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November 10, 2008
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v2.1 Reference

Modern Utopian Fictions from H. G. Wells to Iris Murdoch

Criticism on utopian subjects has generally neglected the literary or fictional dimension of utopia. The reason for such neglect may be that earlier utopian fictions tended to be written by what one would nowadays call social scientists, e.g., Plato or Sir Thomas More. That is also why earlier discussions of utopian fiction were usually written by critics trained in the social sciences rather than by critics trained in literature. To an appreciable degree this still tends to be the case today.

Now, however, there is an additional difficulty, for the social scientists are critiquing utopias written by people who are primarily literary, for example, Krishan Kumar on Wells or Bernard Crick on Orwell. Inevitably much of importance—of literary importance—is simply disregarded, and so our understanding of modern utopia is correspondingly diminished.

This book aims to put the fiction back into utopian fictions. While tracing the development of fiction in the writing of modern utopias, especially in Britain, it seeks to demonstrate in specific ways how those utopias have become increasingly literary—possibly as a reaction not only against the "social scientification" of modern utopias but also in reaction against the modern attempt to institute "utopia" in reality, notably in the former Soviet Union but also in consumerist, late-twentieth-century America. After an introductory discussion of how we understand—and how we should understand—modern utopian fictions, the book provides several examples of how those understandings affect our appreciation of utopian fiction. There are chapters on H. G. Wells's Time Machine; Bernard Shaw's Major Barbara; Aldous Huxley's Brave New World; George Orwell's Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four; William Golding's Lord of the Flies; and Iris Murdoch's The Bell.


Peter Edgerly Firchow, internationally recognized scholar and author of numerous works including Reluctant Modernists, W. H. Auden: Contexts for Poetry, Envisioning Africa: Racism and Imperialism in Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," and The End of Utopia, is professor of English at the University of Minnesota.

"Firchow includes much that is praiseworthy in this short book on utopian fiction. . . . Firchow's work displays his very well informed explication and his ability, in most instances, to make literary texts come alive. His treatment of Wells's The Time Machine is simply outstanding. . . . I find his enthusiasm for his texts refreshing and his work on the end of history meticulous. Other scholars of utopian fiction will as well." — H-Net Reviews

"Utopian fiction has often been mangled in interpretation on the occasions when it has been read without a sense of irony, for the sake of political analysis, disregarding its artistic nature. To counterpoise such approaches, Firchow offers us a close reading of each of the chosen works, while also placing them in literary context," — Janice Rossen, Partial Answers

The Catholic University of America Press

9780813215730 : modern-utopian-fictions-from-h-g-wells-to-iris-murdoch-firchow
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