chapter  7
36 Pages

Women's utopias: New Atalantis; A Serious Proposal to the Ladies and Reflections upon Marriage; Millenium Hall; Munster Village

If the creation of utopia represents a chance for any writer to escape intellectually from the limitations of an actual society and way of life, it is women writers who arguably stand in most need of such liberation. Yet, almost inevitably, women’s utopian fiction in this period has to define itself against precedents established by male writers. In considering the relation of their utopian writing to that of men, it’s necessary to ask how far it is feasible for eighteenth-century women to see themselves as founding and sustaining any politicised utopian scheme, inside or outside fiction. Imaginary worlds are certainly available to the aspiring woman reformer, experimenter, or ruler, as Margaret Cavendish, writing in the seventeenth century, had flamboyantly demonstrated.1 However, given the all too evident constraints on women in the ‘real’ world, what does the utopian tradition have to offer beyond fantasy and wish-fulfilment? Even for male writers, to account plausibly for the origins of a political and social utopia (as opposed to a purely domestic one) presents certain difficulties. The power to create an ideal state presupposes just that: power, the power to acquire territory and economic resources through discovery, conquest, or inheritance.