chapter  2
26 Pages

Seventeenth-century utopias: 'witty fictions, but mere chimeras'

From an English perspective, the seventeenth century appears to offer virtually ideal conditions for a golden age of utopian writing. Looking back to the classical world and Renaissance, and forward to the modern world, this early modern period is fascinatingly poised: sufficiently unstable to dream of lost paradises, yet seduced by a utopian or millenarian vision of progress through revolutionary change. If the utopian genre had not existed, the seventeenth century would have had to invent it. Since it does exist, all kinds of writers rush to re-invent it. Although this isn’t an insular phenomenon - Continental Europe makes a significant contribution to the genre in this period - nevertheless, for historical reasons, seventeenth-century England is a particularly propitious intellectual environment for anyone moved by the utopian impulse.1