Utopian Literature
Utopia Montage


 
What is a Utopia?
 
Development of Utopian Fiction
 
Examples of Utopian Literature
 - B.C. to 16th Century
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17th to 18th Century
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19th Century
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Early 20th Century
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Mid 20th Century
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Late 20th Century
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Alphabetical List
 
 
 
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Development of Utopian Fiction

Plato
Plato
427-347 BC
Early utopias were usually very idealistic and perfect, where all the evils of society have been removed. The earliest examples, such as those of Plato and Cicero were more exercises in philosophical argument than novels as such, and were not necessarily written with either the practicability of the system or the entertainment value of the writing in mind. Typically, the plot revolved around a visit to, or a shipwreck on, a newly-discovered island, long isolated from the rest of civilization.

But what distinguishes utopian literature from a political or philosophical treatise is the attempt to weave the discussion of an idealized social set-up into the form of a novel, containing individual characters with whom we can empathise or disapprove, and at least a rudimentary plot progression.

Some utopian authors were influenced by the ideas of the 18th Century philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau about an ideal Arcadian society, or Golden Age, which was thought to have existed in ancient times before the development of civilization corrupted it. Henry David Thoreau (and particularly his Walden reflections) were another big inspiration. Some had more overtly political leanings and were influenced by the 19th Century revolutionary writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

Aldous Huxley
Aldous Huxley
1894-1963
The genre of scientific romance developed during Victorian times, a precursor to 20th Century science fiction and speculative fiction. In the late 19th and 20th Centuries, a more satirical variant of utopian literature known as the anti-utopia or dystopia, (for example, Samuel Butler’s Erewhon or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World), became increasingly popular, often as a direct response to the harsh economic conditions of the 19th Century, industrialization and rampant capitalism.

Gradually, the distinction between utopian and science fiction literature became increasingly blurred and many, if not most, sci-fi novels contain at least some elements of utopian or dystopian ideas. However, many modern utopias and dystopias are maybe better described as “speculative fiction” rather than science fiction, in that they do not necessarily involve the invention or anticipation of futuristic technologies, merely extrapolations or exaggerations of currently available technologies.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Charlotte Perkins Gilman
1860-1935
Generally speaking, the perfect societies in utopian novels are often communistic or socialistic in character, and dystopias are often fascistic in their underlying nature, but both tend to result in a very controlling society where individuals are discouraged from interfering with the primary goals of the state, and where the state to a greater or lesser extent tends to replace religious or family values.

Some utopias are more specific in their focus. For example, there are feminist utopias (such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland), ecological utopias (like Ernest Callenbach’s Ecotopia), technological utopias (including Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward and Kurt Vonnegut’s Piano Player), religious utopias (like St. Augustine’s City of God) and communist utopias (such as Efremov’s Andomeda Nebula).

 
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What is a Utopia? | Development of Utopian Fiction | Examples of Utopian Literature | B.C. to 16th Century | 17th to 18th Century | 19th Century | Early 20th Century | Mid 20th Century | Late 20th Century | Alphabetical List
 
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