Contact a Humanities Office or Academic unit.
Find your course outlines.


ECF virtual issue, September-October 2017
Curator Jason H. Pearl, Florida International University

Introduction: written by Jason H. Pearl

Utopian literature invites debate, almost as a constitutive principle, so it is no surprise to find essays on the topic throughout the pages of this journal. And the ongoing need to understand the ideals of the past—ideals that helped shape the present—ensures the appearance of more such articles in the future. First, though, it must be acknowledged there are some critics and historians who believe the eighteenth century was inhospitable to the utopian imagination. J.C. Davis, for instance, ends his influential survey in 1700 by citing a “waning confidence in the will or capacity of the state” (Utopia and the Ideal Society: A Study of English Utopian Writing, 1516-1700 [Cambridge University Press, 1981], 366). Dreams of a perfect world, the thinking goes, flourished in the Renaissance, when overseas exploration inspired a new sense of possibility, and in the seventeenth century, a time of radical Puritan politics. The eighteenth century, in contrast, is labelled an age of science, reason, and scepticism; its fiction was committed to realism, not flights of fancy.

But specialists have debunked facile myths about the Enlightenment and expanded our notion of what utopia is in the first place. For Thomas More, author of the genre’s founding text, it was a topos, a place, specifically an undiscovered island. For writers of the eighteenth century, it was also a time in the future, or the past; it was a practice, a subjectivity. In an eight-volume anthology, Gregory Claeys has gathered together everything from lunar voyages to nuts-and-bolts proposals for industrial projects. And, of course, at the end of the century, there were revolutions founded on utopian principles, not to mention small-scale communities operating more quietly. Some scholars argue that the Enlightenment itself was utopian. These claims are now relatively mainstream, borne out by well-regarded monographs.

To read the full introduction by Jason H. Pearl: click here.

©McMaster University, 2017.

ECF articles on Utopia are available at the free-to-read archive:

Violence and Awe: The Foundations of Government in Aphra Behn’s New World Settings
by Richard FROHOCK, ECF 8, no. 4 (1996): 437-52.

Utopian Voyeurism: Androgyny and the Language of the Eyes in Haywood’s Love in Excess
by Elizabeth GARGANO, ECF 21, no. 4 (2009): 513-34.

Simon Berington’s Adventures of Signor Gaudentio di Lucca
by A.D. HARVEY and Jean-Michel RACAULT, ECF 4, no. 1 (1991): 1-14.

Radical Utopias: History and the Novel in the 1790s
by April LONDON, ECF 16, no. 4 (2004): 783-802.

Eden Revisited: Re-visions of the Garden in Astell’s Serious Proposal, Scott’s Millenium Hall, and Graffigny’s Lettres d’une péruvienne
by J. David MACEY, Jr., ECF 9, no. 2 (1997): 161-82.

A Most Sensible Oeconomy: From Spectacle to Surveillance in Sarah Scott’s Millenium Hall
by Nanette MORTON, ECF 11, no. 2 (1999): 185-204.

There and Back Again: The Country and the City in the Fiction of Rétif de la Bretonne
by Peter WAGSTAFF, ECF 10, no. 4 (1998): 451-66.

Secretaries of the Interior: Narratorial Collaboration in Sarah Scott’s Millenium Hall
by Williams WANDLESS, ECF 21, no. 2 (2008-9): 259-81.

No place where women are of such importance: Female Friendship, Empire, and Utopia in The History of Emily Montague
by Jodi L. WYETT, ECF 16, no. 1 (2003): 33-57.

Further reading:

ECF articles on Project MUSE:

Bannet, Eve Tavor. “Sarah Scott and America: Sir George Ellison, The Real Man of Sensibility, and the Squire of Horton.” ECF 22, no. 4 (2010): 631-56.

Jordan, Nicolle. “Gentlemen and Gentle Women: The Landscape Ethos in Millenium Hall.” ECF 24, no. 1 (2011): 31-54.

Wallace, Tara Ghoshal. “Rewriting Radicalism: Wollstonecraft in Burney’s The Wanderer.” ECF 24, no. 3 (2012): 487-508.

Williamson, Bethany. “English Republicanism and Global Slavery in Henry Neville’s The Isle of Pines.” ECF 27, no. 1 (2014): 1-23.

Other sources:

Alff, David. The Wreckage of Intentions: Projects in British Culture, 1660-1730. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017.

Bartolomeo, Joseph. “No Place Like Home: The Uses of America in 1790s British Fiction.” Yearbook of English Studies 46 (2016): 242-58.

Bloch, Ernst. The Principle of Hope. Trans. Neville Plaice, Stephen Plaice, and Paul Knight. 3 vols. Cambridge: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1995.

Brickhouse, Anna. “The Indian Slave Trade in Unca Eliza Winkfield’s The Female American.” Yearbook of English Studies 46 (2016): 115-26.

Carroll, Siobhan. An Empire of Air and Water: Uncolonizable Space in the British Imagination, 1750-1850. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015.

Claeys, Gregory, ed. Modern British Utopias, 1700-1850. 8 vols. London: Pickering and Chatto, 1997.

Davis, J.C. Utopia and the Ideal Society: A Study of English Utopian Writing, 1516-1700. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

Johns, Alessa. Women’s Utopias of the Eighteenth Century. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003.

Nersessian, Anahid. Utopia, Limited: Romanticism and Adjustment. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015.

Soni, Vivasvan. “Conclusion: Can Aesthetics Overcome Instrumental Reason? The Need for Judgment in Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees.” Mind, Body, Motion, Matter. Ed. Mary Helen McMurran and Alison Conway. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2016.

Verhoeven, Wil. “‘When wild in the woods the noble savage ran’: The European Discourse of American Utopianism, 1748-1783.” The Yearbook of English Studies 46 (2016): 219-41.

See other ECF virtual issues:


Romancières des Lumières



Women’s Sexuality

©McMaster University, 2018. All articles published on the Eighteenth-Century Fiction website are protected by copyright held by Eighteenth-Century Fiction, a journal published by the Faculty of Humanities at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.