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The Shape of Utopia

Studies in a Literary Genre

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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 4 Hawthorne and Utopia: The Blithedale Romance

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Hawthorne’s Blithedale Romance is, of course, not a utopia in any strict sense; it does not belong to the genre at the center of which are works like More’s Utopia, Bellamy’s Looking Backward, Morris’s News From Nowhere. On the other hand, The Blithedale Romance is related in the most interesting way to actual utopian experiments in history—Brook Farm, specifically— and it dramatizes certain problematic questions about utopia that have had major consequences for the twentieth century. Thus the relationship of Blithedale to the generic problems with which we are concerned has seemed to me significant enough to justify a close look at Hawthorne’s romance. Miles Coverdale projects the romance of Blithedale into the future one summer day, as he and Hollingsworth lift stones into place to repair a wall. In a century or two, he says to his silent companion, Zenobia, Priscilla, Hollingsworth, and he will be mythic characters; legends will have grown up about them, and they will figure heroically in an epic poem. But to Hollingsworth feckless speculations like these are infuriating; the utopian project at Blithedale is, in his view, a wretched, insubstantial scheme, impos- sible of realization and worthless if possible. “It has given you a theme for poetry,” he growls at Coverdale. “Let that content you.” It is a question whether Hawthorne’s experience at Brook Farm brought him more, although he boasted, according to Emerson, of having lived in the utopian community during its heroic age. He was there, on his own explanation, to...

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