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HOW AMERICACOULD BECOME UTOPIA Carol FarleyKessler, ed. Daring to Dream: Utopian Stories by United States Women, 1836-1919. Boston: Pandora Press, 1984. 266 pp. Howard P. Segal. Technological Utopianism in American Culture. Chicago:University of Chicago Press, 1985. 301 pp. Illus. Jean Pfaelzer.The Utopian Novel in America, l 886-1896: The Politicsof Form. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press,1985.211 pp. Gorman Beauchamp Thelast dozen years have proved rich ones for utopology, or the study of utopias. Themajor event was the publication, in I979, of Frank and Fritzie Manuel's massiveintellectual history, Utopian Thought in the Western World. Despite the vastscope and formidable erudition of this landmark work, there are, nevertheless , glaring lacunae, none perhaps more apparent than their sketchy, poorlyinformedand generally inadequate treatment of American utopias. Except for the obligatorydiscussion of Edward Bellamy's immensely popular Looking Backward ,the Manuels hardly mention the flood of utopian fiction produced in Americabetween the Civil War and World War I, a flood that crested in the last decadeof the nineteenth century when more than 150 such works appeared, the largestsingle body of utopian writing in history. But if the francocentric Manuels leave this body of writing unexplored, other scholars are taking it up, with increasingsophistication and specialization of treatment. For many years, Vernon L. Parrington, Jr. 's American Dreams: A Study of American Utopias (2nd ed., 1964)was the standard survey of this literature; but, while admirably informative in many respects, his survey was highly uneven and sometimes inaccurate, analyticallycomatose and stylistically lame. In 1976 appeared Kenneth Roemer's TheObsolete Necessity: America in Utopian Writings 1888-1900; while the scope of his work is narrower than Parrington's, the execution is greatly superior, synthesizingmaterial drawn from 166 novels into a thematically coherent volume thatenlightens without overwhelming with details. The Obsolete Necessity has become-and will no doubt remain for a long while-the central work on 274 Gorman Beauchamp American utopian literature, a model of its kind. In addition, five yearslater Roemer edited America as Utopia, a more encompassing collection of essays 0~ the whole spectrum of relevant literature. This collection ranges from sixhistorical overviews of specific periods by various hands to detailed studies of individual writers and themes, to several statements by utopists on why and howthey came to write utopias. Given the unevenness that inheres in such collections,this one should nevertheless prove indispensible for any student of the utopianimpulse in American culture. Our understanding of that phenomenon is further broadened and deepened bv the three works under review here. Each is wholly different from the others,y;t each adds a valuable and complementary dimension to the emerging imageofthe elusive dream of an America (or a world) radically ameliorated. Kesslerand Segal, in fact, both deal with literature that, until recently, has been little explored-and in Segal's case, mostly by himself in previous essays. The subject matter of Pfaelzer's study is, on the whole, more familiar, but her approachtoitt~ novel-though perhaps not quite so novel as she claims. In any event, allthree books are welcome additions to the growing body of utopian scholarship. Of the three, Kessler's collection proves the most problematic. Her subtitleUtopian Stories by United States Women-is, in one sense, misleading, and misleading in a way that points up the weakness of her collection. She doesnot, that is, really provide utopian stories, but rather excerpts from the stories. This is not a mere quibble, for the difficulty a reader will experience in readingthe selections collected here sterns, all too often, from the inability to get fromthe excerpt any very clear sense of what the whole story is like. Several of the selections, I must confess, left me baffled as to where they came from (narrative!) speaking), and where they are headed is equally obscure. Kessler's dilemma is apparent: she has read widely in feminist utopias (and quasi-utopias) and wants to represent the range and variety to be found among them-all in little morethan two hundred pages. No other anthology like hers exists; she is breaking ground, but perhaps gives too little of too much. A kind of blur results in whichit1s difficult to recall which work contained what...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 273-278
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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