Utopian novels of the early period

After doing some background research for my interactive fiction story, Harmonia, I became fascinated with some of the earliest works of science fiction: the utopian fiction of the 19th century. I’m especially interested in those books by women and other underrepresented writers, as these fictional works tend to describe the world as people wished it to be.

Each one of these pieces contains original biographical research on the authors.

Her stories

Old French Fairy Tales, illustrated by Virginia Francis Sterrett

A survey of early utopian and dystopian works by woman, from the period between 1850 and the early 20th century.

Arqtiq (1899)

“‘Resolute’ Under Sail For the Last Time”

An original biography of an obscure author of this period. Anna Adolph, her novel Arqtiq, and a uniquely American personal history.

Unveiling a Parallel (1893)

“Cover of Unveiling a Parallel”

An exuberantly feminist and sex-positive utopian novel by Alice Ilgenfritz Jones and Ella Robinson Merchant, one an experienced author, the other a business leader and independent spirit.

Etidorhpa (1895)

Black and white detail of an eyeless figure and a 19th century man in a cave

A triumph of the hollow earth genre, Etidorhpa by John Uri Lloyd takes the reader on a hallucinogenic journey with instantly memorable illustrations.

Journeys to the Planet Mars (1903)

Yellow and red book cover for Journeys to the Planet Mars

A winking hoax or an elaborate act of self-deception? Journeys to the Planet Mars is a deeply-felt book by spiritualist Sara Weiss, who wrote and illustrated it under the direction of “spirit guides” at the end of her long life.

The Ostrich for the Defence (1912)

Red and white book cover showing an ostrich

The Ostrich for the Defence was William Hile’s novel-length advertisement for a doomed venture to achieve world peace through ostrich farming.

Freeland: A Social Anticipation (1889)

Green book cover with the words Freeland and a decorative illustration of a tree

After Austrian economist Theodor Hertzka published the immensely popular Freeland he took a disastrous next step: attempting to realize his utopian plan in an inhabited region of Kenya with a hapless mob of dissolute European criminals. The reckless affair would end in shame, despair, and violence.

Loma: A Citizen of Venus (1897)

Red book cover with an image of a being floating over the earth

A clairvoyant being from Venus saves the young mother of the messiah and preaches values of free love and eugenics. “Doctor” William Windsor wrote Loma to capitalize on the utopian novel trend and use it to sell phrenology, quack science, and curiously modern gender politics.

Young West: A Sequel to Looking Backward (1894 )

Title page for the novel Young West

Solomon Schindler, a radical Reform rabbi in Boston, authored this surprisingly good sequel to Edward Bellamy’s classic utopian novel as a uniquely colorful series of editions.