Two essays deal with: 1/ “Liberalism mutes the Anticipation”, and 2/ “Anticipating the Sunburst”. The text is taken from a first pagination of the 1979 book MOSF and has mistakes.
1/ This chapter 7 of MOSF analyzes first Verne as “Communication in Quantified Space”, also Bulwer-Lytton, Butler, the Future War story, and others. Chapter 8 of MOSF discusses how the socialist sunburst was seen as “Dream, Vision – or Nightmare” in Bellamy, Morris, some others such as Jefferies and Flammarion, and then Mark Twain’s important A Connecticut Yankee.
7. Liberalism Mutes the Anticipation:
The Space-Binding Machines
Bring out number, weight and measure in a year of dearth.
0. After experiencing the first railroad from Liverpool to Manchester, and either thinking that the train ran in grooves or being dazzled by the seemingly absolute stability and preordained course of wheels on rails, Alfred Tennyson incorporated this new industrial imagery into some significant contrasts in Locksley Hall:
…Summer isles of Eden lying in dark-purple spheres of sea. There methinks would be enjoyment more than in this march of mind,
In the steamship, in the railway, in the thoughts that shake mankind.
Fool, again the dream, the fancy! but I know my words are wild, ……..
Not in vain the distance beacons. Forward, forward let us range,
Let the great world spin for ever down the ringing grooves of change. [164–182]
These lines embody and explicate a very interesting intimate debate between, on the one hand, the personal, painful, escapist, and timeless dream of Edenic, half-Greek and half-Oriental islands – Tennyson’s recurring temptation of the Lotos Eaters – in a Homeric wine-dark sea; and on the other hand, the public and official beliefs of the “great world” of Victorian industrial capitalism exporting not only the products of Manchester, Pittsburgh, and the Ruhr but also the concomitant ideology of linear liberal progress.
Tennyson’s references to the “march of mind,” to the spacious ranging “forward, forward” (or “excelsior,” as Longfellow said), to the thoughts that truly shook mankind (we have not stopped shaking since) are a pregnant formulation of the orthodox liberal optimism of progress radiating by way of the steamship and the railway. His earlier lines, “Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails / Pilots of the purple twilight, dropping down with the costly bales,” could have been taken from the leading missionary of free trade, Richard Cobden:
Commerce is the grand panacea, which like a beneficent medical discovery, will serve to inoculate with the healthy and saving taste for civilization all the nations of the world. Not a bale of merchandise leaves our shores, but it bears the seeds of intelligence and fruitful thought to the members of some less enlightened community; not a merchant visits our seats of manufacturing industry, but he returns to his own country the missionary of freedom, peace and good government – while our steam boats, that now visit every port of Europe, and our miraculous railroads, that are the talk of all nations, are the advertisements and vouchers for the value of our enlightened institutions.1
Yet Tennyson’s concluding image of a linear, forward-going progress spinning down the grooves of change is ultimately ambiguous. Spinning is, after all, a cyclical motion, either round and round (as a top) or to and fro (as a distaff ), which always returns to the initial situation and point. Tennyson was in all probability, as witness the whole poem and his reference to “the great world,” thinking here of Earth’s motion simultaneously around its axis and “forward” – but since even this “forward” is a seasonal motion around the Sun, the ambiguity is only shelved, not resolved. We shall perhaps find the proper clue if we remember that Earth’s spinning round the Sun is a measure of time – the true space of liberal progress.
Tennyson’s lines are thus an especially compressed and apt introduction to the convertibility of quantified space and time for the Victorian liberal mind. However, a prolific novelist will naturally be able to show the implications of these ambiguous and antinomic historical horizons
1 Richard Cobden, quoted in David Thomson, England in the Nineteenth Century (1815–1914) (London, 1964), p. 29.
more fully. In the case of an SF novelist, who operates by definition at the “outer limits of desire,”2 these implications can be shown in a magnified and explicated form, seen in a parabolic mirror – as happened for the culmination of palaeotechnic liberalism in the work of Jules Verne.
1. Communication in Quantified Space: Verne’s roman scientifique
It would be instructive to compare two excellent reports on Vernean studies, written 13 years apart by Mark R. Hillegas and Marc Angenot, to see the extraordinary, qualitative jump in Verne’s reputation as a writer not only symptomatic but – for all his drawbacks – aesthetically worthwhile as well.3 The major names and currents of French criticism – Michel Butor and Roland Barthes, structuralists and neo-Marxists, psychoanalysts and archetype hunters – all discovered him more or less simultaneously, independently, and with equal enthusiasm after 1960. He was of course always known as one of the founding fathers of SF. He created a specific early and basic variant of it, the roman scientifique (novel of science), and gained a permanent popularity for the genre among a mass readership, mainly but not exclusively juvenile. As the overall title of his shelf-full of novels – Extraordinary Voyages: Known and Unknown Worlds – indicates, he refurbished the oldest tradition of SF, that of the marvelous voyages of tribal legends, antiquity, and the Middle Ages, for new purposes in the age of industrial adventure. However, precisely because the French Second Empire, in its increasingly desperate attempts at adventure in Italy, the
- Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism,p. 136.
- Mark R. Hillegas, “A Bibliography of Secondary Materials on Jules Verne,” Extrapolation 2 (December 1960): 5–16; Marc Angenot, “Jules Verne and French Literary Criticism,” Science-Fiction Studies 1 (Spring 1973): 33–37, supplemented by his second survey of the same title, Science-Fiction Studies 3 (March 1976): 46–49.
Crimea, and Mexico, collapsed much sooner than its British (and in our days the US) parallel, a sensitive French writer like Verne can be discussed in terms of a changing cognition of historical horizons for such industrialized promenades around the map – in terms of the paradoxically unstable yet appealing mirage that I propose to call “utopian liberalism.”
The utopian aspect of Verne is an echo and deformation of several strong French traditions, mainly the saintsimonian one. Saint-Simon’s crucial place in the development of “forward-going” horizons has been indicated in the preceding chapter.4 Rather than adopting his orientation toward “[shifting] the Earthly Paradise from the past into the future,” however, Verne in his exemplary microcosms developed the saintsimonian universal communication involving large human collectives that is the obverse and complement of the quantified convertibility between time and space:
The symbols and instruments of the saintsimonians’ collective will to power will be that which physically breaks down the barriers between the peoples […] and permits their quicker linking. […] The “utopia” of physical communication bringing about the internationalization of ideas will take a most tangible form: ships, vehicles, locomotives.5
Indeed, in spite of saintsimonian ascendencies, it is significant that Verne, often referred to as the prophet of future gadgetry, did not in fact write any anticipations (except for a very few late stories to which I shall return). His works are not extrapolations in time but ostensibly factual, newspaper-style reports about parallel universes or alternate time-tracks in which Professor Lidenbrock had just a few months earlier journeyed under the Earth, Nemo under the sea, and the Columbiad trio around the Moon. These reports are neither a Swiftian open satirical conspiracy calculated to estrange the reader from his environment, nor a Poean hoax playing upon his gullibility
- For Saint-Simon, see Ernst Bloch (Bibliography II), Max Beer (Bibliography III A), and works by Ansart, Cole, Desanti, Durkheim, Engels, Leroy, Manuel, and Volgin in Bibliography IV A. For the parallels between Saint-Simon and Verne all students are indebted to the pioneering hints of Kirill Andreev and the study by Jean Chesneaux (Bibliography IV B).
- Dominique Desanti (Bibliography IV A), p. 56.
toward a magically omnipotent science. Verne transferred Walter Scott’s, Dumas père’s,and particularly Fenimore Cooper’s exotic otherwhen into an alternative and extraordinary but strictly natural “otherwhere” – the voyage, equally as believable as but more glamorous than the everyday Europe or North America where it begins and ends. Its time is exactly measured and wholly filled by the traversing and mapping of space. “The whole history of the Carboniferous period was inscribed on these walls” (chap. 20), comments the narrator of his first SF novel Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), which is also a descent into the depths of geological past. Later, the subterranean travelers encounter an immense “plain of bones” constituted by 20 centuries of animal generations: “There, on three square miles perhaps, the whole history of animal life was gathered, scarcely written on the too recent grounds of the inhabited world” (chap. 37). Quantified time translated into quantified space constitutes the book of Nature, which is decoded and claimed for knowledge by the act of motion through it that permits the reading of its hidden information. The key for decoding, the instrument through which human imagination seizes upon Nature, is pre-Darwinian measuring and classificatory natural science: geology, geography, astronomy, or zoology. That is why “novels of science” can be written, but also why they do not contain any new principles or theories. Only that can be discovered which is already known to be there – as for example the trail to the center of the Earth or the poles – and has now to be verified by physical proximity and scanning, conducive to imaginative absorption by the reader. Only the possession of a sure compass and guide permits the basic Vernean pursuit of orientation and mapmaking, so that his enduring fascination with the magnetic pole reactualizes Sinbad’s magnetic island in terms of a nineteenth-century metaphor for human cognition. Two of the major plot entanglements of the subterranean voyage are caused by the loss of the guiding thread (the Hans-Brook) in the granite labyrinth and by the reversal of the compass in one of Verne’s recurrent electromagnetic storms. But all the numerous scientific dilemmas (that, for instance, about Earth’s inner heat), red herrings, puzzles, and cryptograms are – as in Poe’s ratiocinative tales but not as in Pym – finally clarified and solved. The voyage is in fact a spatial equivalent of the process of reasoning necessary for solving the initial riddle. In that sense, Verne’s SF draws its excitement from the prestige of the mid-nineteenth-century scientific method by which Cuvier reconstituted a mastodon from one bone, and in turn popularizes it.
The world of Verne’s early books is, accordingly, more interpolated into than extrapolated from the imaginative space of textbooks of exotic geography, zoology, mineralogy and similar, which he quotes at great (and by now wearisome) length. Yet the voyagers are not only verifying the plenitude and solidity of this “positive” material universe – which is in Verne identical with what pertains to the Earth. They are also voyaging toward one of its privileged points – the center of the Earth, the poles, the Moon – or on the privileged circular line of Fogg’s civilized and Nemo’s subversive circuit. Verne’s SF is in a way the triumph of imaginative cartography, of the great measuring adventure of mankind which succeeded in quantifying the planisphere, the flow of time, and human relationships. All his heroes, from Nemo through Cyrus Smith to Kaw Djer, assume at moments of crucial conflict the characteristic Napoleonic (perhaps one should say Byronic) stance of surveying the battlefield with folded arms and fixed gaze.
This geometric imagination has clear limitations. Verne’s voyages fill in the white spots of already sketched space. In From the Earth to the Moon (1865) and All Around the Moon (1870) the Moon is never reached; the same is true, with one exception, of all the privileged cartographic points in other novels. Verne’s innovations (the subterranean Mediterranean and “lava lift,” the Moon projectile and the Nautilus, the human timebinding machine Phileas Fogg, Robur’s airplane and all-purpose vehicle, Servadac’s comet) may be stimulating technical dreams but they are infirm scientific extrapolation, on the one hand just one step beyond existing blueprints and on the other tending toward the inexact or even the grossly unscientific (humans could survive neither the lava lift nor the firing of the Columbiad). But all these innovations are vehicles of an epic of communication for the age of industrial liberalism. In the two Moon novels, the four logical stages of such a new epic – the conceiving and the creating of technical means for the extraordinary locomotion, its vicissitudes, and the delirious discussions fostered by it – are systematically orchestrated to culminate each in one strong set scene: Barbican’s speech, the casting of the Columbiad, the space and time point of zero gravity, and the oxygen intoxication (already used in Verne’s story “Dr. Ox” to symbolize the acceleration of life by scientific progress). Though technology is used to verify the Moon map, its main function is to induce enthusiasm for the extraordinary locomotive adventure which vanquishes measurable space and time. The movement at a breathless pace is the soul, the exhilaration of covering ground the supreme passion, and the various vehicles practically the heroes of Verne’s plots.
However, all his plots describe the neutralized trajectory of the Moon “double novel”: they are a momentary escape from and final return to bourgeois normality. The whirl around the globe is the obverse of a longing for the still point of repose; even the limited novum of the wondrous means of locomotion is destroyed or otherwise repudiated at the end of each story. Verne’s voyages and plots approximate a circle, the figure which reconciles dynamics and statics, the geometrical locus of a movement that never violates a preestablished track. Hythloday, Gulliver, Frankenstein, or the Time Traveller are profoundly changed by what they learn during their travels. For Verne, space does not harbor a hierarchy of values but a quantified grid convertible to quantified time through speed (see Around the World in 80 Days). His voyagers are swept up in a movement where, as in Cartesian analytic geometry and kinetics, only bodies, forces, and obstacles to motion (which also serve for narrative retardation) exist. Conversely, his world is a sum of discrete points or objects the only possible relationship of which is distance or a collision course. People too have become equivalent to physical molecules and energies, able to communicate only by movement through space and time. As in Robinson Crusoe,Verne’s great model, his characters are constantly menaced by the doom of dehumanizing solitude on their individual psychic islands, as it were. “Only connect” could have been Verne’s slogan – for example in the emblematic episode of Axel’s losing his way in Journey to the Center of the Earth. In this individualistic world it is impossible to find the unexpected, the fundamentally different – say a new mode of life – even under the globe, on the Moon, or in time. The estrangement of Verne’s early voyages is limited to a transient pleasure in adventure, and the cognition to adding one technical innovation or bit of locomotive know-how (as the Moon projectile) to an unchanged world. His “novel of science” can be compared to a pool after a stone has been thrown into it: there is a ripple of excitement on the surface, the waves go to the periphery and back to their point of origin, and everything settles down as it was, with the addition of one discrete fact – the stone at the bottom of the pool. Both the pleasure in adventure as such and the pedagogic addition of one new bit of information at a time are suitable for – and were aimed at – a childish or juvenile audience of pre-teens. As an introduction to SF in an industrial age, Verne’s best stories work very well at that boy-scout level of a group of male friends in an exciting mapping venture.
And yet there is more to Verne than a closed world validating its own certainties: there is also a longing to escape from it. The distant spaces, and especially the sea, allow his characters to manifest their individualities far from the regulated dullness of bourgeois respectability. Verne’s vivid eccentrics are individualists escaping the Individualistic metropolis. In utopian and indeed folktale fashion he wants the privileges of industrial productivity without the relationships of production and the political institutions in which it came about. He accepts the tenet of the steam, iron, and coal “palaeotechnic” age, that value lies in movement; but instead of its orientation toward a future of infinitely expanding Manchesters, Pittsburghs, and Ruhrs, he inclines toward clean electricity and movement in an ultimately circular space, toward traveling rather than arriving. He wants the power of marvelous machines but only for a kind of ship with a crew of friends, or at least loyal followers, which leaves the sooty factory and its class divisions behind – exactly as the Moon projectile, escaping social as well as physical gravity, leaves the explosive Columbiad on Earth. Verne’s furthest venture into such waters, where escapism blends with subversion, is 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1870):
The world, so to speak, began with the sea, and who knows but that it will also end in the sea! There lies supreme tranquillity. The sea does not belong to tyrants. On its surface, they can still exercise their iniquitous rights, fighting, destroying one another, indulging in all other earthly horrors. But thirty feet below its surface their power ceases, their influence dies out, their domination disappears! Ah, Monsieur, one must live – live within the ocean! Only there can one be independent! There I acknowledge no master! There I am free! [chap. 10; trans. A. Bonner]
The frequent Romantic identification of sea with freedom is not only explicitly recalled in this outburst of Captain Nemo’s but incarnated in him. This “Nobody,” a disdainful Byronic political pirate, scientist, and visionary hoists a black flag with a capital N: he is a Napoleon turned heroic Unknown Avenger from popular literature, alone as Prometheus against the whole civilized order. He lives sheltered and supplied by the sea, a shepherd of its flocks and guardian of its treasures, the tutelary genius of a fully furnished world which is simultaneously on Earth and as foreign to terrestrial life as a different planet would be. In Nemo’s – and in Lidenbrock’s – travels Verne comes much nearer to outer-space SF than in the two Moon novels. In both cases the exciting and yet almost dreamlike ease of travel is allied to electricity, which is for Verne a Shelleyan, libidinous “soul of the industrial world” (The Clipper of the Clouds,chap. 6). Nemo and his electrical submarine Nautilus are perfectly adapted to the sea, “mobile in the mobile.” Within it, this great anarchoindividualist’s violent desire has for the nonce produced a parallel and rival microcosm – a potent weapon against the oppressors but also museum, gallery, concert-hall, and library stocked with the spacious works of freedom: “poetry, fiction, and science from Homer to Hugo, from Xenophon to Michelet, from Rabelais to George Sand.” Civilization is the Frankenstein of the Nemo/Nautilus “monster,” that ally and avenger of the Third World, of the national liberation movements in the wake of the French Revolution, against the imperial powers. The strong Romantic leanings of Verne, a lover of caverns, tempests, volcanoes, polar zones, and old castles, come in this novel very close to a revolutionary liberalism. Within his politically ambiguous opus, Nemo is an exceptionally sympathetic and lucid achievement, an Odysseus with both superior technology and liberating aims, redeeming the novel’s boring ichthyological passages. Nemo the “superman” is Verne’s only hero to plant his flag on the pole, though even he comes perilously close to immobilization and asphyxiation (the contrary of oxygen inebriation) as punishment for this encroachment on the still point of the whirling globe, the Faustian moment of blissful arrest. Verne’s major voyages are either directed toward a privileged point, or they approximate a girdle around the Earth as in The Children of Captain Grant and Around the World in 80 Days (which became his most popular book because it presented a safe encyclopedia of means and adventures of speeding locomotion). Only Nemo – even if he is at the end sucked into the Maelstrom – manages to combine this great circle with the attainment of Earth’s axis and navel, for which the heroes of Journey to the Center of the Earth and The Adventures of Captain Hatteras – like those of Frankenstein – had striven in vain.
Nemo’s rich character also combines the traveler, rescuer, scientist, and explorer monomaniacs of Verne’s above four novels. In each of Verne’s tales, his protagonist is a passionate incarnation of the theme. Lidenbrock, the energetic German professor of transcendent crystallography, is a Hoffmannesque incarnation of geology; Barbican, Nicholl, and Ardan are embodiments, we are told, of Science, Industry, and Art, but (one would have to add) also of projectile-making, iron plate, and aerial voyaging in high spirits, and of Yankee, Scotsman, and Frenchman; Fogg of Anglo-Saxon coolness and chronometric precision in traversing time and space. Verne’s “humours” characterization and his alternation of thrill and exposition is straight out of the operas or boulevard vaudevilles of Second Empire Paris, and so is his scenery, be it the outdoors of electric tempests or the indoors of the upholstered Moon projectile or the Nautilus. The trio of main characters, Verne’s “three musketeers,” usually takes the roles of resolute explorer, loyal companion, and more or less comic servant (Lidenbrock, Axel, and Hans; Nemo, the not wholly loyal Arronax, and Conseil with Land for added tension; Barbican, Ardan, who becomes a second protagonist, and Nicholl usurping the place of Marston). But as important as any persons are the machine-vehicles that often steal the limelight as objectivizations of the theme and of its protagonist. The protagonist and the SF concept (the machine-vehicle or some other islandlike microcosm) are therefore linked by the strongest secret sympathies within a cluster of correspondences at the center of which is the story’s theme or “element.”6 The Moon projectile, the elevation out of gravity, and the ejected trio; Nautilus, the sea, and Nemo; Fogg, chronometry, and the spectrum of means for swift locomotion; Robur, the air, and The Albatross; Schulze, the asphyxiating cold, and the supercannon factory – they all form homogeneous symbolic systems.
- Michel Butor (Bibliography IV B), pp. 48 ff.
Around them are distributed the supernumeraries: crew, wayside acquaintances, dastardly enemies (usually dark-skinned, but this too is reversed in Nemo’s system). Finally, there is the “sublime father,” the representative of providence (Nemo in The Mysterious Island,Antekirtt in Mathias Sandorf).
|Book||Theme, “Element,” or Semantic Field||SF Concept = Microcomic Novum||Protagonist|
|Journey to Center of the Earth||Geology||Underground world||Lidenbrock|
|Moon Novels||Sublation of gravity||Moon projectile||Trio|
|20,000 Leagues||Sea = freedom||Nautilus||Nemo|
|Around the World in 80 days||Chronometry||Ensemble of palaeotechnic means of locomotion||Fogg|
|Mysterious Island||Colonization of nature||Emblematic island||Cyrus Smith|
|500 Million of the Begum||Asphyxiating cold||Superfactory for supercannons||Schulze|
|Clipper of the Clouds||Flight as scientific power||Airship||Robur|
With unimportant exceptions, the cast is an all-male one. The whole libido in Verne’s ultimately sterile world is invested in machines instead of in women. The phallic connotations of Nautilus or the Columbiad ejection are unmistakable, but so is their fruitlessness. Finally, in The Carpathian Castle (1892), the opticoelectrical machine resurrects or replaces the image of the woman. The lively machine integrates man into space, it allows him to be in harmony with nature, to move his individual microcosm through it and closer to other people, and thus to communicate with them. These “clean” machines or mechanisms “do not produce surplus value”7nor consume
- Chesneaux, p. 43 (his italics).
human labor, since they tap the miraculous electricity. Along with women, the working class is also absent from Verne’s world of boyish innocence. Discoverers and dastards face each other like noble and ignoble savages, translated from Cooper’s forests into a space validated by science.
A clean technology, worldwide communications, science and art ruling the world – the whole outlook represented by Barbican plus Ardan or by Nemo has a strong kinship with saintsimonist utopianism. In his most optimistic parable, The Mysterious Island (1875), Verne presents the rise of a fraternal community fertilizing nature by applying scientific knowledge. The voyage has been reduced to a rudimentary framework, the favored microcosm is an island instead of a ship (but the two are in Verne, as in SF generally, largely interchangeable, both being analogs to the author’s world), the SF concept is resolutely sociological as well as technological, and the all-embracing theme is man’s scientific colonization of Nature, including but superseding simple communication. This novel is Verne’s “recapitulation of race history”8 and a culmination of his opus. Its mysterious island is privileged because, like Crusoe’s, it is a figure of our globe, to the point of possessing mutually incompatible geographic zones. Cyrus Smith, Verne’s supreme “knower” and source of energy, is that saintsimonian ideal: an engineer, communicator, and organizer who is “man of action at the same time as man of thought” (part 1, chap. 1), in fact “a microcosm, a composite of all human knowledge and intelligence!” (part 1, chap. 9). He is flanked by two loyal seconds, a hunter-cum-artist and a teenage heir gifted for recognizing the classes of Nature, and by two comic servants, one white and one black. To complete this vertical chain of being, there is also a dog and a tamed orangoutan (loyal companion and comic servant in the animal realm); and at its demonic and angelic ends a repented criminal and the dying Nemo are eventually discovered. This island crew starts out with its know-how, two watches (which Cyrus uses for the Promethean gift of fire by means of their curved glasses, and for surveying space), a single sliver of steel, and a single grain of wheat. It progresses through gathering and hunting to pottery, metallurgy, and a series of increasingly sophisticated tools
- Kenneth Allott (Bibliography IV B), p. 77.
and techniques. With the help of a hidden and providential Nemo, and in a cooperative, though strictly graded, exploitation of Nature, they increase and multiply their possessions, eventually attaining a wholly cultivated island home, truly civilized since it can boast roads, bridges, a lift, boat, and electric telegraph line.
But this program of – as the saintsimonists said – all by steam and electricity, “[substituting] for the exploitation of man by man […] the harmonious action of man on nature,”9 has problematic blind spots and ambiguities for a parable on history. First of all, it is a colonization unhampered by aborigines, which allows it to progress, in Vernean ease, as a cross between a holiday and a utopian colony. Yet the colonists’ ambition (like Ardan’s more lighthearted reason for traveling to the Moon) is to valorize and then annex the island to the USA. The building of the Columbiad had proceeded on territory recently “cleared” of Indians in the Seminole wars; equally, after the volcanic earthquake which destroys the island, Cyrus Smith (the Yankee Everyman as imperial conqueror of space) and his companions use Nemo’s saved treasure to found a vague utopian colony in Iowa (equally cleared of the Sioux). Sympathy with enslaved peoples is, in Verne as in Saint-Simon, limited to Whites – from the Quebecois and the Irish to the Greeks; the colored races are either bloodthirsty beasts or natural inferiors, so that Nab in The Mysterious Island is even given an instinctive affinity to the orangoutan! Nemo, Verne’s sympathetic rebel, is in this novel retracted: he dies alone and mellowed, and Smith’s judgment on him is that for all his heroic qualities he was wrong in “fighting the necessary progress” (part 3, chap. 16). Second, this is a human history without the lower class: of the two manual workers in the novel, the White is a seaman and the Black devotion personified. Third – even more strictly than usual – not a single woman appears in the novel. This history has no future, and Verne had to employ a whole series of somewhat weary plot tricks to destroy the colony without destroying the sense of the colonists’ work.
- The Doctrine of Saint-Simon (New York, 1972), p. 29; the quote is considered to be by B. P. Enfantin.
For this thematic culmination is also the point at which Verne’s enthusiasm flags and his writing starts to slip badly. The adventurous Second Empire had ended in ignominious defeat; the ensuing Third Republic had begun with the bloody suppression of the Paris Commune and continued in a welter of corrupt factions; free competition in the major bourgeois countries was giving way to trusts and monopolies; the boom in colonial annexations dividing the globe among imperial powers was on: the precariousness of liberal enthusiasm was becoming quite manifest. At this very time finance capital was fast ascending to power at the expense of SaintSimon’s privileged industry and industrial capital, and was inaugurating the full panoply of imperialism as “the highest stage of capitalism.”10 With startlingly close parallelism, Verne’s horizon grows more and more gloomy after the mid-1870s, and his marvelous inventions – both vehicles and communities – more and more malignant and destructive, prisons instead of harmonies. The menacing potential of science – seen already in Dr. Ox, the mutilated artillerists of the Gun Club, or Nemo – is no longer neutralized by, respectively, farce, peaceful international cooperation in exploring the universe, or political justice. Instead, the irascible but selfless eccentrics and explorers change into power-mad inventors or – historically more farsighted – into willing scientific tools of mad militarists. The petty feuds of Barbican and Nicholl or Florida and Texas, once soothed by the dreams of communication and peaceful colonization, explode into nightmares of world dominion and a total war of faction against faction, each against each. In The Begum’s Fortune (1879) the asphyxiating Teutonic hell of SteelCity with its ballistic MIRVs is still vaguely balanced by a roseate, hygienic France-Ville. But the formerly exemplary America of freedom and progress is now seen as a plutocratic microcosm tearing itself apart (Milliard-City in Propeller Island,1895). Equally, Robur, the conqueror of the air, instead of founding an “aerial Icaria” has to recognize that “science should not overtake the morals” in a civilization of selfish and opposed interests (The Clipper of the Clouds,1886); and when he reappears in the still shriller and feebler Master of the World (1904) he has changed from “the science of the
- See V. I. Lenin’s 1917 booklet of that optimistic title.
future” to a madman, whose Promethean vehicle for all elements is – as all other novelties in the later Verne – destroyed by Providence. Verne’s racism narrows to French chauvinism, and his confident alliance of science with commerce and finance changes to a condemnation of the sterility of gold and money. Both fuse in the cosmic flight of Hector Servadac,in which Anglophobia and anti-Semitism have to figure as substitutes for the euphoria of the Moon voyage. The fraternal exploitation of nature by men has turned to a discord which amounts to the end of Verne’s world. In three interesting posthumous works, The Survivors of the “Jonathan” (bp. 1909), The Eternal Adam (bp. 1910), and The Barsac Mission (bp. 1919), he retracts the saintsimonian optimism of The Mysterious Island. The Survivors of the “Jonathan” (translated in two books as The Masterless Man and The Unwilling Dictator)is Verne’s most explicit political parable, and it is situated symbolically on the furthest shore of the world, an island halfway between the lost freedom and progress of the Americas and the privileged but dangerous point of the South Pole. There, a cargo of suffering and ill-adjusted humanity from a wrecked ship all officers of which have been swept overboard is subjected to the equally pernicious enticements of state socialism, egalitarian communism (both professed by failed intellectuals), and usurious capitalism. The childlike workers would have gone under but for the intervention of a mysterious and noble anarchoindividualist, the Kaw-djer, who ultimately discovers that political leadership demands violence and retires embittered to a lighthouse at the end of the inhabited world. Though full of clichés, this novel at least manifests an interest in different political horizons together with a disbelief in their success. The Eternal Adam,Verne’s only significant anticipation, opts therefore for a cycle of eternal return. The leading scientist of a future civilization discovers to his horror a receding vista of lost civilizations, including an account of the end of ours in cataclysm and savagery. The story conveys the realization that, as Valery will put it, “we civilizations, we also know now that we are mortal” – quite a feat for the erstwhile bard of technologically conquered space. Finally, Blackland in Mission Barsac (also translated as City in the Sahara)is Verne’s most developed anti-utopian city (though the text might have been rewritten by Verne’s son), astoundingly similar to a Nazi concentration camp plus war factory, with its segregated quarters, slavery, super-weapons, and megalomania, even to a rival SA and SS. As in Steel-City, there is a rare appearance of the cowed industrial proletariat, which here even participates in an uprising, and a strong stress on the scientist’s social responsibility. All three works look thus into a threatening future rather than a cheery present – a fitting final chord to Verne’s SF at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Thus Verne’s initial dream of space can be seen as a flight from uncertain time, and his fascination with filling in the interstices of geography and science as leading to a subtle reification. Time and Nature have to be strictly mastered, for they threaten to run down to the cold immobility of those poles and interplanetary spaces which attract and imperil Verne’s voyagers. But the obsessive control over time, which enabled Fogg to vanquish space as well as the aptly named threat of Fix and to gain the warmth of Aouda, has in Schulze (in 500 Million…) become a bearer of thermodynamic death. In Verne’s first phase the energetic hero always taps a saving electric or volcanic energy; in the second, Prometheus turns into Luciferian blasphemer and energy into destruction. Verne’s world is not quite mechanical, it is thermodynamic. Both communication and colonization mean civilized conquest of space, which is a decrease of entropy. On the contrary, the destruction or perversion to destructive ends of the vehicles and embodiments of civilization, from means of locomotion to cities and colonies, is in his post-1875 writing the mark of entropy, of insidious Time, culminating in Time’s deadly reign in The Eternal Adam. From Journey to the Center of the Earth to The Mysterious Island,decoding or understanding space led to a happy end; understanding time leads to a dead end. Though Verne is not a writer of anticipations, he lived in the age of anticipation and could turn his back on it only for a brief historical moment and at the price of seeing time as the deadly enemy. In that he was a representative writer of the positivist epoch. Rejecting the radical rhapsodists and the introverted Romantics, the Victorians thought of themselves as realists. The great scenes of Verne’s SF – Axel’s dream or the vision of prehistoric man in Journey to the Center of the Earth,the saintsimonian poetry of rapid motion (as in the Moon novels and the Nautilus), of creative labor (as in the casting of the Columbiad), or of discovery (as in Nemo’s underwater forest or in the congealing of the supercooled sea even in the second-rate Servadac) – all fuse science or nature with the mysterious liberating excitement brought by a “real” novelty. Yet his work is pervaded first by a rhapsodic Romanticism channeled toward exotic space, and later by a dread of time that breaks out from beneath the positive certainty. Verne accepts from the enthusiasts of “utopian socialism” what can be accepted by a Christian liberal – a common denominator of individual affirmation within social engineering that one must paradoxically call “utopian liberalism.” The fact that this contains something for everybody who shares the dreams and fears of an industrial society explains Verne’s wide popularity. But it also situates his “novel of science” halfway between the science-oriented middle class’s11 saintsimonian utopianism at the beginning and anti-utopian gloom at the end of the nineteenth century. Creatively, this precarious balance lasted only a dozen years, so long as that class could still conceive of science and liberal capitalism as wholly concordant. After Verne, in his imitators all around the world that balance disintegrated into its components of subliterary adventure, gadget popularization, and pretentious ideology. But while it lasted Verne’s work itself, in spite of its long slack stretches, gave shape to some of the most persistent because most threatened mirages of his age: the joy of human contact by way of mastery over nature, its mapping, and intimate penetration; the binding of time and its translation into energetic motion and civilized expansion by means of wondrous machines. In the second phase, he substituted for spatial wonder some sensitive prefigurations of the dark forces menacing the liberal society. Verne’s steady vision made him the Balzac of space-machines, as his vehicles and colonies can be called. With his twenty-odd SF books, he is the first systematic novelist initiating dynamic plotting and the overview of a fully furnished world in SF – “what a style; nothing but nouns,” remarked Apollinaire admiringly of him.12 Verne revived the subterranean and interplanetary journey and introduced technology into the heart of utopianism. He turned SF
- A homologous analysis for twentieth-century Anglo-American SF by Gérard Klein, “Discontent in American Science Fiction,” Science-Fiction Studies 4 (March 1977): 3–13, offers interesting parallels to Verne’s trajectory as well as the best sociological hypothesis for its causes so far to be found in SF criticism.
- Quoted in Marguerite Allotte de la Fuÿe (Bibliography IV B), p. 66.
toward a juvenile audience, but drew into this audience readers of serious periodicals interested in scientific puzzles, thus setting up the basic equation for SF consumption in the ensuing 100 years (including fan mail and fan visitors). Perhaps most importantly, he presented this specialized reading public with the joy of free movement outside the compartments of Victorian society. The bard of palaeotechnics was ambiguously – as every significant writer – also the bard of its alternatives: electricity, wide-open spaces, peace, fraternal utopian colonies.
In all these respects Verne is one of the shapers of modern SF, and an important link in as well as modifier of the chain of its development. He was himself acutely aware of that chain and how he was continuing it. Apart from his wide though superficial scientific gleanings, the allusions or outright lectures in many of his novels show that he knew practically the whole tradition of significant SF before him, his taste in books being similar to Nemo’s. In the two Moon novels, for example, he details the entire tradition of both beliefs and romances about the Moon, from Thales through Cyrano to Poe, in whose honor the scene is set in Baltimore. Poe, of whom he wrote a study, was an omnipresent though superficial influence on his puzzles and their solutions, his polar voyages, and his characterization (compare the Gun Club members and Poe’s Man Who Was Used Up). Another major influence was Cooper – not only his Leatherstocking Tales but also the sea stories and the utopian romances with their black pattern of discovery and retraction. Biblical associations are common. Swift can be felt in the conflict of the Starbordians and the Larbordians of Propeller Island,and Verne seems to have known not only German Romantics but also Hawthorne. He followed attentively his contemporaries, even those who were learning from him, and appears to have used E. E. Hale’s Brick Moon (1872) satellite story for Servadac,Villiers and Robida for The Carpathian Castle,and Wells’s Invisible Man for a later attempt on the same theme. As for his direct influence, a whole school of Verneans lasted well into the twentieth-century – from his collaborators Laurie-Grousset and Michel Verne to writers like D’Ivoi, Graffigny, Le Rouge, or the ingenious writerdesigner Robida (La Guerre au 20e siècle,1883, and La Vie électrique,1893) in France, Kraft and Dominik in Germany, Jókai in Hungary, Salgari in
Italy, and countless other imitators as far away as Russia and Japan. Also evident are the debts to Verne of many inferior English-language works of adventure SF, from the early 1870s through E. D. Fawcett, Max Pemberton, George Griffith, Conan Doyle, and the dime novels to E. R. Burroughs and the Gernsbackians. Perhaps most curious is the case of Wells, who fought so furiously against being “the English Verne” that in some cases he apparently undertook to go Verne one better – so, for example, in the underground life of Cavor’s Moon and in the Time Traveller’s depths of time as compared to the descents in Journey to the Center of the Earth or Les Indes Noires,but also in his whole program of meeting a different life as opposed to Verne’s shying away from it. Directly and through Wells, Verne is thus behind all modern SF dealing with the conquest of space and social engineering.
2. Communication Breaks Down
2.0. Verne’s popularity stands in startling contrast to the conspicuous lack of popularity of other SF between Frankenstein and the 1870s, despite the quality of some texts. Powerful social pressures on writers, running the full gamut from exile through lack of social recognition and finances to internalization of despair and resignation, “impeded any success for forms with an intense speculative drift or a strong utopian and social-satire element.” Verne’s genius made a virtue of the resulting very limited “narrative recipe,” with its elements of verisimilitude, positivistic popularization, closed world with circular plots, and taboos on such radical novums as extraterrestrials, mutations, and different sexual practices. But such limitations were in effect an interdict by the bourgeois aesthetic practice of the times against a simultaneously far-reaching and hopeful imagination, against “dreams of expanding universes … or of the happiness of metamorphoses.”13 As the
- For the quotes and the general argument in this paragraph I am indebted to Marc Angenot’s allowing me to read in manuscript his pioneering essay “Science Fiction
lines from Tennyson quoted at the beginning of this chapter imply, only fools were supposed to believe in the “dream” or the “fancy” of a change that would not be identical with the “ringing grooves” of railways carrying Victorian gentlemen and the products of capitalist industry into the world.
- It is understandable, then, that the main body of SF published in the age of Verne shows an equal uneasiness about strange novelties which might imply a radically different horizonof human relationships in the future, or indeed a radical alternative in the present. On the outskirts of capitalism, in Russia, two seeming exceptions (which will be discussed more fully in chapter 11) confirm the rule. Reacting against the overt pressures of blatant police repression, Chernyshevsky’s What Is To Be Done? (bp. 1905, 42 years after magazine publication) was a prefiguration set in an alternative present but issuing into a utopian, classless future that is its fulfillment. This imaginative but not escapist attempt of bridging timehorizons or diverting the flow of time is a revealing contrast to Verne’s only momentarily diverging present, bereft of any such future and reduced to finding its pathos in the actual adventures of momentary deviation, validated by “positive” knowledge, while they were happening and so far as they went. A confirmation of the correspondence between the location of an SF tale and its historical horizon is to be found in Dostoevsky’s “The Dream of a Ridiculous Man” (1877), which acts out a fruitful tension between his skepticism about the feasibility of, and his heartfelt longing after, a salvation within history. The dream of this tale is a framework for what is clearly spelled out as a parallel universe standing for ours. The ensuing complex balance permits Dostoevsky for the nonce to use simultaneously a twin, parallel history and an orientation toward the future recovery of lost innocence.
- Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s The Coming Race (1871) opts for a subterranean location. Yet the Romantic system of correspondences between depths, warmth, energy, and femininity is in this apostate from radicalism and admirer of Frankenstein presented with mingled fascination
in France Before Verne,” now in Science-Fiction Studies 5 (March 1978): 58–66 – all quotes in this paragraph are from ibidem, 64–65.
and horror. Sympathy and will came for Bulwer, because of their associations with revolution and communism, to represent a power for evil as well as for good. The addition of a banalized version of the occult, quasi-magnetic fluid permeating men and all nature – the vril – completes the basic givens of and explains his ambiguous attitude toward the incompatibly different mode of life in the novel. While the novel contains incidental sallies into sub-Swiftian satire on Darwinism and American democracy, Bulwer is mainly preoccupied with and uneasily indecisive about the scientific power, the collective social organization using technics instead of a “separate working class” (chap. 26), and the sexual emancipation of the Vril-ya. His device of a menaced protagonist was adopted by Wells and has since become the staple of anti-utopian SF. However, the subterranean place is neither the classical Hell, nor Holberg’s excuse for satire, nor Verne’s exhilarating Mediterranean, but an omnium gatherum of demonic menace, neutral device, and matriarchal womb – or Owen (and even Fourier), Paltock, and Tory occultism in mindless admixture. Wanting to touch all bases, such demagoguery ends finally with no score. But obversely, at the time of publication it had a great success with the mid-Victorian reading public and – together with Verne, Erewhon,and the “future war” vogue – ushered in a revival of publishing interest in an SF suggesting but also warning against the significant novum and presenting an individualistic – usually sentimental and horrific – melodrama alongside new gadgetry. One of the most interesting variants of a Bulwerian ambiguity toward the horrible but fascinating topsy-turvy country is James De Mille’s A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder (bp. 1888), which self-consciously fused it with the marvelous-voyage tradition from More to Poe’s Pym. A positive evaluation of the radical break implicit in a reasonable country of female parthenogenesis is allied to an equal indecisiveness about relating to and communicating with it in Mary Bradley Lane’s Mizora (bp. 1890), located in a warm, hyperborean “Symmesian hole.” The same location is used in William Bradshaw’s The Goddess of Atvatabar (1891) more in the vein of Haggard (and of some Bellamy) than of Bulwer. The “lost race” tale is here turned into a semioccultist yoking together of supergadgetry, feverish sentimentality, and spiritual “magnicity.” The baroque exuberance of this fine piece of eccentric Victoriana, with its holy locomotives, zoophytes, mass eroticism, and mass slaughter, teeters between the naive and the ridiculous, and reveals more frankly than Bulwer some of the central libidinal wishdreams impelling these writings.
- Samuel Butler’s Erewhon (1872) is a somewhat more lasting text because it at least approaches a sketch of the country where ulterior motives of Victorian society are explicitly unveiled. However, Butler too uses a Vernean yet undiscovered country “over the range,” on the traditionally upside-down antipodes. The diverse cognitive discussions in the text – the interchanging of illness and crime, Unreason and Reason, or religion and banking – are not only mutually incompatible expositions, they also hesitate between Swiftian bite and middle-class propriety, mildly diverting paradox and cynical justification. The fable of the Unborn has a certain Platonic charm, but what survives today is the application of Darwinist evolution to machines that could enslave man (beginning with the timemachine of the watch), prefiguring as it does the discussion of reification and of machine consciousness in cybernetics. A generation later, Butler’s sequel Erewhon Revisited retracted even such partial estrangement, as well as his own satire on the rise of religion, by its final horizon of a saving annexation to England. It is as if the anxious limitations of Trollope’s intervening venture into SF, The Fixed Period,had mediated between Butler’s two novels.
- Finally, under the immediate stimulus of 1871, the momentous year of the German victory over France and the Paris Commune, the “future war” tale blossomed forth. Though precursors can be found as far back as the anonymous The Reign of George VI 1900–1925 (1763), Mary Shelley’s Last Man,Louis Geoffroy, and the pseudonymous “Herrmann Lang”’s The Air Battle (1859) in which the southern hemisphere and dark races rule Europe, it was immediate political anxiety that prompted George T. Chesney’s The Battle of Dorking (1871). The sensational echo, the imitations, rejoinders, and alternatives it provoked, first from other military and political gentlemen and then from popular writers jumping on a rolling bandwagon, resulted in the publication of hundreds of books before 1914, ringing changes upon political lineups, the ruthlessness of the enemy, and the unpreparedness but speedy victory of one’s own gullible country.14 Their hallmark was crass Anglo-Saxon, Gallic, or Teutonic chauvinism, escalating to the “yellow danger” racism, and location in a shockingly imminent future well within the implied middle-aged reader’s life expectancy. Though decisive super-weapons were often resorted to, these tales evidence a general inability to imagine the real economic, technological, and psychological aspects of the coming world war.15 The rise of the “future war” tale demonstrates how politics can directly bring about a new literary form, how SF can be effectively used as a factor in international and domestic politics, and how bourgeois expertise could imagine a genuine future location only as awful warning – here (as different from Verne’s Eternal Adam) meretriciously combined with uplifting finale. The only justification of the sub-genre is that Wells transmuted it in The War of the Worlds – by fusing it with the “fall of civilization” subgenre – into a reflection on the whole historical epoch of liberalism and thus into significant SF.
- As we saw in considering Verne, any significant novum, in space as well as in time, grew untenable within liberal horizons. The hesitant groping toward new horizons that ensued will be discussed in the next two chapters. What remained was mostly subliterature, popularizing past writing paradigms a generation or two after they were exhausted; examples include the US post-Civil-War dime-novel series of the “Frank Reade Jr.” or the “Tom Swift” variety, set mostly in a Never-never Far West and destined to have a strong influence on modern SF. There also remained a few eccentrics swimming against the current. Among those who are the
- The fundamental but certainly incomplete bibliography appended to I. F. Clarke’s Voices Prophesying War, 1763–1984 (Bibliography IV B) lists about 300 book titles in English, French, and German. Including titles from the United States, and with fuller data on European titles, the number, I would guess, would easily surpass 500. This does not even attempt to take into account the numerous serials in boys’ magazines, etc.
- Clarke, p. 90, notes that the only writers who came anywhere near seeing the possible scientific changes in a future war were Robida, Doyle, and Wells (who foresaw not only the tank but also poison gas and the atom bomb). The latter is the only one who, to my knowledge, identified the psychological correlative of total warfare, and nobody saw the economic ones.
true progenitors of significant modern SF is Edwin A. Abbott. In his tale Flatland (1884) the location in other geometrical dimensions is the bearer of analogies to human class perception, conceiving, and behavior; its brief sketches show how strictly scientific cognition and even popularization can ascend to philosophical parable. Some other writers of the time – among them Edward Page Mitchell in the United States, whose stories touched upon a menacing android, a future of racial equality, visiting the past, invisibility, and a gracious plant intelligence-dealt with themes which were to flower in Wells and after him.16 The most interesting of such marginal people was Auguste Villiers de l’Isle Adam, a symbolist whose Cruel Tales had already sometimes hovered close to SF. His L’Ève future (1886) grafts onto a defiant Romanticism of the Hoffmann and Poe kind a concern with wondrous possibilities of modern science, personified in Edison and the “electrohuman” or “android” woman he fashions for a disenchanted Byronic or Baudelairean Lord. The Shelleys’ and Verne’s electricity has here literally become the soul or Promethean spark animating an artificial, metal and plastic creation. But for all its intelligent guesses about radiant matter in vacuum, “photosculpture,” color movies, and human electro-magnetism, the interest of Villiers’s novel lies in its twofold theme: how to find a nonphilistine Beauty in the world and how to determine the difference between a “real” but insensitive woman and an “illusion” whose behavior is more intelligent and generically more human than that of the original “bourgeois goddess.” The possibility of androids is suggested by the stereotyped behavior and ideas of people in the world of propriety and self-interest. “Chimaera for chimaera,” why should not an openly and purely artificial being, incarnating the best of human knowledge and genius, constant, sexless, and immortal, be preferable and indeed more real than such people are? And could not an ideal love be felt for such a humanized being, a “machine for manufacturing the Ideal,” rather than for the false humans?
- Though two of Mitchell’s SF stories were published in an anthology in 1884, their first book collection seems to be the one by Sam Moskowitz as The Crystal Man (Garden City, NY, 1973), who also supplied a pioneering but hyperbolic introduction on the man and the themes of his work.
In a divergence from Verne, this alternative present of pessimistic idealism does not evade but passionately hates the future in which the steam-boiler and egotistical aridity have suppressed the old values. Hadaly, the “future Eve,” is both the logical end-product of bourgeois reification or standardization (satirized also in some of the “cruel stories,” for example, “The Heavenly Ads”) and a rich countercreation named after the Ideal. A strong dose of misogyny, amounting at times to a kind of sexual racism, leads paradoxically to the concept of a Platonic, superhuman yet womanshaped, soul-sister as the worthy companion of man in his terrestrial exile. The novel teeters between the sublime and the ridiculous, with many a passage of exclamative sentimentality and shrill preaching, and ends with the usual twist into timeless – supernatural and even occult – fantasy and the destruction of the novum. Yet it not only contains splendid scenes of a Decadent, Salammbô-like otherwhere, like Edison’s underground realm of electricity with its artificial birds and flowers, it also uncovers the psychological source of many seemingly erotic but in fact asexual robot tales; and at its nucleus there is an incipient modern discussion of free will, creations with different types of logic, the burden of consciousness, and mass production of “ideals.” Puzzles of identity, role playing, and semantics appear in Villiers amid long stretches of philosophical and technical monologues. Thus, for all its impurities, The Future Eve carries the discussions of Frankenstein or “Rappaccini’s Daughter” into the age of Verne and Butler, envisaging their fascination with machines and final anti-utopian distrust of bourgeois progress as an existential problem of human sensitivity and intelligence. More than the Nemo/Nautilus centaur, or even Frankenstein’s Creature, the melancholy Hadaly, a union of spirit and scientific hardware, is the liveliest space-machine of the century.
3. Muted and transferred from time to space, the novum turned malevolent there too. Verne’s spinning world of progress spun finally into a cheerless cycle of eternal return. Communication was turning into a nightmare of Butler’s grinning statues and rigidifying orthodoxies, Bulwer’s collective superwomen, or the exchange of high explosives in future wars. In “Locksley Hall Sixty Years After” the hesitant Tennyson swung toward the disenchanting result of the century’s original if ambiguous promise:
Gone the cry of “Forward, Forward,” lost within a growing
Lost, or only heard in silence from the silence of a tomb. Half the marvels of my morning, triumphs over time and space,
“Forward” rang the voices then, and of the many mine was one.
Let us hush this cry of “Forward” till ten thousand years have gone.
But the denial of the future led to such stifling closed worlds and so acute menaces that it eventually provided the basis for rehabilitating the possibility of a brighter anticipation in the dawning of socialist hope with Bellamy and Morris.
8. Anticipating the Sunburst:
Dream, Vision – or Nightmare?
The great cry that rises from all our manufacturing cities, louder than the furnace blast, is all in very deed for this, – that we manufacture there everything except men; we blanch cotton, and strengthen steel, and refine sugar, and shape pottery; but to brighten, to strengthen, to refine, or to form a single living spirit, never enters into our estimate of advantages.
Is the Earth so?
Let her change then.
Let the Earth quicken.
Search until you know.
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music: – do I wake or sleep?
1. The gloom and recantation of SF – including utopian or social-sciencefiction – writers from Mary Shelley and Herman Melville to Jules Verne and Villiers de l’Isle Adam was part of the increasing closure of liberal bourgeois horizons. Yet at the same time the thirst for anticipations – fictional pictures of an excitingly different future – rose sharply (one assessment puts their frequency from 1871 to 1916 at 35 times the pre-1870 rate of publication).1 SF is as a genre potentially and even intrinsically oriented toward humanity’s furthest horizons, and therefore in quite aesthetic terms (that are, of course, inseparable from ethical and cognitive ones) not fully developed in the timeless, cyclical, or merely catastrophic realizations discussed in the
- Calculated by me from Ian Clarke (Bibliography I).
last two chapters. Consequently, the radical alternative of a socialist dawn found an even more congenial soil and erupted even more strongly in it than in the contemporary political surge in Germany, Britain, the United States, and elsewhere. In addition to its thematic and ideological appeal this alternative had the merit of solving the racking dilemmas brought into existence by the time of the radical Romantics – of movement forward versus the closed circle, wish versus realization, freedom versus brotherhood, skepticism versus belief, individual versus society. A whole century had dealt with these dilemmas by ingenious or feeble evasions within a spatial symbolism, and had in plot-endings washed its hands of the cognitive reason for the story’s existence. Therefore the SF narrations from Frankenstein to Villiers and most of Verne culminated in destructions and murders as the logical end and outcome of the quantitative, individually anguished Faustian quest – as opposed to the qualitative, collectively subversive Promethean quest of earlier utopian and SF writers, from More and Cyrano to Percy Shelley. Even Goethe felt he could avoid such an outcome only by tacking on to his Faust a religious happy-ending incompatible with the initial wager that validates the plot. The socialist vision of a classless millennium on Earth was thus a solution to both the ideational and the formal problems of nineteenth-century SF. It flourished for a brief time in Bellamy and Morris, the absence of its open horizon explains Mark Twain’s impatience and despairing failure in A Connecticut Yankee,and at the end of the century it provided one of the basic ingredients for Wells’s ambiguous synthesis.
1.1. In Looking Backward 2000–1887 (1888) Edward Bellamy started not only from the widespread Victorian observation that, as Disraeli put it, the rich and the poor were “two nations,” but also from the observation that “[the] working classes had quite suddenly and very generally become infected with a profound discontent with their condition, and an idea that it could be greatly bettered if they only knew how to go about it.” Bellamy was willing to show them how, for it was “[not] only the toilers of the world who are engaged in something like a world-wide insurrection, but true and humane men and women, of every degree, are in a mood of exasperation, verging on absolute revolt, against social conditions that reduce life to a brutal struggle for existence […]” (chap. 1). In Equality (1897), a sequel which set out to plug the gaps left by the first novel, he added to these sources of discontent the ruin of prairie farmers by capitalist mortgages, the degradation of women fostered by economic exploitation, the recurrent economic crises of the last third of the nineteenth century, and the concentration of three-quarters of all national wealth into the hands of 10 per cent of the population. Bellamy’s utopianism was the point at which all these deep discontents (which in the decade of the Chicago Haymarket trial ran the whole gamut between bankrupt smaller businessmen and the industrial workers who participated in the almost 6,000 strikes per year) intersected with the earlier utopian-socialist tradition of American religious and lay associationism and with the experiences of the nineteenth-century socialist movement. As a spokesman of the American “immense average of villagers, of small-town-dwellers,” Bellamy believed in “modern inventions, modern conveniences, modern facilities”2 – in Yankee gadgetry as a white magic for overcoming drudgery. This perspective differed from the Populist revolt, which inveighed in the name of the smallholder against the financial trusts of Wall Street enslaving the countryside by means of railways. Bellamy accepted the trusts as more efficient and – following their own logic-condemned only their private character as economically too wasteful and politically too dangerous to tolerate. Instead of this corporate tyranny, his practical streak of “Yankee communism, or, to be more precise, ‘Associationism’3 “led him to envisage “the nation […] organized as the one great corporation […], the sole employer, the final monopoly […] in the profits and economies of which all citizens shared” (chap. 5). Bellamy’s new frontier, replacing the West traversed by the irreversible rails, is the future. It offers not only better railways, motor carriages, air-cars, telephones, and TV, but also a classless social brotherhood of affluence which will make these means of communication generally accessible and will socialize all other upper-class privileges such as culture. Comfort and security are the ends of Bellamy’s utopia, and economic reorganization the means. In this pragmatic socialism, unhappiness is ethical waste: Looking
- W. D. Howells (Bibliography IV C), p. ix and vii.
- Daniel Aaron (Bibliography IV C), p. 95.
Backward shows forth “the economy of happiness.”4 That is brought about by universal high education, universal industrial service from the twentyfirst to the forty-fifth year, equal and guaranteed income (in nontransferable yearly credits) for every citizen including the old, children, and the sick, a flexible planning adjusting workloads and production according to demand, and a highly developed system of public bestowal of honors. Government is reduced to the operations of the Great Trust or – since the economy is run on the lines of universal civic service analogous to the military service – the Industrial Army. In it, every citizen rises through the ranks as far as his capacity will carry him. The generals of each guild or industrial branch are, however, not appointed from above but chosen by all the retired members or alumni of the guild, and so on up to the head of the army who is president of the United States. Doctors and teachers have their own guilds and regents outside this army, and a writer, artist, journal editor, or inventor can be exempted from it if a sufficient number of buyers sign over a part of their credit to support him. The sequel in Equality clarifies that economic equality gives free play to the greatest possible expansion of individuality, that there is a reservation for Thoreau-like objectors to “work out a better solution of the problem of existence than our society offers” (chap. 5 – possibly the first use of this recurring escape hatch of later utopias), that the population of the cities has drastically shrunk, that all tools are electrically powered and garments made from disposable paper, and so on.
Bellamy’s economic blueprint is integrated into the story of Julian West, who wakes from a mesmeric sleep begun in 1887 into the year 2000, is given information about the new order by Dr. Leete, and falls in love with Leete’s daughter Edith. Further, all this is a “romantic narrative” (Preface) by an anonymous historian writing in the festive year 2000 to instruct his readers in the contrasts of past and present, by looking backward. This system of mirrors and receding vistas in time is memorably reactualized in the nightmarish ending when Julian dreams of awakening back in the capitalist society of 1887. He meets its folly and moral repulsiveness with
- Unlocated quotation, apparently from Bellamy’s diary, in Aaron, p. 97.
an anguished eye which supplies to each spectral place and person a counterpossibility. This utopian estrangement culminates in the hallucination about “the possible face that would have been actual if mind and soul had lived” which he sees superimposed upon the living dead of the poor quarter; the lesson is that living in this nightmare and “pleading for crucified humanity” might yet be better than reawakening into the golden twentyfirst century – as, in a final twist, Julian does (chap. 28). Looking Backward – intimately informed by Bellamy’s constant preoccupation with human plasticity, with memory and identity (concerns of his Dr. Heidenhoff’s Process  and Miss Ludington’s Sister as well as a number of his short stories), with brute reality and ideal possibility – reposes on a symbolic balance of time horizons. Its plot is, in fact, Julian’s change of identity. In two of Bellamy’s later SF stories, “The Blindman’s World” and “To Whom This May Come” (1898), the improvident Earthmen, sundered from their neighbors and self-knowledge, are contrasted to worlds of brotherhood and transparency where men are “lords of themselves.” Julian West, the idealistic and insomniac rich idler with a revealing name, becomes an apostate from such a life in the West of 1887 through his education into a citizen of 2000, which is effected through a healer’s reasonable lectures and his daughter’s healing sympathy and intercession. The construction of a social system for the reader is also the reconstruction of the hero. This innovation in the utopian and SF tradition uses the radical-democratic paradigm which (as was noted in chapter 6) began with the American Revolution, for a positive answer to Shakespeare’s and Swift’s challenge that changing the world entails changing the “nature” of men. On the other extreme from Frankenstein,such a dialectical malleability is also an epoch-making pointer to future SF.
On the other hand, Bellamy immediately retreated from this discovery. Just as Julian is the mediator between two social systems for the reader, so Edith Leete – the descendant and, as it were, reincarnation of Julian’s fiancée from 1887 – is the steadying emotional mediator in his passage to a new world, a personal female Christ of earthly love and brotherhood. Bellamy’s is an ethical socialism, abhorring violence and hatred. The “sunburst” of a new order, “when heroes burst the barred gate of the future” (chap. 20), is validated equally by economics, ethical evolution, and Christian love; unethical economics was for him unworkable. Such a millenary horizon makes for a fundamental, qualitative change: the future brings a different, purified space and man. The friendly house of Dr. Leete stands on the burnt-down remnants of Julian’s house and on top of his underground shelter, which have to be excavated as a feat of archeology for the twentyfirst century. For Julian, the Leete household is the hearth of spacious, reasonable, clean, classless Boston of the year 2000, and Edith is not too far from an image of his favorite writer Dickens, the cricket on the hearth. The hard-headed civic pragmatism is only the obverse of a soft-hearted petty-bourgeois romance or “fairy tale of social felicity.”5
This fairytale character is most evident in Bellamy’s sanguine expectation of a nonviolent, imminent, and instantaneous abandonment of private capitalism by universal recognition of its folly. With telling effect he extrapolated bourgeois rationality, ethics, and institutions to a logical end-product of universal public ownership. But this consistent pedagogic starting from the known signifies a sanitizing of capitalism to ensure the freedom, equality, brotherhood, and abundance of the Rationalist or Jeffersonian dreams. Bellamy remained limited by such ideals, which form an important part but by no means the final horizon of a socialist future. It is perhaps unfair to judge his fascination with the army as a model of rational organization by the normative ethical reaction toward armies today, since he acquired it in Lincoln’s days and translated it into peaceful and constructive terms, just as Fourier did. Further, any self-respecting utopia before automation had to ensure its working by a certain harshness for recalcitrants (and Bellamy – possibly learning from Morris – clearly evolved toward greater openness and participatory democracy in Equality,where all officials are subject to recall). Nonetheless, even there he continued to stress a hybrid of state mobilization and “public capitalism” (chap. 22); neither did he modify his patronizing dismissal from Looking Backward of “the more backward races” (chap. 13) and political efforts by narrow-minded workingmen, nor, above all, his faith in technocratic
- Edward Bellamy, “How I Came to Write Looking Backward,” The Nationalist (May 1889): 1; reprinted in Science-Fiction Studies 4 (July 1977): 194.
regimentation within economic production as opposed to ideal classless relations outside them, all of which strike an alienating note in the tradition of Saint-Simon and Cabet rather than that of Fourier or Marx. That note is out of harmony with his basic libertarian preoccupations, and introduces into his romance a cold and static element.
But if Bellamy is a pragmatist who is not comfortable when depicting sweeping processes of change, he is at his strongest in the shrewd treatment of the economics of everyday life – of dressing and love, the distribution of goods, the cultural activities – and in the brilliant passages on making democratic supply and demand work outside a capitalist framework, for example, in organizing a journal or in solving brain-drain between countries. On such occasions, Bellamy is quite free from a State Socialism regulating everything from above. When contrasting such warm possibilities with the irrationality and dead-end character of private competition, his clear and attractive, though sometimes pedestrian, style rises to little parabolic inserts of great force, as the initial allegory of the Coach, the parables of the Collective Umbrella and of the Rosebush, or (in Equality)the parables of the Water-Tank and of the Masters of the Bread. All such apologues, exempla, and parables come from a laicized and radical pulpit style, openly displayed in the sermon on the sunburst from Looking Backward. It is within this New England oral and public tradition, from the Bible and the Platonic dialogues and not from the genteel literature of Gilded Age mandarins, that Bellamy’s rhetoric arises as an imposing and sometimes splendid accomplishment of its kind. Such addresses were primarily meant for middle-class women, and Julian’s sentimental intrigue as well as the whole ethical tone of Looking Backward addressed itself to them, and generally to that part of the educated classes which felt insecure and unfree in bourgeois society. Thus Bellamy’s homely lucidity made his romance, with all its limitations, the first authentically American socialist anticipation tale.
Bellamy’s success can – as always in significant SF – be expressed in terms of a creative fusion of various strands and traditions. These were not only literary, but reached back to the hundreds of religious or lay utopian communities which had been tried in the young United States. Though all of them finally collapsed as utopian communities under the violent pressures of an inimical environment, their legacy to American horizons from Hawthorne to our day has been larger than commonly assumed. An attenuated lay vision of the glorious City had now and then crossed from the oral and hortatory into the written fictional tradition, in works such as Mary Griffith’s feminist, abolitionist, and technological anticipation “Three Hundred Years Hence” (1836), Edward Kent’s and Jane S. Appleton’s future city of Bangor in Voices from the Kenduskeag (1848), and several descriptions by Edward Everett Hale culminating in “My Visit to Sybaris” (1869) and How They Lived in Hampton (1888). Though Howells exaggerated when he claimed for Bellamy “a romantic imagination surpassed only by that of Hawthorne,”6 Bellamy did interfuse such narratively helpless precursors – to whom one should add Fénelon, Cabet, and contemporary British anticipations by E. Maitland (By and By,1873), H.C.M. Watson (Erchomenon,1879), W.D. Hay (Three Hundred Years Hence,1881), or P.C. Wise (Darkness and Dawn,1884) – with an effective Romantic system of correspondences. In particular, he seems to have drawn on a number of important elements from John Macnie’s The Diothas (1883), such as a utopia with an industrial army, love with a descendant of the nineteenthcentury sweetheart named Edith like her ancestress, or the use of radio.7 But, most importantly, Bellamy was the first to go all the way with such a lay millenarianism. Therefore, his ending, which refuses the easy alibi of it all being a dream – a norm from Mercier and Griffith to Macnie – marks the historical moment when this tradition came of age and changed from defensive to self-confident. The new vision achieves, within the text, a reality equal to that of the author’s empirical actuality. This claim translates into historical cognition Hawthorne’s psychological fantasy and, especially, the long sleep of Irving’s Rip van Winkle, itself cognate to folktales such as the Sleeping Beauty or the Seven Sleepers (Hawthorne and Irving are the only U.S. authors in Dr. Leete’s library). Bellamy links thus two strong American
- Howells, p. xiii.
- Arthur E. Morgan’s refutation, in his Plagiarism in Utopia (Yellow Springs, OH, 1944), of Bellamy’s supposed plagiarism from The Diothas seems both unconvincing and unnecessarily fond of the shibboleth of “originality,” exactly as pertinent to literary value as bourgeois copyright law, and particularly inapplicable to SF, including utopian fiction.
traditions: the fantastic one of unknown worlds and potentialities, and the practical one of organizing a new world – both of which avail themselves of powerful biblical parallels while translating them from religion to economics. His materialist view of history as a coherent succession of changing human relationships and social structures was continued by Morris and Wells, and thence was built into the fundaments of subsequent SF. The same holds for the plot that educates the reader into acceptance of the strange locus and its values by following the puzzled education of a representative protagonist. Modern SF, though it has forgotten this one among its ancestors, builds on Looking Backward much as Dr. Leete’s house was built on Julian’s ruins and on top of the hermetically sealed sleeping chamber under its foundations.
Particular traits from Bellamy’s other works also drew from and returned into the SF tradition. The Flammarion-like cosmically exceptional blindness of C.S. Lewis’s Earthmen and E.R. Burroughs’s transferal by spirit to Mars are also found in “The Blindman’s World,” and the despotic oligarchy as the alternative to revolution in Wells and London has a direct precursor in Equality. Most immediately, the immense ideologico-political echo of Looking Backward reverberated around the globe through numerous writers of sequels, rebuttals, and parallels. Bellamy had hit exactly the right note at a time of widespread search for alternatives to ruthless plutocracy, and between 100 and 200 utopian tales expounding or satirizing social democracy, state regulation of economy, a Populist capitalism, or various uncouth combinations thereof were published in the United States from 1888 to the first World War. Though none of them approached Bellamy’s coherence, the most notable were Ignatius Donnelly’s melodramatic Caesar’s Column (1890) and Howells’s politely satirical discussions in A Traveller from Altruria (1894). In Britain the echo was to be felt down to Wells, and in Germany it resulted in at least two dozen utopian and anti-utopian tales. But the perfect complement to Looking Backward was written by William Morris.
1.2. As so many other utopias, Morris’s News from Nowhere (1890) was a direct reply to Looking Backward. Reviewing it, he had denounced Bellamy’s “unhistoric and unartistic” temperament which “makes its owner (if a socialist) perfectly satisfied with modern civilization, if only the injustice, misery and waste of class society could be got rid of ” and whose ideal of life “is that of the industrious professional middle-class man of today, purified from [the] crime of complicity with the monopolist class”; whence it follows “that he conceives of the change to socialism as taking place without any breakdown of that life, or indeed disturbance of it.” Morris especially objected to Bellamy’s stress on both technological and social machinery that leaves the impression “of a huge standing army, tightly drilled,” to the corresponding “State Communism” as opposed to direct participatory democracy, and to the reduction of labor instead of its change to work as pleasure, work blended with an art which “is not a mere adjunct of life […] but the necessary and indispensable instrument of human happiness.”8
Accordingly, it is direct, sensual relationships of men to each other and to nature, a different civilization where useful work is pleasure, that provide the fundament of News from Nowhere. It adopts the frame of Looking Backward,which begins with the narrator falling asleep and waking up in the future house built on the place of his own, and ends with his terrible return to his own time. But from the very beginning, Morris’s story is a counterproject to Bellamy’s. It is presented neither as a safe retrospective from the year 2000 nor as the voice of a lone member of the upper class, but as one privileged voice and vision of the future among several others possible and held within the socialist party of which Morris was a member, and in whose periodical News from Nowhere was published serially. The whole story is informed by the tone of a man displaying his personal vision for consent to potential comrades in bringing it about, and yet very aware of its distance in the future. This approach blends collective validity and personal heartbreak. It is much richer than the easy Christian Socialist resolution of Julian West’s private anguish by means of a resurrected bride, for it takes into full consideration both the collective difficulty of arriving at and the personal impossibility of
- William Morris, “Looking Backward,” The Commonweal,22 June 1889; reprinted in Science-Fiction Studies 3 (November 1976): 287–90, together with Morris’s also pertinent introduction to his Kelmscott Press edition of More’s Utopia.
setting up an abode in the promised classless land: the narrator William Guest – Morris’s persona – is in the position of Moses walking through a vision of Canaan. Therefore, the story does not, as does that of West, progress through sallies from a safe individual hearth. It retains the obligatory outlining of the future in the Mercier-to-Bellamy tradition – here a ride from Hammersmith to the British Museum, that repository of collective memory; but it adds two further and historically new elements. First, it introduces an account of the revolution that brought the future about; though today this account may seem still too naive and optimistic, it is of a different order of credibility than the sudden wholesale social conversions depicted by previous writers up to and including Bellamy. Second, the bittersweet rowing up the Thames shows what the future might have meant to the author-narrator personally. Together with the ubiquitous guide Dick, the average Nowherean, Guest’s main partner in the first part of the story is Old Hammond, the custodian of history, and in the second part Ellen, the incarnation of the “pleasure of life” of the future present.
The narrator’s vision is also a dream. Not only can it naturalistically be considered a dream in his nineteenth-century Hammersmith bed, it is also a wish-dream. Reacting against the capitalist use of machinery that polluted the life of man and the Earth and created ugliness and misery, Morris began with the Pre-Raphaelite tradition of art as daydreaming. However, in its refusal to look deeper into the basic problems of reality such an art became nonetheless the complement of reality, as green complements red, and thus directly dependent upon it – pretty where actuality is ugly, sweet where it is bitter, brightly shaped where it is amorphous and sooty, a pastoral where it is an ulcer of slums:
Forget six counties overhung with smoke,
Forget the snorting steam and piston stroke,
Forget the spreading of the hideous town;
Think rather of the pack-horse on the down, And dream of London, small, and white, and clean, The clear Thames bordered by its gardens green… .
[Morris, The Earthly Paradise]
Steam-age capitalism was ruthlessly transforming towns into “an extension of the coal mine”9 and the countryside into the spoils for the railway that already Thoreau complained about, and developing the war of each against each into global imperialisms. In a technique similar to More’s, News From Nowhere is primarily a counterproject to that life:
The hope of the past times was gone. […] Was it all to end in a counting-house on the top of a cinder-heap, with Podsnap’s drawing-room in the offing, an a Whig committee dealing champagne to the rich and margarine to the poor in such convenient proportions as would make all men contended together, though the pleasure of the eyes was gone from the world […]? [Morris, “How I Became a Socialist”10]
At this high point of the paleotechnic world, any sensitive artist might have wished with Guest “for days of peace and rest, and cleanness and smiling goodwill” (chap. 1). For its “realities were money, price, capital, shares: the environment itself, like most of human existence, was treated as an abstraction. Air and sunlight, because of their deplorable lack of value in exchange, had no reality at all.”11 On the contrary, News from Nowhere presents an airy and sunny environment, where only direct interhuman relations are clearly envisaged. In contrast to the capitalist gospel of toil, work as playful human necessity stands at the novel’s moral center. In contrast to the Victorian starvation of the mind and the senses, the novel’s figures are perhaps the fullest and least self-conscious Epicureans in modern English literature. And in contrast to the terrible anxieties of blood-and-iron progress, the novel’s subtitle is “An Epoch of Rest.”
There is accordingly a strong element of mere escape in News from Nowhere. With disturbing implications for a utopian romance, Morris overreacted into a total refusal to envisage any machinery, technological
- Lewis Mumford (Bibliography IV A), p. 159 – but see his whole chapter 4.
- All of Morris’s essays cited in this chapter in parenthesis by title are to be found in Political Writings of William Morris,ed. A. L. Morton (New York, 1973), an indispensable companion to his novel; in particular, the essay “The Society of the Future” (1887) is the nearest thing to an ideological nucleus of News from Nowhere.
- Mumford, p. 168.
or societal. This amounts to leaving his future society without any economic or organizational basis. As to the economy, a “force-barge” with an undisclosed new energy is the only exception to a turning away from and indeed dismantling of technology in Nowhere. People who are so minded can collect together to draw on the universally available “power” (energy) in workshops, but this is used only for handicrafts; for the rest, England is now a garden. Morris makes some telling points about the “never-ending series [of ] sham or artificial necessaries” (chap. 15) imposed by the capitalist world market that necessarily enslaved colonial countries as a counterpart to the corruption of consumer taste. But to reject resolutely not only useless forms of technology and industrial organization but technical productivity and inventiveness in general while keeping the population stable and affluent, as News from Nowhere does, is self-defeating. Any utopographer has the right to fashion his Land of Heart’s Desire; but he has a corresponding obligation to make it an at least arguable alternative possibility.
It could be argued that the gap left by Morris’s disgust with modern economics might today be filled in by an imaginative reader supplying his own economics, based on the possibilities of automation and other ways of “post-industrial” productivity which Morris could not know about – though his vision assumed that humanity would somehow evolve “immensely improved machinery” (chap. 15) for irksome tasks if only basic problems of social organization were solved. Unfortunately, the absence of sociopolitical organization in Nowhere is a gap that cannot be argued away and denies it the status of a utopia. True, there is a classical Marxist glimpse of “communes and colleges” (chap. 5) run by participatory democracy. However, overcompensating for Bellamy’s state apparatus and clear lines of power, News from Nowhere omits all machinery for determining priorities between communes or any other basic units. Yet all production, including very much an automated one, requires – as long as it is not simply magical – coordination and a (however truly participatory) system of vertical decision making. As Bellamy astutely countered in his review of Morris, “[no] degree of moral improvement [will] lessen the necessity of a strictly economic administration for the directing of the productive and distributive machinery.”12 News from Nowhere sacrifices human productivity in order to get rid of Statism and technocracy.
But if it is not a utopia, and much less prophetic anticipation, News from Nowhere is the finest specimen of Earthly Paradise story in modern literature. As I argued in chapters 3 and 5, the Terrestrial Paradise – a place of this-worldly fleshly contentment, magical fertility, happiness, health, and youth – is a wish-dream that does not focus on economic and sociopolitical organization; it is a magical parallel world akin to folktale and pastoral yet of collective import as an alternative community to be striven for. Morris’s tale has almost all of these elements. The weather and the people are (perhaps a shade monotonously) perpetually summery, the salmon are back in the Thames, and Shelleyan consentaneous love inspires all breasts (though there is just enough exception to keep it from being too saccharine). Liberated from grim capitalism, the world has entered upon its “second childhood” (chap. 19), very similar to an idealized version of the fourteenth century and characterized by a childishly unspoiled enjoyment in artful work not sundered from play: all its people look younger than they would in our civilization. Above all, the dryness of the usual utopian panoramic sweep is avoided by Morris’s fashioning the second part of the story as a personal working out of the new country, as a glimpse of the narrator’s alternative – happy and wholesome – life. His journey up the magical waters of the fertile Thames, signposted with references to a range of legends from the Grimm Brothers tales “from the childhood of the world” (chap. 16) to Tennyson’s Lotos Eaters, shows Morris’s rich and contrapuntal use of the Romantic fairy tale. The newly fertile land and happy relationships in the future England are the result of a metamorphosis from the ugly Victorian past – still inscribed in Guest’s clothes, looks, and memories – to the clear and colorful beauty of the Nowherean present, a metamorphosis analogous to Andersen’s ugly duckling reborn as a beautiful swan. Under the spell of his rejuvenating journey toward the sources, the narrator also moves toward the happiness felt in his childhood.
- [Edward Bellamy,]”News from Nowhere,” New Nation,14 February 1891, p. 47, quoted in Sylvia E. Bowman et al. (Bibliography IV C), p. 94.
Nonetheless, “shades of the prison-house” are inescapably upon the narrator-protagonist: he personally can only testify to, not accomplish for himself, the metamorphosis that brings happiness. The tension between the report about collective happiness and the personal melancholy of the guest-reporter in that Earthly Paradise – for him truly a Nowhere – refuses a Bellamy-type sentimental happy ending. The crucially more mature resolution is not one of ethical salvation, as in Looking Backward,but one of political strife. We are back at Blake’s great oath not to let “the sword sleep in my hand” until Jerusalem is built “in England’s green and pleasant land.” But here such a strife is translated from Blake’s arena of a single mind to public political struggle, as personal compensation for and collective justification of Guest’s visit and departure;
… Ellen’s last mournful look seemed to say, “No, it will not do; you cannot be of us; you belong so entirely to the unhappiness of the past that our happiness even would weary you. […] Go back and be the happier for having seen us, for having added a little hope to your struggle. Go on living while you may, striving, with whatsoever pain and labour needs must be, to build up little by little the new day of fellowship, and rest, and happiness.”
Yes, surely! and if others can see it as I have seen it, then it may be called a vision rather than a dream, [chap. 32]
For this dream is, finally, to be understood in the tradition of the medieval genre of the same name, in which the convention, as in Langland or Chaucer, is that the author relates the dream as a non-naturalistic analogy – often using the fable or other allegorical means – to public problems of great personal import. Morris had already used this convention in his SF story about the peasant revolt in the Middle Ages, A Dream of John Ball (1888). Its narrator, double horizon of defeat and yet victory, historical assumptions, and time scheme combined with color imagery (night and moon opposed to “the east crimson with sunrise”) prefigure the fuller use in News from Nowhere. But just as A Dream of John Ball was not an Individualistic historical novel, so the later work is not to be taken for positivistic prophecy but for the figure or type of a fulfilment that could or should come. In that roundabout, dialectical way News from Nowhere and its “ideal of the old pastoral poets” can, through its nucleus of frank and beautiful human relationships to other humans and to nature, be reintegrated into anticipatory utopianism. Its Earthly Paradise is an analogy to the classless socialist day. Its collective dream, “if others can see it,” will finally also be a vision reinserted into history. Staying within the bourgeois – or indeed WASP – existential horizons, Bellamy had pursued the everyday need for security to its logical conclusion and ended up with the socialist dawn as an order of things, a societas rerum. Reneging on the bourgeois existential horizons but opposing to them unrealistically idealized preindustrial – indeed bohemian – horizons, Morris pursued the arrested timeless moment, the visionary dream (in all the above senses) of Earthly Paradise to its logical conclusion and ended up with another aspect of that same dawn: creative and therefore beautiful human relations, a societas hominum. Between them, they covered the technical premises and sensual horizons of that dawn: each lacks what the other has. For a brief but still significant historical moment – which extended to Wells, London, and Zamyatin – the discussion about darkness and dawn became one inside the international socialist movement.
Dawn or sunburst, a favorite image of that whole movement, is here particularly appropriate because of close correspondences among people, vegetation, and the seasons of day and year. Morris’s narrator went to sleep in a wintry night, when the young moon portended renewal; he wakes up, “by witness of the riverside trees,” in a bright morning of spring or summer. The sunlight denotes happiness, as the moonlight throughout the story reminds the narrator of the past times. Colors too are connected with the opposed tempers and historical epochs, “the sombre greyness, or rather brownness, of the nineteenth century” versus “the gaiety and brightness” of the twenty-first (chap. 19). Mankind has again become a part of nature, “men and women [are] worthy of the sweet abundance of midsummer” (chap. 21), and the river-side trees are emblems as much as witnesses to it. The representative denizen of the future, Ellen, sums it up in her cry: “O me! O me! How I love the earth, and the seasons, and weather, and all things that deal with it, and all that grows out of it […]” (chap. 31). She is the ideal partner or anima of Morris, who characterized himself in “How I Became a Socialist” as a man “careless of metaphysics and religion, as well as of scientific analysis, but with a deep love of the earth and the life on it, and a passion for the history of the past of mankind.”
The arrested moment of Earthly Paradise is conveyed by a series of pictures, one of Morris’s basic stylistic devices. The vision in News from Nowhere sharply etches in colors and shades, time and place – especially the topography of London and the Thames valley – but it is most attentive to the sensual nuances of behavior and movement of humans through a nature produced by their hands’ work. The beautiful bridges, the gardenlike banks of the Thames, the haysels, and the old house that grows out of the earth are of the same stuff as the nut-brown maids “born out of the summer day itself ” (chap. 21), flowers in the green countryside. Yet this pictorial, at times somewhat picturesque vision is ever and again clouded by the dreamlike melancholy and alienation of the beholder. The bemused and never quite sunny narrator does not fully fit into the bright day of the pictorial narration. He comes from the wrong, moony or night side of the dawn, and he finally has to step outside the picture frame and fade from the Earthly Paradise. Yet, in their turn, the translucent characters, scenery, and style all harmonize with the yearning of the narrator in an “identity of situation and feeling.”13 Nowhere and William Guest are two polar aspects of Morris the author – the healing, achieved hope and the wounded, hoping subject. Both the subject and his hope are in some ways marked by PreRaphaelite narcissism and thus very much at odds with modern taste. But the sensual immediacy and clarity of their interaction render with great fidelity and economy a genuine poetry of human beauty and transience. The characters are ranged along a graduated spectrum which extends from the clouded narrator to Ellen, the personification of sunshine loveliness. Nearest to Guest are Old Hammond with his knowledge of, and the “grumbler” with his eccentric penchant for, the old-time unhappiness, while the fulcrum of the narration is occupied by Dick and Clara. Since this is “a land of fellowship rather than authority, there are no fathers: a generation is always skipped.”14 But all characters are mirror-images of the narrator (Old Hammond) or of the landscape, and all elements of the story a system of stylistic mirrors which would easily become tedious were it not for the
- Raymond Williams, Culture and Society 1780–1950 (Bibliography IV C), p. 234.
- Tom Middlebro’ (Bibliography IV C), p. 10.
fundamental existential estrangement and opposition between Nowhere and England, the twenty-first and the nineteenth century, light and soot, summer and winter. The narration glides in a leisurely manner among these clarifying mirrors, progressing from Guest’s first immersions into the Thames of the future and the deurbanized London to the explanation of history, the beauty of the river journey, and – since he cannot be in at the fruition – his final expulsion from the harvest celebration.
The horizons of News from Nowhere are a variant of Marxism, with a bias toward Fourier’s passionate attraction for work and pleasure but without his systematization. Human history is seen as a dialectical development from tribal communism, or from Morris’s beloved Middle Ages, through capitalism to classless society, “from the older imperfect communal period, through the time of the confused struggle and tyranny of the rights of property, into the present rest and happiness of complete Communism” (chap. 27). The chapter “How the Change Came” extrapolates from the experience of French revolutions and English working-class agitation, such as the Bloody Sunday demonstration of 1887, a first approximation to realistic revolution in SF. There are also shrewd hints about the transitional period after the revolution. True, the resulting life, in which mathematics is an eccentric foible on a par with antiquarian novels and education is left to haphazard communion with the society of people and things, is in many important aspects a multiplication ad infinitum of ideals from Morris’s arts and crafts circle. However, if he sees life somewhat too exclusively as a Pre-Raphaelite work of art, at least Morris went to the logical end of his generation’s demand that life should become a work of art. He took it seriously, that is, literally and collectively, and tried to depict its realization. If the attempt was not wholly successful because of Morris’s well-founded but one-sided distrust of science, still the further horizons of such life are open-ended. Like any Golden Age or Eden in or after Morris’s favorites Homer, Hesiod, and the Bible, this is a static society. But in Morris’s scheme of history it is explicitly an epoch of cleansing rest, which might well evolve further.
1.3. News from Nowhere is an alternative not only to what Morris felt as mawkish bourgeois novels and as the technocracy of Looking Backward. In the spectrum of SF it is also an alternative to both of the contemporary basic variants of the “post-catastrophe tale” – W. H. Hudson’s merely escapist and idiosyncratic pastoral and Richard Jefferies’s embracing of “hard” barbarism and primitivism. Jefferies’s After London (1885) introduced a fall of civilization patterned after that of the Roman Empire, which results in a return to the barbarian – part feudal and part slave-owning – social order. In his novel the reasons for the catastrophe are unclear – possibly economic, perhaps cosmic – but in such works reasons are as a rule secondary to the middle classes’ sense of impending doom and wish-dream of a new start. The reassertion of wild life which Jefferies renders with peculiar intensity, the legends about “the ancients” and their knowledge, the poisonous site of the old metropolis, and the new geopolitics superimposed on old maps subsequently became the staple of a whole range of SF. Hudson’s mellifluous A Crystal Age (1887) introduced the other timeless simplification of pastoral, here recomplicated by changed sexual behavior in a beehive-type matriarchal family. In a reversal of Bulwer, the fever of sexual passion is equated with the individualist civilization, but it is again both a sign of sickness and indispensably sweet to the protagonist. Both of these works have some elements similar to Morris’s, since they totally reject the present and the city. Morris read After London before he wrote his book and was stimulated to “absurd hopes”15 by its picture of deurbanization. But his romance is a third way, transcending the opposition between Bellamy’s ethicoreligious pacification and Jefferies’s politicogeological devolution, as well as that between escapism a la Hudson and naturalistic sentimentality. Guest and his hosts are obscurely conscious of meeting “as if I were a being from another planet” (chap. 9); but he is also the link between the universes of darkness and sunlight, and Morris overcomes the one-sidedness of these various traditions by a blend of verisimilitude and Earthly Paradise, by a future sunlight constantly contrasting with our darkness – as befits a dawn.
Finally, Morris’s underlying view of world and man is simply and beautifully but inexorably materialistic. Though there is no immortality in Nowhere – the only feature of Earthly Paradise not incorporated – death and sorrow, as in the episode of the jealousy killing, do not destroy but
- Quoted (from Morris’s letter to Mrs. Burne-Jones of 28 April 1885) in A. L. Morton (Bibliography II), p. 204.
confirm the paradise. For in this view the individual is bound up with his fellows and nature in an existence that has wholly eradicated the social and cosmic alienation of man. Morris “seems to retire far from the real world and to build a world out of his wishes; but when he has finished the result stands out as a picture of experience ineluctably true.”16 In Bellamy’s romance the new vision evolved systematically out of facets of the old; his “colder” political stance is accompanied by a closed and often oppressive narrative structure. In Morris’s romance the new vision as a whole is incompatible with the old; its open and airier structure is homologous to his warmer, nonregimenting politics. As we have seen, Bellamy’s vision achieved therefore within his book a reality equal to that of the author’s empirical environment; but Morris’s achieved an “ineluctable” reality superior to that of the old civilization. That is why his narrator, tragically marked by the old, must in the end be extruded from the vision.
Let us compare one representative feature: Dr. Leete’s private room in the communal dining house stands for Bellamy’s general treatment of the public whole as a sum of rationalized and sanitized private elements, no doubt spatially transposed and regrouped but qualitatively unchanged. It is a dining room for a monogamous family and its private guests, just as the speech, furniture, dress, maidenly blushes, and the like – in short, the whole lifestyle of the future Bostonians – is for all practical purposes simply extrapolated from the style of “their cultured ancestors of the nineteenth [century]” (chap. 4). On the contrary, Morris’s dining rooms harbor truly communal feasts, open to the abundant fertility of nature, and with a large cast of erotically sympathetic and open “neighbours” who transmit information to the narrator by asking him curious questions rather than simply lecturing him, and us, as affable but omniscient teachers. The Hammersmith Guest House, likewise erected on the site of the narrator’s nineteenth-century dwelling, is its temporal extension not into a safer private home, as in Bellamy, but into a collective entity that has done away with the pernicious sundering of private and public, indoors and outdoors, beauty and utility. Morris’s dining place is a fusion of an idealized fourteenth century and
- C. S. Lewis (Bibliography IV A), p. 54.
classical antiquity, open to the garden and river glimpsed beyond: but the improved architecture, food, and flowers have a counterpart in men and women who age at less than half the Victorian rate. For all the borrowings from the past, such a sweeping biological improvement is the measure of the qualitative difference between Nowhere and any, however “cultured,” nineteenth-century lifestyle.
Furthermore, the whole narrative of Looking Backward progresses as a retrospective series of West’s topographical and ideological sallies into the new Boston from the individual, monogamous hearth of the Leetes and under their reassuring guidance. Any unaccompanied personal venture from this safe cocoon immediately provokes in West a “horror of strangeness” (chap. 5), an existential or indeed existentialist nausea that is – most revealingly – quite as violent in the supposedly safe new Boston of the future as in the nightmare of returning to the competitive old Boston of the past. This microcosm, consisting of a very restricted number of spaces and characters, imparts a strong agoraphobic aura to Bellamy’s millennium: it harbors a panic fear, for which only the closure of space, of ideas (State Socialism), and of the narration itself can provide a remedy. The underlying metaphoric cluster of his book is one of static healing, whereas in Morris’s book it is one of dynamic observation during a journey. That is why, though Bellamy came within an ace of returning his narrator to the nineteenth century to work in his own epoch for his new vision, and furthermore made it clear that this would have been the ethically proper course to follow, it was left for the libertarian communist Morris, with his less hidebound readership, to actually effect this large step. The supreme sacrament of acceptance into Bellamy’s society is a mystically subromantic marriage into which the narrator once and for all escapes, in a sentimental happy ending of ethical – rather than political – salvation. Quite homologously, Bellamy’s fear of existential openness unshielded by a personal savior or vertical hierarchy is also the motivation for his ideological stance, for example, that in favor of strict industrial organization and against a forcible political revolution: in utopian writings, politics are based on the author’s simultaneously deeply personal and deeply classbound psychology. Thus Morris’s novel not only more than doubles the number of characters (two main women and two main guides instead of one each in Bellamy – plus a great number of subsidiary characters instead of the lone Mrs. Leete and some disembodied voices and faces); it also enriches the times, spaces, and overall complexity of their relationships. In brief, Morris transcends Bellamy’s model of fraternity under the “fatherhood of God” (chap. 26) and of lay elders (the alumni, the father-figure of Dr. Leete) in favor of the youthful, self-governing, and as it were parthenogenetic model of potential lovers. Where Bellamy opts for a psychological repression of selfdetermination, equally of the workers at their working place and of sexual relationships (demurely identical to those in the contemporary sentimental novel), Morris opts for an extension of sympathy or libido to the whole of the gardenlike nature, a sinless Earthly Paradise. The supreme sacrament of acceptance into his society is, therefore, not sentimentality but the actual journeying and working together, as far as is realistically feasible.
This is not to belittle the achievements of Bellamy or to ignore the gaps in Morris. Both writers are deeply committed to an anguished distancing from nineteenth-century capitalism and to a different life. However, following the main US tradition, Bellamy’s “scheme was arithmetic and comfort,”17 and it resulted mainly in a sentimental dream and a tight and earnest embracing of security,where anguish is discharged upon a series of personal mediators, whereas Morris’s journeying results mainly in a painterly vision and an attempt at direct creativity,which, being openended, is inseparable from a possible anguish to be resolved only in selfdetermined practice or praxis. Yet, in other ways, the dreams or visions of Bellamy and Morris can also be treated as complementary: there is, finally, no need to make an exclusive choice between them. The paradox of Looking Backward being both more limited than and yet complementary to News from Nowhere is finally the paradox of Christian Socialism itself, simultaneously committed to the patriarchal vertical of the “fatherhood of God” and to the libertarian horizontal of the “brotherhood of Man.” Such conflicting Protestant and middle-class abstractions are resolved by
- Emerson’s note (in Journals 5: 473–74, quoted in Vernon Louis Parrington [Bibliography IV A], 2:349) on the Brook Farm project.
Morris: radically careless of the fatherhood, he explores the meaning and price of brotherhood in terms of an intimate neighborliness.
Accordingly, it is not discrete scenes of estrangement and parables that stand out in News from Nowhere,as they do in Bellamy. Learning from him, Morris also provides a few such scenes: the phantasmagoric vision of Bloody Sunday superimposed upon the sight of the orchard leading to “the Parliament House, or Dung Market” (chap. 7); the shocking final recognition of the dark cloud and the servile men of the nineteenth century. But it is the tone of the whole vision-dream – the book-length parable of new human relations in a society of “wealthy freemen” (chap. 14), beauty, and “free exercise of the senses and passions of a healthy human animal, so far as this [does] not injure the other individuals of the community” (Morris, “The Society of the Future”) – that remains with the reader. It is the historical horizon, the spectacle of people who “pass [their] lives in a reasonable strife with nature, exercising not one side of [themselves] only, but all sides, taking the keenest pleasure in all the life of the world” (chap. 9), in counterpoint with a Marxist “optimistic tragedy” borne by the narrator bereft of such a life, that gives News from Nowhere its bittersweet, tensile strength. Within a well-defined, deep but narrow sensibility, its dialectics of consciousness and unconsciousness establishes an Earthly Paradise more real and more human than the reader’s tawdry actuality. If Morris’s romance harkens back to almost animistic elements, it does so as the crown of a plebeian tradition of legends and folktales. Morris could have claimed for himself, in Fourier’s phrase, that unlike the best political economists who wanted to throw light on the chaos, he wanted to lead out of it. Though News from Nowhere only partly escapes the weakness of utopias – their abstractness – it fully shares their strength, which lies “in the ineluctable and the absolute.”18 And even the abstractness is overcome in Morris’s late essays, his crowning and truly utopian works such as “How We Live and How We Might Live,” “The Society of the Future,” “How I Became a Socialist,” and “Communism.” In them he even accepted the
- Ernst Bloch (Bibliography II), 1:679; from here, 1:677, is also the paraphrase of Fourier’s dictum.
cognitive necessity of (as he wrote in “Communism”) “time [teaching] us what new machinery may be necessary to the new life.” This is Morris’s final marriage of art with history.
Morris bequeathed to SF several key elements. He endowed Bellamy’s suffering narrator in the new country with philosophical and poetic value. He transferred a believable revolution from political tracts into fiction, fathering a line that stretches from Wells’s The Sleeper Wakes through Jack London, Alexei Tolstoy, G. B. Shaw and Robert A. Heinlein to the flood of SF revolts in the last 40 years. His utopian pastoral or Earthly Paradise has had less success than Jefferies’s neobarbarism or Hudson’s titillating escapism, though it can be felt as the endangered alternative from Wells’s Eloi to C. S. Lewis’s Venus or Le Guin’s New Tahiti (in The Word for World Is Forest). But his dialectical, tragic, and victorious Epicurean socialism remains the mature horizon of all SF drawing upon hopes of an open future for human beings and for the Earth. No one has yet surpassed Morris in his intimate understanding that “times of change, disruption, and revolution are naturally times of hope also” (“The Hopes of Civilization”). No one in nineteenth-century SF, and few outside it, conveyed this understanding in such lucid and warm prose.
2.1. Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889) can be compared in very revealing ways with Looking Backward (and News From Nowhere)responding as it does to the same acute social dilemma which powered the anticipation stories. It too is “a philosophical fable which sets forth a theory of capitalism and an interpretation of the historical process that has brought it into being.”19 Twain too confronts two historical epochs by means of a narrator-commentator from the author’s epoch, a stranger to the epoch he is strangely projected into and which finally ejects him (in Bellamy this ejection is then reversed, proving to be a dream, as it is in a way in “Twain’s” postscript). But instead of finding himself in a bright future, Twain’s Hank Morgan arrives in the darkest Middle Ages. Bellamy’s story was presented as a new type of hortative historical romance written in and in praise of an estranged utopian future; Twain’s is presented
- Henry Nash Smith, Mark Twain’s Fable of Progress (Bibliography IV C), p. 39.
as a donated manuscript, but it uses the old historical and exotic novel for subversive SF purposes, which include a bitter debunking of Scott’s, Cooper’s, and Tennyson’s sentimentality toward feudalism and savagery. Shifting the standpoint from Bellamy’s utopian future to a common-sense Yankee present, this new type of epoch-collision looks backward at the author’s past instead of at his present. But the backward glance discovers in both cases a dark dystopia: “In Bellamy’s analysis contemporary America, a Yankee phenomenon, was as benighted and brutalized as Athur’s England. The American labourer was scarcely better off than the chained slaves, in A Connecticut Yankee,driven to market in London.”20 However, Twain’s Hank has to live in the midst of that brutalized epoch, not merely to judge it at leisure. Unlike Bellamy’s hero, who is accepted into the security of a changed and better world, or Morris’s hero, who finds in the new, future world enough tragic optimism to return fortified for his struggle inside and against the old, past world, Hank sets about changing his adoptive bad old world. An outsider activist, he intervenes in the affairs of the sixth century in the name of the nineteenth.
However, the nineteenth-century values in the name of which he intervenes are deeply contradictory and finally frustrating. On the one hand Hank is an engineering foreman, a convinced democratic ideologue, radical to the point of Jacobin terror: “When he snatched up the banners under which the middleclass was forcing the nobility to disgorge, he was eloquently sincere; his flaming calls to revolt against self-appointed masters are great statements of that right […] [to] self-respecting manliness and political equality.”21 On the other, he is a thoroughgoing bourgeois Individualist and businessman – as he says, “just another Robinson Crusoe cast away on an uninhabited island, with no society but some more or less tame animals, and if I wanted to make life bearable I must do as he did – invent, contrive, create […]” (chap. 7). Hank starts his reforms as “the Baconian utilitarian and progressive, the Whig bourgeois”22 – by opening a patent office;
- Justin Kaplan (Bibliography IV C), p. 16.
- Louis Budd (Bibliography IV C), p. 144.
- Roger B. Salomon (Bibliography IV C), pp. 30–31.
his idea of creation is patterned after his patron saints “Gutenberg, Watt, Arkwright, Whitney, Morse, Stephenson, Bell,” the patent-office giants of the capitalist industrial and communicational revolution (chap. 33). His next enterprises are special schools, somewhat chillingly called Man-Factories, and frontier-type sensational newspapers accepting and dispensing political and economic patronage; then come factories, “iron and steel missionaries of my future civilization” (chap. 10). Hank Morgan reenacts thus the historical ascent of the bourgeois class both politically and paleotechnically, and he memorably typifies its Yankee variant – a blend of political radicalism, go-getting commercialism, profitable showmanship, and technological gadgetry, issuing finally in ruinous stock market speculation. But he also shares the historical fate of the Yankee bourgeoisie as felt by Mark Twain in the Gilded Age: a separation from the laboring people.
The first part of A Connecticut Yankee is taken up with Hank’s orientation at the court of Camelot. It concentrates on hearty lampooning of Malory’s and Tennyson’s Arthurian styles and ideologies and on Hank’s use of scientific knowledge as a burlesque magic superior to that of his rival Merlin. Having become on the strength of that magic “Sir Boss,” a reformist prime minister to Arthur, Hank travels through the country on an obligatory knightly mission. In this second part there is added to the burlesque of knight-errantry and miraculous religion and to technical spoofs a democratic indignation at the oppressive laws of feudalism. In the third part the Yankee and the king travel incognito in the style of Harun-alRashid, plumbing the depths of slavery and demoralization in the country. This is the crucial juncture for a supposedly radical and a quasi-historical novel. Wanting to overthrow the Dark Ages, the Yankee has to find out whether the people would follow him. This hegemony had in fact been the historical achievement of the bourgeoisie up to “the ever-memorable and blessed [French] Revolution.” But Hank cannot achieve this alliance, because Twain quite realistically does not believe in it any more: “I knew that the Jack Cade or Wat Tyler who tries [a revolution] without first educating his materials up to revolution-grade is almost absolutely certain to get left” (chap. 13). It is difficult to see how Hank could proceed with this education since he is continually envisaging the people as commodities or animals, a view endorsed by the author as he focuses on the snobbery, pusillanimity, and finally mob lynchings of an environment reminiscent of the antebellum South with its chain gangs and poor whites. The Yankee had fulminated against a class training that blinds the people. Yet he comes to act as a manufacturer, tamer-trainer, or indeed a being of superior race among “human muck” (chap. 43). These are hardly becoming roles for a democrat setting the stage for freemen. Faithfully the author shows us that, in spite of all his sententiousness, the Yankee in the end “gets left” high and dry by a receding tide of history. Not seeing beyond the ebb of bourgeois democracy and revolutionism, it is Mark Twain as much as Hank Morgan who concludes that “there are times when one would like to hang the whole human race and finish the farce” (chap. 31).
The indignation of the first half of A Connecticut Yankee against feudal and church oppression was closer to Swift than to the lukewarm iconoclasm of Erewhon. But Swift’s satire had been so savagely efficient because he kept the authorial distance from Gulliver subtly flexible and yet precisely controlled, correlative to a radical pessimism about what Twain himself was to call the damned human race. In this second half of the novel, Twain’s attempt to do the same in relation to Hank fails. This narrative cannot sustain Swift’s singleminded control over a comicosatirical narrator, who travels within a didactic, estranged country, because A Connecticut Yankee oscillates between commitment to a historical ideal and horror at its workings in history. Early on the novel affirms the progressive theory of history that emerged from the heyday of bourgeois revolutions and a positive hero upholding it. But this came to clash with Twain’s increasing alienation from the effects of the industrial revolution as appropriated by the bourgeoisie and his consequent pessimistic theory of human nature, and the book was left without a moral and political core – which is fatal equally for satire and utopia. Sundered from the people, all the Yankee can do is train a small band of elite technocratic enthusiasts, whose program is opposed to the Arthurian Age as the Yankee Gilded Age exploitation of the frontier, or of any new market, is to Southern slavery: “Look at the opportunities here for a man of knowledge, brains, pluck, and enterprise to sail in and grow with the country. The grandest field that ever was; and all my own; not a competitor …” (chap. 8). Their main trump – historically exact again – is science and technology.
Twain’s attitude to technological progress oscillates into confusion and despair in strict parallel to his attitudes toward its historical bearer, the middle class, and especially the technics-committed Yankee bourgeoisie. Hank’s superior know-how is shown first as spoofs, ambiguously magical tricks used as a joyous means to power. The degradation of science and technology to the role of magic, a fundamentally different attempt at controlling nature, leads to their becoming a juggernaut and, finally, means which turn into their own end – the end being mass carnage. The Yankee’s societal counterconstruction ends in an Armageddon, prefigured in the book’s volcanic and explosive imagery.
Though Twain’s stance as outsider does not do justice to the liberating possibilities of science, it enables him to pass a shrewd judgment on its historical sociopolitical uses. Sundered from the artisans and peasants, “Jack Cade or Wat Tyler,” Baconian science is able only to destroy impartially the upper classes and its wielders. Finally, even this potent means is only a theatrical “effect” of Barnumian proportions, effecting no social change. The new Crusoe-type, Individualistic civilization collapses under the interdict of an omnipotent Catholic Church that we have never really seen in A Connecticut Yankee,yet that pops up as a diabolus ex machina,a fit antagonist for the lone Protestant Great Man or Whig Robinson Crusoe. As Twain’s superficial treatment of Arthur’s court – culminating in the faceless knights of the final battle – testifies, feudalism was not a believable antagonist in the American 1880s. Nor was – at a time when Twain was defending the young trade unions and Howells was agonizing over the judicial murder of the Chicago anarchists – a robber-baron bourgeoisie a believable protagonist. Indeed, as Howells noted, “there are passages in which we see that the noble of Arthur’s day, who battened on the blood and sweat of his bondsmen, is one in essence with the capitalist of  who grows rich on the labor of his underpaid wagemen,”23 and
Hank’s progress through England ends in an almost Dickensian, or indeed
- W. D. Howells, review in Harper’s (January 1890), p. 320, quoted in Henry Nash Smith, Mark Twain: The Development of a Writer (Bibliography IV C), p. 146.
Blakean, horrible London. Thus the book collapses in a rather perfunctory mixture of shadow-boxing and savage despair, pronouncing “a curse on both parts.”24
This devolution of the story’s hopes for a plebeian progressivism is also embodied in its language. In the comical, confident beginning of the novel, Hank’s “machine-shop lingo collides with the Maloryese of the Age of Chivalry.” By the end, it has become clear that the Yankee’s “language [is grounded] in clichés and conventional syntax, [and] its character emerges by means of exaggeration and calculated vulgarity,” that it is an artificial vernacular of an artificial democrat, only “masquerading as burly, rough talk.” This means that it attains neither consistently precise satire nor consistently wholehearted burlesque, but that in final analysis it remains “a show,an act […] not necessary to the action, but simply decoration […] [nothing] more than one of Hank Morgan’s effects.”25
Twain’s liberal utopianism seems to have followed a course quite parallel to Jules Verne’s – a writer whose interest in mapping and clean communications he shares in this book with its providential telephone wires and industries without a working class. Twain’s fabulation relies, as does Verne, on the bedrock of popular melodrama and farce, or on travelers’ tales (such as balloon travel in Tom Sawyer Abroad,1894). As it did with Verne, the dimming of liberal horizons turned Twain toward a cyclical theory of history (compare his Papers of the Adam Family [bp. 1962] and Verne’s Eternal Adam)and superdestructive weaponry, which together account for the breakdown of a class society rent by antagonisms in A Connecticut Yankee as in Verne’s Propeller Island. On the other hand, Twain was quite alien to any idea of a new social system going beyond the bourgeois-democratic one. Though he privately much admired Bellamy’s sunburst of a wholly different state of affairs, he could creatively envisage it only as the glare of Armageddon, of the “fifty electric suns” by whose light the final Battle of the Sand-Belt is fought, with its ominous hint of our atomic bomb brighter than a thousand suns. In Twain, as in the Mary Shelley-to-Verne
- Kaplan, p. 19.
- James M. Cox (Bibliography IV C), pp. 203, 215, 213, and 219.
tradition, the only novelties are destructive ones; in opposition to the socialist tradition, culminating in Morris, the imagery of moon and sun, eclipse and displacement, leads to catastrophe instead of millennium, to violent nightmare instead of vision and dream of restful dawn.
However, Twain is much more profoundly distressed than Verne by the closure of progressive horizons. This distress issues in a deep ambivalence toward not only the values but the reality itself of the opposed epochs. The dreamy Arthurian Britain may be the antebellum South of slavery, but it has likewise a pastoral, childhood freshness. Obversely, the energetic Yankee represents the capitalist North of the nineteenth century both as political liberator and industrial destroyer. In the end, Twain’s hero therefore sheds his representative, allegorical class traits and takes a double refuge: first from the sixth century – where the original “white Indians” have turned into sophisticated stock exchange scalpers – into the ultimate reality of private life and family, and then from the nineteenth century into dreams of such a privatized sixth century. Finally, in the “plague on both your houses” situation, when annihilation has disposed of both sides, Hank becomes adrift in time and withdraws into a dreaming wholly outside the catastrophic history. Indeed, there is a hint that he is not quite certain which is a dream, the sixth or the nineteenth century. For all his genuine radical leanings, Mark Twain is to be ranged on the other side from Bellamy and Morris across the watershed of hope. This historical position led even so powerful a writer to a formal dead end.
Thus, while there are richly burlesque or satirical as well as generously indignant passages in A Connecticut Yankee,its final horizon of havoc and sterility is what makes it both memorable and indicative for a long-lasting historical moment. The activist-hero battling against the age will recur in SF, from the pages of Wells and London to innumerable later time travelers and political plotters. But Twain was the first in SF to face directly, without theological or biological myths, how “in bourgeois society […] the past dominates the present,”26 and the first to analyze rather than merely
- Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “Manifesto of the Communist Party,” in Selected Works in One Volume (New York, 1968), p. 48.
present the obscure forces of history that rise from the past not only to overwhelm the Promethean progressive hero from the outside, but also to hollow him out from the inside. Hank’s career could be called “Prometheus Re-Bound” or “the making of Victor Frankenstein,” for it shows how the bearer of Promethean progress turns into the absurd causer of historical catastrophe. Twain thus revived for the modern novel the central ideological dilemmas of the age of anticipation, which would be developed in twentieth-century SF because they would remain the most sensitive historical problems. For example, the motif of outside intervention or exporting of revolution into an “underdeveloped” country will recur up to the Strugatskys and Le Guin, and the concomitant or obverse motif of the lone hero becoming adrift in time will accompany the devolution of history from Wells to Vonnegut and Sheckley.
A Connecticut Yankee does not handle such seminal motifs and types in a fully satisfactory way. Its “juvenile fantasy” treatment of the “collision between superstition and modern technology”27 and of politics reduced to a duel between the lone protagonist and the world crops up, increasingly, as a cliché of space-opera and other “degree zero” SF. Perhaps the causally and formally central failing of A Connecticut Yankee,the one that made its structure analogous to juvenile fantasy, was the absence of what one might call a political economics of existence from Hank’s social changes. It remains completely unclear whether and how the laboring people that the Yankee meets on his peregrinations have benefited or will benefit from his despotic industrialism or State capitalism. The ads displayed on knights imply a market economy, other passages imply unpaid distribution; but the technical problems of political economy are not so important as the fact that nobody in the novel even poses the question how people would receive their sustenance in a post-Arthurian industrialized system, or who would determine its amount and distribution channels. This is one of the sorriest blind spots in the center of the imaginative picture that Twain has bequeathed to practically the whole of subsequent English language SF, born of the selfsame “New Deal” hope which took its name from a phrase
- Smith, Mark Twain: Development,p. 166.
in this text. But finally, by the same token, this novel shows the necessary collapse of Twain’s own and all such private fantasies, and provides the means by which to identify them as a flight from history. A Connecticut Yankee’s function as yardstick for the tradition it set in motion is also an indication of the novel’s importance.
Many other SF fragments show Mark Twain’s concern with the grimness of the coming times in which America’s uniqueness would fall prey to the general fate of imperialist power – a suspicion that grew into certainty after the 1898 Spanish-American War for the “open door” to Latin America and East Asia. Twain returned frequently in his fragmentary sketches to the image of a future dictatorship – monarchist, technological, or theological – in the United States, establishing in this way too a central theme for SF. Had these fragments been completed and published, he would have beyond a doubt stood instead of Wells as the major turning point in the tradition leading to modern SF, and instead of Stapledon as the inventor of fictional historiography. But even without these fragments there is sufficient evidence that strange places and states fascinated him, as witness “The Curious Republic of Gondour,” “The Comedy of Those Extraordinary Twins” (progenitors of the mutant twins that recur from Heinlein to Dick), or “From the London Times of 1904” (where even extraordinary technology cannot prevail against bourgeois law). The gloomy historical horizons were transferred to the theme of other dimensions of life that might perhaps be as real as ours in a number of SF stories culminating in the fragmentary masterpieces of “The Great Dark” (bp. 1962) and “Three Thousand Years Among the Microbes” (bp. 1966). In the former, Edgar Allan Poe’s eerie exotic voyage combines with Fitz-James O’Brien’s life in a drop under the microscope as the setting for a multiple inversion of normal parameters such as size, duration, and memory; the story would have constituted a haunting parable of man’s insecurity in the itinerary of life. In the latter, the microbic microcosm becomes the scene of what approaches a consistent satirical epic. More importantly, in this late, testamentary text the satire often leaves behind the hesitations caused both by Twain’s earlier illusions and by his self-censorship in order to respect the propriety his bourgeois readership demanded, and rises to truly Swiftian bitterness and relevance. It is the mark of Twain’s stature that he was the first SF writer able to respond to the cruel times by exploring Swift’s implicit query “What is Man?” in fully explicit, destructive terms. Nonetheless, the completed Connecticut Yankee,which joins life’s cruel and insecure itinerary to the movement of history, remains Twain’s major contribution to SF. The deep existential distress and even epistemological puzzles of the individual in high capitalism were already acknowledged in – were indeed the motive force of – Bellamy’s and Morris’s utopias, but they were there superseded by the security or the beauty of human relations in the new community. By disjoining the individual hero from the bright communal novum while continuing to uphold the absolute necessity and value of the utopian supersession, Twain situated his novel at the wellspring of the preoccupation that was to dominate the next century of significant SF, from Wells and Zamyatin to Lem and Dick.
- Another way out of such an existential distress was to transfer utopian yearning out of material history, into an incongruous physicoreligious heaven, as did Camille Flammarion. In the last third of the nineteenth century he tirelessly ground out a great number of nonfictional books ranging from astronomical and geographic popularizations to arguments for a scientifically proved psychic life after death. Some of his other works – Lumen, Rêves étoilés,or Uranie – were an indigested mixture of reincarnation on planets of our solar system or of distant galaxies and supposed validation of the spiritual forces entailed by the marvels of modern cosmology and electricity, in which regard they were not unlike writings of the contemporary occultist wave in Britain and the USA, from Bulwer to Mrs. Blavatsky and thence to bestsellers like the novels of Marie Corelli. Flammarion’s rather frenzied anti-materialism vented itself in pet peeves against such indignities as material food-taking and in insufferable passages detailing (literally) ethereal love encounters. Having written the first modern survey of literature on imaginary worlds, Les Mondes imaginaires et les mondes réels (1865), he blithely pillaged that whole tradition from Cyrano through Grainville and Fourier to Defontenay for bizarre figures and incidents of life on other planets which he inserted into his long lectures and tirades. The life forms were either anthropomorphic or only slightly changed – by being flying creatures, or androgynes, or by having 17 heavenly senses (including, of course, electric, ultraviolet, and psychic ones) – or they could be quite different: asexual, phosphorescent, telepathic, vegetable, or mineral. This was heady brew for Victorians and had an immense influence throughout the world by the 1880s. For late nineteenth-century fantasy and SF it functioned as a repository of ideas and topoi – much as Stapledon was to function for the SF after 1930, but without his intelligence and tragic humanism. Flammarion’s variations on Kant’s idea that the physical and moral perfection of psychozoa is proportional to the planet’s distance from the Sun contributed to a spate of spiritualist or utopian ideals being reached by interplanetary voyages to Mars, Jupiter, or Saturn as brainless as his were but more straightforwardly fictional, as in Robert Cromie’s A Plunge Into Space (1890) or John Jacob Astor’s A Journey in Other Worlds (1894). When an at least partially consistent picture of new social institutions was accompanied by satire of Earth customs, the result was slightly better, as in the anonymous presentation of cooperative and progressive Politics and Life in Mars (1883) or Robert D. Braine’s attempt at mixing Flammarion with Plato in Messages From Mars (1892?). The nearest Flammarion himself got to coherent books of fiction – which was not very near – was in his La Fin du Monde (1893, translated as Omega),which included again an anthologic review of possible endings of the world and anticipations of a slightly technocratic future ending after ten million years in an ice-death of the human race, whose souls, however, flit on to better things on Jupiter. The book is a good example of the strange feedback between Flammarion and Verne, in which the former stressed “far out” psychic phenomena and the latter a near time and space but, by the last quarter of the century, both shared a similar pessimism toward the horizons of mundane history.
- Some writers in the 1880s and 90s paralleled or echoed Bellamy’s and Morris’s concern with a better political social future; the intelligent antirevolutionary account of the collapse of an oppressive State Communism in W. A. Watlock’s The Next ’Ninety Three (1886) or the pleas for women’s equality in George Noyes Miller’s The Strike of a Sex (1883?) and in the rather melodramatic Gloriana of Lady Florence Dixie (1890) can be adduced as examples with a certain interest. But in the dramatically expanding production of SF – which, for example, doubled in Britain each decade, from approximately 45 book publications in the 1870s to some 90 in the 1880s and 170 in the 1890s – the great majority of works up to Wells remained immature. To take an example from the United States, the two poles that Mark Twain attempted to fuse in Connecticut Yankee can be seen sundered and impoverished in the shallow optimism of Stockton and the monotonous horrors of Bierce. Frank Stockton wrote several Vernean technological adventure tales. The Great War Syndicate (1889) transferred the future war subgenre to the United States. A capitalist syndicate, hired by the American government, wins a war by means of superweapons, including a tremendous rocket missile, whereupon the vanquished Britons join in an Anglo-American domination of the world – a revealing story by a popular writer. Ambrose Bierce is a weightier writer in the psychofantastic tradition of Poe, on the borders of SF and fantasy. Some of his stories, such as “The Damned Thing,” motivate invisible beasts and similar horrors rationally, while “Moxon’s Master” (both 1893) returns the Frankenstein theme to mechanical automata, paving the way for the countless bloodthirsty robots of Gernsbackian SF. Stockton’s shallow politics and jaunty plots as well as Bierce’s deep ontological fears and haunting moods have one common denominator with A Connecticut Yankee: the omnipresent violence. Only Wells was to render justice to this increasingly menacing atmosphere, which belied the hopes for a pure classless dawn.