Comparative Perspectives on Utopia - Proceedings of Synapsis: European School of Comparative Studies XI
The Great Good Place
. This is how Henry James characterized the new and happier world to which utopian fiction imaginatively transports us. The phrase comes from the title of the only work that James, the undisputed master of modern psychological fiction, devoted to the persistent and persistently frustrated human longing to be elsewhere and otherwise than we are. Reality, in the form of the actual conditions that determine our lives, is what at once prompts and frustrates the wish for a greater and better world, but even reality cannot prevent us from dreaming that such a place exists somewhere, if only we knew how to get there.
In appreciation of this mental fact, James gives his utopian fantasy the form of a dream vision. As we might expect of a writer of his exacting standards, he conceives a wish-fulfilment dream of the highest order, one in which the Great Good Place is equated with the ‘Great Want Met’.1 No irony shadows this equation or seems to trouble James in adducing its proofs: everything about the Great Good Place, the story assures us at its start and at its close, is ‘all right.’2 That ‘all right’ proclaims the ideal harmony that prevails in the Great Good Place – everything wrong here is there made right. It also functions as a common idiom of moral assurance to allay the doubts of the sceptical and emotionally wary: dreaming of utopias will not, as we might suspect or fear, disable us for the rigours, ← 157 | 158 → stressful...
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