Women's Utopias of the Eighteenth Century

Author: Alessa Johns
Looks at Utopian novels written by women, how they incorporate emerging liberal ideas, their reservations about these ideas, and how Utopian societies can replicate.
Cloth – $39
Publication Date: August 2003
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About the Book

No human society has ever been perfect, a fact that has led thinkers as far back as Plato and St. Augustine to conceive of utopias both as a fanciful means of escape from an imperfect reality and as a useful tool with which to design improvements upon it.

The most studied utopias have been proposed by men, but during the eighteenth century a group of reform-oriented female novelists put forth a series of work that expressed their views of, and their reservations about, ideal societies. In Women's Utopias of the Eighteenth Century, Alessa Johns examines the utopian communities envisaged by Mary Astell, Sarah Fielding, Mary Hamilton, Sarah Scott, and other writers from Britain and continental Europe, uncovering the ways in which they resembled--and departed from--traditional utopias.

Johns demonstrates that while traditional visions tended to look back to absolutist models, women's utopias quickly incorporated emerging liberal ideas that allowed far more room for personal initiative and gave agency to groups that were not culturally dominant, such as the female writers themselves. Women's utopias, Johns argues, were reproductive in nature. They had the potential to reimagine and perpetuate themselves.


"This timely and thoughtful study presents a complex and coherent argument, resting on a combination of extensive scholarship and some very fine analyses. Johns's book is characterized by lively and sometimes quite lovely prose, as well as a graceful, effective rhetorical style."–– Ann Van Sant, author of Eighteenth-Century Sensibility and the Novel: The Sense in Social Context

"...careful research, many perspectives, and a sympathetic interpreter..."-- The Age of Johnson

"I carried this book with me around town while reading it. Several women--at the carwash and at the coffee shop--expressed interest in it. I think Johns and the women writers she profiles would be pleased. All recognize that strategies from the past may be our best help in crafting an affirmative and optimistic feminism. If Johns's book brings new reader to these ideas then many may benefit, a final example of the ways that this little-known utopianism might 'reproduce' itself."--Albion

"Women's Utopias is elegantly written, but is by no means an easy read: rather, it is a complex and thought-provoking work, which constitutes a significant contribution to the histories of literature, feminism, and political ideas."--Canadian Journal of History