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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What is a Utopia?

The concept of literature as a means of discussing or propounding alternative societies dates back almost as long as literature itself. Plato’s Republic, usually considered the first example of the genre, dates from around 370 BC.

Sir Thoman More
Sir Thomas More
1478-1535

A utopia can be defined as an ideal or perfect place or state, or any visionary system of political or social perfection. In literature, it refers to a detailed description of a nation or commonwealth ordered according to a system which the author proposes as a better way of life than any known to exist, a system that could be instituted if the present one could be cancelled and people could start over.

The word itself was coined by Sir Thomas More in his 1516 book of the same name, (his imaginary perfect island was called Utopia). The roots of the word are from the Greek ou (not) and topos (place), thus meaning “no place” or “nowhere”, although there are also overtones of “good place” from the homonymous Greek prefix eu meaning “good”.

In common parlance, it has come to mean an impractical or idealistic scheme for social and political reform, but the original objective of the utopian novel was political, social and philosophical.

New Harmony, Indiana, as envisaged by Robert Owen
New Harmony, Indiana, as envisaged by Robert Owen
Over the years, various attempts have been made to establish real-life utopian communities, many of them in the United States. Several experimental communities were set up in the USA in the 1830’s and 1840’s following the doctrines of Charles Fourier. New Harmony was established in Indiana under the leadership of a Scottish industrialist named Robert Owen. The Icarians (followers of Frenchman Etienne Cabet’s philosophies) established settlements in several US states in 1848. The Oneida Community was a utopian commune in Oneida, New York, also begun in 1848. The Shakers, an English Protestant group, built villages in eight states in the 1840’s, as did the Amana colonists in Iowa in the 1850’s and the Hutterites in the Dakotas and Western Canada in the 1870’s.

Elsewhere, New Australia was a utopian socialist settlement in Paraguay, and there are, even today, Finnish utopian colonies worldwide, including Sointula in Western Canada and Colonia Finlandesa in Argentina. Arguably, kolkhozes (a form of collective farming in the Soviet Union) and Israeli kibbutzes are utopian communities.

 
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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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