ABSTRACT

All utopian fiction is structured by a critical contrast between a model society and the society of the narrator or visitor to utopia. It is this utopian contrast which invites a reader to compare the ‘nowhere’ with the ‘somewhere’ of the narrative. In a discussion of Thomas More’s Utopia, Louis Marin claims, ‘Utopia is not a topography but a topic’ (1984: 115). While I agree, I do not think that Marin goes far enough. Rather, and staying with his alliteration, I would argue that Utopia is not a country, it is a utopian contrast with a country. In other words, the society of the island is not there to show us what a perfect society looks like but to tell us things about sixteenth-century England (and Europe more generally). There is also a second critical contrast between a utopian blueprint and the context of the reader. While the first contrast is important, it is the second that is absolutely crucial if we are to speak of a politics of utopian fiction. In chapter 6, I will discuss in detail this second utopian contrast; here my focus will be on the first.