Studies in a Literary Genre
PHILLIP E. WEGNER Introduction (2012)
Robert C. Elliott’s The Shape of Utopia is the fourth volume of the Ralahine Classics, and an exceptional addition to the series. Elliott’s short book, originally published in 1970, should be of great interest to contemporary scholars and students. Indeed, it is perhaps only with the distance of the last four decades, and the dramatic changes that have occurred in that time in literary and cultural scholarship, that we can begin to appreciate properly Elliott’s achievement. First, although largely overlooked in recent years, The Shape of Utopia inf luenced in significant ways some of the seminal works of what at that moment were the emergent fields of utopian and science fiction studies. For example, Darko Suvin invokes the book in his landmark 1973 essay, “Defining the Literary Genre of Utopia: Some Historical Semantics, Some Genology, a Proposal, and a Plea” (now reprinted in Suvin’s Ralahine collection, Defined by a Hollow: Essays on Utopia, Science Fiction and Political Epistemology ). And Louis Marin writes in his indispensi- ble Utopiques: jeux d’espaces (1973), “L’ouvrage essentiel est, sur ce point, le livre de Robert C. Elliott” (“The essential work is, on this point, the book of Robert C. Elliott”) (Utopiques 108; Utopics 82). (I will return momentarily to the specific point to which Marin refers here.) The inf luence of Elliott on Marin’s work was even more immediate, as in the years both their books were published, they were colleagues at the University of California, San Diego, in the Department of Literature that...
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