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Utopian Geographies and the Early English Novel

Utopian Geographies and the Early English Novel

JASON H. PEARL
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 216
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zwcr8
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    Utopian Geographies and the Early English Novel
    Book Description:

    Historians of the Enlightenment have studied the period's substantial advances in world cartography, as well as the decline of utopia imagined in geographic terms. Literary critics, meanwhile, have assessed the emerging novel's realism and in particular the genre's awareness of the wider world beyond Europe. Jason Pearl unites these lines of inquiry inUtopian Geographies and the Early English Novel,arguing that prose fiction from 1660 to 1740 helped demystify blank spaces on the map and make utopia available anywhere. This literature incorporated, debunked, and reformulated utopian conceptions of geography.

    Reports of ideal societies have always prompted skepticism, and it is now common to imagine them in the future, rather than on some undiscovered island or continent. At precisely the time when novels began turning from the fabulous settings of romance to the actual locations described in contemporaneous travel accounts, a number of writers nevertheless tried to preserve and reconfigure utopia by giving it new coordinates and parameters.

    Margaret Cavendish, Aphra Behn, Daniel Defoe, Jonathan Swift, and others told of adventurous voyages and extraordinary worlds. They engaged critically and creatively with the idea of utopia. If these writers ultimately concede that utopian geographies were nowhere to be found, they also reimagine the essential ideals as new forms of interiority and sociability that could be brought back to England. Questions about geography and utopia drove many of the formal innovations of the early novel. As this book shows, what resulted were new ways of representing both world geography and utopian possibility.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3624-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    The wordutopiahas meant many things to many people, but in its early history it signified a place, a distant but possibly real land, the remoteness of which answered for its otherwise incredible perfections. The term’s coinage, by Thomas More in 1516, punned on Greek words suggesting “no place” and “good place,” but still the root insisted on atopos, a place with at least imaginatively geographic dimensions.¹ To many, it implied “wild fantasy and idle fancy,” yet it was a mappable fantasy, initially More’s fictional island and then generally any “imaginary, indefinitely remote region, country, or locality,” according to...

  5. ONE Utopia & Geography
    (pp. 21-42)

    Utopian geography is an imaginative projection undergirded by actual—though vague—spatial coordinates. As I have explained, early modern utopias almost always adopted the conceit of a distant voyager returning to tell of strange new lands. Utopias, therefore, were conceived primarily in geographic terms, and geography itself was imbued with speculations and fantasies. This coupling loosened as travelers, compilers, mathematicians, and mapmakers published increasingly detailed and accurate information about the globe for wider readerships. From the beginning, however, there was tension between the conjectural nature of utopias and the more empirical basis of geography. Furthermore, by their nature, utopias were...

  6. TWO The Flickering Blazing World
    (pp. 43-58)

    Margaret Cavendish’s eccentricity is well known, and to some degree self-fashioned.¹ In herDescription of a New World, Called the Blazing World(1666), Cavendish declares, “I endeavour . . . to be as singular as I can; for it argues but a mean nature to imitate others” (Blazing World218). The statement speaks volumes about her twenty-three-volume corpus, which includes poetry, novels, closet dramas, natural philosophy, and much else, nearly all of it spilling out of neat generic categories.

    It will seem odd, then, to write of theBlazingWorld as somehow exemplary of utopian literature or the early novel...

  7. THREE Remembering Paradise in Oroonoko
    (pp. 59-74)

    On the surface, Aphra Behn’sOroonoko(1688) seems to reverse the scenario of Margaret Cavendish’sBlazing World(1668). Behn’s hero is a prince in his world but becomes a slave in paradisiacal Surinam; Cavendish’s heroine, a lady in her world, becomes an empress in the Blazing World’s Paradise. Behn hollows out and effaces her surrogate narrator; Cavendish amplifies and multiplies hers. Actually, though, Oroonoko never makes it to Surinam’s inland paradise, and the Blazing World’s paradise has its own troubles. Both narrators are present enough to absorb and embody some of the features of utopia deemed unbelievable, impossible. If Behn’s...

  8. FOUR Urban Solitude & the Crusoe Trilogy
    (pp. 75-97)

    Located at the mouth of the Orinoco River, Daniel Defoe’s island inRobinson Crusoe(1719) is quite close to Surinam. Ideologically, the two seem far apart. Defoe is often thought of as a crusader for the early British Empire. James Joyce called Crusoe “the true prototype of the British colonist,” possessed of the “whole Anglo-Saxon spirit”: “the manly independence; the unconscious cruelty; the persistence; the slow yet efficient intelligence; the sexual apathy; the practical, well-balanced religiousness; the calculating taciturnity” (24).¹ Perhaps these qualities were necessary for the creation of a desert island utopia. They become problematic ethically when the solitary...

  9. FIVE Piracy & Brotherhood in Captain Singleton
    (pp. 98-114)

    Daniel Defoe villainized piracy in the first and second volumes of theCrusoetrilogy (1719–20). His pirates there are agents of dangerous unrest, threats to civil order both at sea and on land. They are immoral and irrational, almost incorrigibly wicked and stubbornly unmindful of even their own best interests. True, Will Atkins reforms, but this is really a purgation of character, a convenient elimination of qualities deemed inadmissible in Crusoe’s fledgling colony.

    Defoe takes a different view inThe Life, Adventures, and Pyracies of Captain Singleton(1720), aligning us with a more deviant—but more disenfranchised—character who...

  10. SIX Misanthropia & Gulliver’s Travels
    (pp. 115-132)

    Whatever their obvious differences, Daniel Defoe’sRobinson Crusoe(1719) and Jonathan Swift’sGulliver’s Travels(1726, 1735), two of the most well-known texts of the early eighteenth century, share a deep and abiding engagement with utopian possibility.¹ In their own ways, both narratives valorize retreat from worldly vice and the resumption of simpler, ostensibly more virtuous ways of living. Although Crusoe and Gulliver run afoul of domestic quiescence, spurred by restlessness and curiosity, they stumble upon unknown lands that shield them from the excesses of the city and the depravities of the court. In Houyhnhnmland, Gulliver proclaims, “No Man could more...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 133-138)

    The end of this book does not mark the end of utopia, only the concentrated decline of its founding conceit. Of course, there are exceptions to my time line. In his prefatory “Democritus Junior to the Reader,” added in 1624 to theAnatomy of Melancholy(1621), Robert Burton anticipates the transformations I have focused on, declaring, “I will yet, to satisfy and please myself, make an Utopia of mine own, a New Atlantis, a poetical commonwealth of mine own, in which I will freely domineer, build cities, make laws, statutes, as I list myself” (97). Long after the purview of...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 139-154)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 155-198)
  14. Index
    (pp. 199-204)