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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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CHAPTER 3 Swift’s Utopias


Swift once characterized Sir Thomas More as “a person of the greatest virtue this kingdom ever produced.” Perhaps he had to admire so highly before he could bring himself to imitate, the unexampled probity af fording a kind of license. More’s Utopia was a source to which Swift went repeatedly when he was writing Gulliver’s Travels. But if Swift’s attitude toward the author of Utopia is one of unqualified admiration, his attitude toward the idea of utopia itself is less easily stipulated. It is true that he had the utopian temperament and an itch toward utopian solutions. He once wished that he could write a utopia for heaven, and on occasion, as in the Project for the Advancement of Religion and the Reformation of Manners (1709), he was willing to have a go at earth: Among all the schemes of fered to the public in this projecting age, I have observed, with some displeasure, that there have never been any for the improvement of religion and morals: which, besides the piety of the design from the consequences of such a reformation in a future life, would be the best natural means for advancing the public felicity of the state, as well as the present happiness of every individual. For, as much as faith and morality are declined among us, I am altogether confident, they might, in a short time, and with no very great trouble, be raised to as high a perfection as numbers are capable of receiving. Indeed, the...

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