chapter  2
19 Pages

Utopia and/as ideology: feminist utopias in nineteenth-century America

The women’s movements of the nineteenth century put the woman question on the social agenda. In the debate over such issues as women’s rights, women’s role, and women’s nature, this question became a central concern for both reformers and conservatives. Simultaneously reflecting and, in turn, shaping the terms of the debate, speculative fiction-utopian and dystopian alikeplayed a significant role in this process. American utopian fiction of the late nineteenth century lends itself especially well to an investigation of this phenomenon. For this was a period in which the increasing tension of economic and political conflicts provided the impetus for what were to become the major social movements of modern American history as people began to claim their individual and collective rights in the name of their identities as workers, people of color, and women. The shifts and ruptures in the social fabric produced an unprecedented number of speculative fictions, texts in which the possible consequences of these changes were projected into narratives of the future.1 In the decade between 1886 and 1896 alone, over one hundred works of utopian fiction were published in the United States.