic link between utopia and satire, and offers scintillating readings of classic works by Thomas More, Jonathan Swift, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Aldous Huxley and others. It charts the rise of an insidious «fear of utopia» that comes to characterize the first half of the twentieth century and investigates some of the aesthetic problems raised by the efforts to portray a utopian society, before concluding with brilliant speculations on the emerging practice of «anti-anti-utopia» – the reinvention of utopia for contemporary times. This Ralahine Classics edition also includes a new introduction by Phillip E. Wegner which situates the book in its context and argues for its continued significance today; a 1971 review of the book by the late author of utopian science fiction, Joanna Russ; and an opening tribute by one of Elliott’s former students, Kim Stanley Robinson.


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The republication of Robert C. Elliott’s contribution to utopian studies scholarship would not have been possible without the support of Tom Moylan: he remains as much a visionary in the world of publishing as he has been in his scholarship, teaching, and administrative leadership. I would also like to thank the editors at the University of Chicago Press and College English for allowing us to reprint Elliott’s book and the origi- nal review essay by Joanna Russ. Tom’s co-editor at the Ralahine series, Michael Grif fin, of fered some invaluable comments on the manuscript, as did the audience at the Society for Utopian Studies conference where I first presented parts of the introduction. Our deepest thanks go to Kim Stanley Robinson for taking the time to share some of his memories of Robert C. Elliott as a teacher. The passionate and engaged students in my fall 2010 graduate seminar helped me appreciate in new ways the subtleties of Elliott’s argument. Christabel Scaife has been a wonderfully helpful, and extraordinarily patient, editor throughout this process—I look forward to having the opportunity to continue to work with her in the coming years. Three research assistants at the University of Florida—Jordan Youngblood, Sarah Traphagen, and Andrea Kraf ft—did an exceptional job of scanning and proofreading the entire manuscript, and I thank them for their assis- tance in a very busy time in my administrative and academic life. This republication is dedicated to two members of the Party of Utopia who...

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