English Utopian Fictions, 1516–1800
Introduction Utopian Poetics and Politics
Defining utopia has been one of the most widely contested issues, even though, or perhaps precisely because, the term itself has entered not only the specialised discourses of literary, cultural, sociological, economic, politi- cal, and religious studies, but has also become a part of colloquial speech in most of the world languages. The common agreement as to the general characteristics of utopia is matched only by the controversy regarding the particulars. The tacitly assumed, or explicitly stated definitions, determine the scope of the existing studies of utopia, ranging from monographs on major utopian texts to general considerations of utopianism and utopia regarded as a universal category of human thought, with by far the great- est number of studies devoted to More’s De optimo reipublicae statu deque noua insula Vtopia.1 Despite the persisting interest in utopian studies that reaches back to the late nineteenth century,2 the early modern utopias, especially those of the Renaissance period, began to receive wider and more focused critical attention only in the last two decades of the twentieth century, resulting in several extensive accounts of utopias and utopianism such as J.C. Davis’s Utopia & the Ideal Society. A Study of English Utopian Writing 1516–1700 (1981), Miriam Eliav-Feldon’s Realistic Utopias. The Ideal Imaginary Societies of the Renaissance, 1516–1630 (1982), Marina Leslie’s Renaissance Utopias and the Problems of History (1998), or Robert Appelbaum’s Literature and Politics in Seventeenth Century England (2002).3 The recently pub- lished anthologies of the early modern utopias edited by Gregory Claeys...
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