Although Thomas More’s neologism signifies both ‘no place’ and ‘good place’, nearly all utopian scholars have focused on the idea of the good society rather than on its spatial non-existence. To consider utopia as a ‘no-place’ is to become aware of its kinship to fantastic travel literature (such as Hall’s Mundus Alter et Idem) and Carrollian nonsense fiction.
Where utopia fundamentally differs from fantastic travel literature is in its attempt to reduce spatial (and temporal) differentiation to a minimum. The utopias of More, Campanella, and their successors are colonized, uniform, and predominantly urban states with clearly defined boundaries. The traditional distinction between the city and its surrounding countryside is destroyed by the rural depopulation or (in, for example, William Morris) suburbanization of utopias. More’s Utopia and Campanella’s City of the Sun exemplify the geometric regularity of the walled city based on the square and the circle respectively. The inhabitants of these cities lack all individuality, since human variety and character-difference find a natural home in dystopian fiction.
There are significant changes in the representation of place and space in modern literary uchronias set in the future. The urban spaces of Bellamy’s Boston or Morris’s London have a characteristic doubleness, a narrative layering of the new and the old. In News from Nowhere, key locations such as Trafalgar Square are invested with conflicting emotions that would have been unthinkable in the earlier utopias. Yet in other respects Morris’s portrayal of future London is notable for its omissions. This effect of spatial ‘unsubstantiality’ is openly acknowledged in Wells’s A Modern Utopia, where once again a transformed Trafalgar Square is a key location. Both Morris’s and Wells’s utopias conclude with an abrupt disillusionment involving spatial (and, in Morris, temporal) displacement. This heightens the resemblance to a Carrollian mirror-world seen in utopias from More to the present.