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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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APPENDIX - JOANNA RUSS Untitled Review (1971)


APPENDIX – JOANNA RUSS Untitled Review (1971) Originally published in College English 33, No. 3 (Dec., 1971): 368–71. Copyright 1971 by the National Council of Teachers of English. Reprinted with permission. Science fiction is receiving more academic attention than it used to, a spe- cies of kindness that may turn out to be the equivalent of being nibbled to death by ducks. For reasons nobody seems to understand, voyages to the moon fascinate academicians, as does anything written before 1800, or satire, or Utopian fiction—in short, anything that avoids the fecundity and speculative wildness of twentieth-century science fiction. It is prob- ably a question of what’s manageable, but unfortunately voyages to the moon tend to be the oldest (often the dullest) kind of science fiction, and Utopian romances are not only secondary in the contemporary oeuvre, they are relatively unimportant. Robert C. Elliott’s The Shape of Utopia is a scattered collection of pleasant, modest, clearly written essays, none of which treats its subject with any complexity. There is much in the book that is just, much that turns into truism if you look at it twice, and not really enough to tie the essays together into one volume. Much is stated without being explored or fully described; much is mentioned or proposed without being done. For example, Elliott twice brings up a rather important topic—what’s the relation of the teller of these tales to the author, of More to “More” (in More’s Utopia), or Coverdale to Hawthorne (Blithedale...

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