A Modern Utopia

A Modern Utopia is a 1905 novel by H. G. Wells.

Because of the complexity and sophistication of its narrative structure A Modern Utopia has been called "not so much a modern as a postmodern utopia."[1] The novel is best known for its notion that a voluntary order of nobility known as the Samurai could effectively rule a "kinetic and not static" world state[2] so as to solve "the problem of combining progress with political stability".[3]

A Modern Utopia
A Modern Utopia
Cover of the first edition
AuthorH. G. Wells
CountryEngland
LanguageEnglish
GenreNovel
PublisherChapman and Hall
Publication date
April 1905 (serialized in the Fortnightly Review, October 1904-April 1905)
Media typePrint
Pages393
Preceded byThe Food of the Gods 
Followed byKipps 

Conception of the work

In his preface Wells forecasts (incorrectly) that A Modern Utopia would be the last of a series of volumes on social problems that he began in 1901 with Anticipations and that included Mankind in the Making (1903). Unlike those non-fictional works, A Modern Utopia is presented as a tale told by a sketchily described character known only as the Owner of the Voice, who, Wells warns the reader, "is not to be taken as the Voice of the ostensible author who fathers these pages".[4] He is accompanied by another character known as "the botanist". Interspersed into the narrative are discursive remarks on various matters, creating what Wells calls in his preface "a sort of shot-silk texture between philosophical discussion on the one hand and imaginative narrative on the other.".[5] In addition, there are frequent comparisons to and discussions of previous utopian works.[6]

In his Experiment in Autobiography (1934) Wells wrote that A Modern Utopia "was the first approach I made to the dialogue form", and that "the trend towards dialogue, like the basal notion of the Samurai, marks my debt to Plato. A Modern Utopia, quite as much as that of More, derives frankly from the Republic."[7]

The premise of the novel is that there is a planet (for "No less than a planet will serve the purpose of a modern Utopia"[8]) exactly like Earth, with the same geography and biology. Moreover, on that planet "all the men and women that you know and I" exist "in duplicate".[9] They have, however, "different habits, different traditions, different knowledge, different ideas, different clothing, and different appliances."[10] (Not however, a different language: "Indeed, should we be in Utopia at all, if we could not talk to everyone?").[11]

Plot

To this planet "out beyond Sirius"[12] the Owner of the Voice and the botanist are translated, imaginatively, "in the twinkling of an eye . . . We should scarcely note the change. Not a cloud would have gone from the sky."[13] Their point of entry is on the slopes of the Piz Lucendro in the Swiss Alps.

The adventures of these two characters are traced through eleven chapters. Little by little they discover how Utopia is organized. It is a world with "no positive compulsions at all . . . for the adult Utopian—unless they fall upon him as penalties incurred."[14]

The Owner of the Voice and the botanist are soon required to account for their presence. When their thumbprints are checked against records in "the central index housed in a vast series of buildings at or near Paris,"[15] both discover they have doubles in Utopia. They journey to London to meet them, and the Owner of the Voice's double is a member of the Samurai, a voluntary order of nobility that rules Utopia. "These samurai form the real body of the State."[16]

Running through the novel as a foil to the main narrative is the botanist's obsession with an unhappy love affair back on Earth. The Owner of the Voice is annoyed at this undignified and unworthy insertion of earthly affairs in Utopia, but when the botanist meets the double of his beloved in Utopia the violence of his reaction bursts the imaginative bubble that has sustained the narrative and the two men find themselves back in early-twentieth-century London.[17]

Utopian economics

The world shares the same language, coinage, customs, and laws, and freedom of movement is general.[18] Some personal property is allowed, but "all natural sources of force, and indeed all strictly natural products" are "inalienably vested in the local authorities" occupying "areas as large sometimes as half England."[19] The World State is "the sole landowner of the earth."[20] Units of currency are based on units of energy, so that "employment would constantly shift into the areas where energy was cheap."[21] Humanity has been almost entirely liberated from the need for physical labor: "There appears to be no limit to the invasion of life by the machine."[22]

The samurai and Utopian society

The narrator's double describes the ascetic Rule by which the samurai live: it includes a ban on alcohol and drugs, and a mandatory annual one-week solitary ramble in the wilderness. He also explains the social theory of Utopia, which distinguished four "main classes of mind": The Poietic, the Kinetic, the Dull, and the Base.[23] Poietic minds are creative or inventive; kinetic minds are able but not particularly inventive; the Dull have "inadequate imagination,"[24] and the Base are mired in egotism and lack "moral sense."[25]

The relations of the sexes

There is extensive discussion of gender roles in A Modern Utopia, but no recognition of the existence of homosexuality. A chapter entitled "Women in a Modern Utopia" makes it clear that women are to be as free as men. Motherhood is subsidized by the state. Only those who can support themselves can marry, women at 21 and men at 26 or 27.[26] Marriages that remain childless "expire" after a term of three to five years, but the partners may marry again if they choose.[27]

Race in Utopia

A Modern Utopia is also notable for Chapter 10 ("Race in Utopia"), an enlightened discussion of race. Contemporary racialist discourse is condemned as crude, ignorant, and extravagant. "For my own part I am disposed to discount all adverse judgments and all statements of insurmountable differences between race and race."[28]

Meat

The narrator is told, "In all the round world of Utopia there is no meat. There used to be. But now we cannot stand the thought of slaughter-houses. And, in a population that is all educated, and at about the same level of physical refinement, it is practically impossible to find anyone who will hew a dead ox or pig. We never settled the hygienic question of meat-eating at all. This other aspect decided us. I can still remember, as a boy, the rejoicings over the closing of the last slaughter-house".[29]

Origins

The work was partly inspired by a trip to the Alps Wells made with his friend Graham Wallas, a prominent member of the Fabian Society.

Reception

Several Samurai societies were formed in response to A Modern Utopia, and Wells met members of one of them in April 1907 at the New Reform Club.[30]

At a memorial service at the Royal Institution on 30 October 1946, two and a half months after Wells's death, William Beveridge read passages from the book and called it the work that had influenced him the most.[31]

According to Vincent Brome, Wells's first comprehensive biographer after his death, it was widely read by university students and "released hundreds of young people into sexual adventure."[32] W. Warren Wagar praised it, describing it and Wells's other utopian novels (Men Like Gods and The Shape of Things to Come) as "landmarks in that extraordinarily difficult genre".[33]

Joseph Conrad complained to Wells that he did not "take sufficient account of human imbecility, which is cunning and perfidious."[34]

E.M. Forster satirised what he regarded as the book's unhealthy conformism in his science-fiction story "The Machine Stops", first published only four years later, in 1909.[1]

Marie-Louise Berneri was also critical of the book, stating that "Wells commits the faults of his forerunners by introducing a vast amount of legislation into his utopia" and that "Wells's conception of freedom turns out to be a very narrow one".[35] Wells's biographer Michael Sherborne criticizes the book for depicting "an undemocratic one-party state" in which truth is established not by critical discussion but by shared faith.

References

  1. ^ a b Michael Sherborne, H.G. Wells: Another Kind of Life (Peter Owen, 2010), p. 165.
  2. ^ H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967), p. 75. Wells first introduces the term "World State" three pages earlier, in §1 of Ch. 3. The notion of a samurai order was suggested to him by Nitobe Inazo's Bushido (1900). Michael Sherborne, H.G. Wells: Another Sort of Life (Peter Owen, 2010), p. 165.
  3. ^ Introduction by Mark R. Hillegas to new ed. of H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967), p. 271 (Ch. 9, §3).
  4. ^ H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967), p. 1.
  5. ^ H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967), p. xxxii.
  6. ^ Wells read Plato's Republic in the early 1880s and was deeply marked, even radicalized, by it. Michael Sherborne, H.G. Wells: Another Kind of Life (Peter Owen, 2010), pp. 50-51. Plato is often discussed in A Modern Utopia, but so is almost every other major work in the western utopian tradition.
  7. ^ H. G. Wells, Experiment in Autobiography (1934), 562
  8. ^ H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967), p. 11.
  9. ^ H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967), p. 25.
  10. ^ H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967), p. 23.
  11. ^ H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967), p. 17.
  12. ^ H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967), p. 12.
  13. ^ H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967), p. 14.
  14. ^ H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967), p. 34.
  15. ^ H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967), p. 163.
  16. ^ H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967), p. 277.
  17. ^ H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967), p. 358.
  18. ^ H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967), p. 45.
  19. ^ H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967), p. 77.
  20. ^ H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967), p. 89.
  21. ^ H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967), p. 79.
  22. ^ H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967), p. 98.
  23. ^ H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967), p. 265.
  24. ^ H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967), p. 268.
  25. ^ H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967), pp. 269-70.
  26. ^ H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967), p. 192.
  27. ^ H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967), p. 196.
  28. ^ H.G. Wells, A Modern Utopia (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967), p. 334.
  29. ^ Wells, H. G. (1905). "9". A Modern Utopia. Retrieved 2014-05-08.
  30. ^ David C. Smith, H.G. Wells: Desperately Mortal (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1986), p. 101.
  31. ^ David C. Smith, H.G. Wells: Desperately Mortal (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1986), p. 484.
  32. ^ Vincent Brome, H.G. Wells: A Biography (London: Longsman, Green, 1951), p. 96.
  33. ^ Wager, W. Warren. "Wells, H(erbert) G(eorge)", in Twentieth-Century Science-Fiction Writers by Curtis C. Smith. St. James Press, 1986, ISBN 0-912289-27-9 (p.779-83).
  34. ^ David C. Smith, H.G. Wells: Desperately Mortal (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1986), p. 100.
  35. ^ Marie-Louise Berneri, Journey through Utopia, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1950. (p. 295)

Bibliography

  • Deery, June. "H.G. Wells's A Modern Utopia as a Work in Progress." Extrapolation (Kent State University Press). 34.3 (1993): 216–229. EBSCO Host. Salem State College Library Databases. Salem, Massachusetts. 18 April 2008. [1]
  • "H.G. Wells." The Literature Network. 1 2000–2008. 18 April 2008. [2]
  • McLean, Steven. ""The Fertilising Conflict of Individualities": H. G. Wells's A Modern Utopia, John Stuart Mill's on Liberty, and the..." Papers on Language and Literature. 2 2007. 166. eLibrary. Proquest CSA. Salem State College Library Databases. Salem, Massachusetts. 18 April 2008. [3]
  • Review: [untitled], by A. W. S. The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 11, No. 3 (November 1905), pp. 430–431. Published by: The University of Chicago Press. JSTOR. Salem State College Library Databases. Salem, Massachusetts. 18 April 2008. [4]
  • Review: [untitled], by C. M. H. The Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 14, No. 9 (November 1906), pp. 581–582. Published by: The University of Chicago Press. JSTOR. Salem State College Library Databases. Salem, Massachusetts. 18 April 2008. [5]
  • Wells, H.G. A Modern Utopia. New York, New York: Penguin Group, 2005.

External links

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H. G. Wells

Herbert George Wells (21 September 1866 – 13 August 1946) was an English writer. He was prolific in many genres, writing dozens of novels, short stories, and works of social commentary, satire, biography, and autobiography, and even including two books on recreational war games. He is now best remembered for his science fiction novels and is often called a "father of science fiction", along with Jules Verne and Hugo Gernsback.During his own lifetime, however, he was most prominent as a forward-looking, even prophetic social critic who devoted his literary talents to the development of a progressive vision on a global scale. A futurist, he wrote a number of utopian works and foresaw the advent of aircraft, tanks, space travel, nuclear weapons, satellite television and something resembling the World Wide Web. His science fiction imagined time travel, alien invasion, invisibility, and biological engineering. Brian Aldiss referred to Wells as the "Shakespeare of science fiction". Wells rendered his works convincing by instilling commonplace detail alongside a single extraordinary assumption – dubbed “Wells’s law” – leading Joseph Conrad to hail him in 1898 as "O Realist of the Fantastic!". His most notable science fiction works include The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Doctor Moreau (1896), The Invisible Man (1897), The War of the Worlds (1898) and the military science fiction The War in the Air (1907). Wells was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature four times.Wells's earliest specialised training was in biology, and his thinking on ethical matters took place in a specifically and fundamentally Darwinian context. He was also from an early date an outspoken socialist, often (but not always, as at the beginning of the First World War) sympathising with pacifist views. His later works became increasingly political and didactic, and he wrote little science fiction, while he sometimes indicated on official documents that his profession was that of journalist. Novels such as Kipps and The History of Mr Polly, which describe lower-middle-class life, led to the suggestion that he was a worthy successor to Charles Dickens, but Wells described a range of social strata and even attempted, in Tono-Bungay (1909), a diagnosis of English society as a whole. A diabetic, Wells co-founded the charity The Diabetic Association (known today as Diabetes UK) in 1934.

H. G. Wells (crater)

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This large formation is most notable for the extremely battered state of its outer rim. Little or nothing remains of the original rim, so completely has it been eroded and incised by smaller craters. As a result, the crater floor is now surrounded by a ring of irregular peaks and worn crater valleys. This rugged surroundings intrudes only part way into the interior, while the remaining floor is relatively level and in some places gently rolling. The interior is marked only by a multitude of tiny craterlets.

The writer H. G. Wells earned the right to have a Moon crater named after him by his well-known science fiction, including the novel The First Men in the Moon.

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Men Like Gods

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