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[Part 2 of the author's "Homesick in Utopia: State Capitalism and Pathology in Novels of the 1880s and 1890s."]
ocusing on expressions of nostalgia that disrupt or expose Utopian states, I shall juxtapose the submerged subversive expression of homesickness in Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1888) with the use of pastoral in Ignatius Donnelly’s Caesar’s Column (1889). These technocratic futures — one Utopian, one Dystopian — are then briefly poised against the pre-industrial society promulgated in William Morris’s News From Nowhere (1890). It is the — technological, ideological, racial, national – bias that denotes intended Utopias as not only a source of Dystopian fictions that protest against them, but as ambiguously Dystopian themselves. In his annotated bibliography of Utopian literature, Lyman Tower Sargent emphasises this problem of authorial intent, pointing out that works “can be read as dystopias when the authors intended them to be eutopias [sic]” (xii). Such “Utopian” societies deploy the surveillance of “atavistic” bodies with a self-righteous vigour that becomes oppressive and totalitarian in enforcing universal happiness. In Mary E. Bradley Lane’s Mizora (1890), for instance, the narrator travels to the interior of the earth, where she encounters a “wonderful civilisation” (8), populated exclusively by blond women of robust health. Men and dark people of both sexes have been systematically eliminated:
“We believe that the highest excellence of moral and mental character is alone attainable by a fair race. The elements of evil belong to the dark race.” “And were the people of this country once of mixed complexions?” “As you see in the portraits? Yes”, was the reply. “And what became of the dark complexions?” “We eliminated them.” (Lane, 193)
Holocausts in Utopian fiction sever the “deserving” from the “undeserving”. Francis Galton’s Utopian novel, of which only fragments have survived, serves as a case in point. The story of “Kantsaywhere” purports to be extracts from Prof. Donoghue’s journal. He describes his travels to a remote society where selective breeding is meant to boost physical and mental superiority. Women are pleasantly “mammalian” (422); and it is Miss Allfancy whose attractions induce Prof. Donoghue to stay and attempt to obtain a high eugenics degree. The examinations are minutely detailed. As Galton’s biographer, Karl Pearson, points out, “we must remember that Galton had set before himself in the last years of his life a definite plan of eugenics propagandism” (412). Those who fail the eugenics examination are “undesirable as individuals, and dangerous to the community, owing to the practical certainty that they will propagate their kind if unchecked. They are subjected to surveillance and annoyance if they refuse to emigrate.” (420) The deportation of undesirables is a familiar “solution” in Utopias of the time, anticipating the dichotomy of the privileged and unprivileged in Dystopias, ranging from the two degenerate races in The Time Machine to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), in which “hope […] lies in the proles” (72). As the Time Traveller wearily remarks, “a balanced society with security and permanency as its watchword, it had attained its hopes — to come to this at last” (87).
Fictional Dystopias take the technocratic or eugenic visions of Utopian narratives to their logical conclusions, exposing the abysmal underlying their paradises and undermining the desirability of Utopia. Returns to the Golden Age are restricted to the self-righteously “right” people. In Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (1920-21), only 0.2 of the world’s population have survived the 200-Years War, a “war between the City and the Country” (21). Like the degenerate races in The Time Machine, the Numbers have attained “paradise” – a totalitarian Utopia. An age-long homesickness for paradise has been healed by a return to a state of “nonfreedom”:
The old legend about Paradise – that was about us, about right now. Yes! Just think about it. Those two in Paradise, they were offered a choice: happiness without freedom, or freedom without happiness, nothing else. […] And then what? Then for centuries they were homesick for the chains [italics added]. (61)
In Dystopian fiction, unreliable narrators present their worlds as Utopian, believing, like D-503 in We, that they have attained a paradisical state. The text of We is comprised of D-503’s records – of his attempt to write a poetical eulogy on the “mathematically infallible happiness” (3) provided by OneState. Nineteen Eighty-Four ends on a note of enforced happiness. There is nostalgia in the novel, subverting the state’s manufactured past: “Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date.” (42) Winston tries “to squeeze out some childhood memory” (5) and cherishes dreams of “the Golden Country” (33); the eradication of personal memory through social readjustment marks the novel as paradigmatically Dystopian. Julian West in Bellamy’s Looking Backward similarly experiences profound unease and unfulfilled longings. His domestic sanctuary parallels Winston’s reintegration into society, and yet Looking Backward is supposedly optimistic and Utopian. As it is put in the preface, it is meant to delineate “the progress that shall be made, ever onward and upward, till the race shall achieve its ineffable destiny” (36). As a result, the presented millennial America endorses, as it seems, elements of Dystopia as welcome aspects of Utopia. This dream-state centres on America as the origin of everything good and progressive (synonyms in this evolutionary Utopia) with an insisting, racist smugness that can appear comical. America “was the pioneer of the evolution”, exporting its societal innovations to “the more backward races” (115). Enmeshed in discourses of evolutionism and ideologies of progress as well as of ethnocentrism and racial theories, such fictions engender Dystopias.
- Looking Backward: The Inadvertent Dystopia and the Nostalgic Subversive
- Looking Beyond Looking Backward: Dystopian Reactions
- Subversive Nostalgia and Pastoral Utopia: William Morris
Last modified 11 November 2002