Role of Women in Utopian and Dystopian Novels

Thesis (M.A.), 2009
117 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents


1. Introduction
1.1. Selection of Novels
1.2. Methodology

2. Traditional Female Roles in Literature
2.1. Basic Roles – Mothers and Prizes
2.2. Angels and Jezebels
2.2.1. Angels
2.2.2. Jezebels
2.3 Amazons
2.4. Old Witches, Biddies and Wise Women
2.4.1 The Old Witch
2.4.2. Biddies
2.4.3. Wise women
2.5. Evaluation of Categories
2.6. Selected Critical Studies on Female Roles in Literature

3. Women in Early Utopian Tradition

4. Looking Backward
4.1. Bellamy and Feminism
4.2. Reception of Looking Backward
4.3. Women in Looking Backward
4.3.1. Women and Work
4.3.2. Wives and Mothers
4.3.3. Female Characters in Looking Backward
4.4. Female Fashion in Looking Backward
4.5. Blurring of Gender Roles in Looking Backward
4.6. Evaluation

5. News from Nowhere
5.1. William Morris, His Utopia and the ‘Woman Question’
5.2. Women in News from Nowhere
5.2. 1. Women and Work Women and Domestic Work Women and ‘Men’s Work’
5.2.2. Female Sexuality and Gender Relations
5.2.3. Motherhood
5.2.4. Ellen
5.4. Fashion in News from Nowhere
5.5. Evaluation

6. Ecotopia
6.1. The Peculiarity of Ecotopia
6.2. Ecofeminism
6.3. Women in Ecotopia
6.3.1. Women and Politics – The Survivalist Party
6.3.2. Women and Work
6.3.3. Partnership and Motherhood
6.4. Female Characters in Ecotopia and the Change of William Weston
6.4.1. Marissa Brightcloud
6.4.2. Vera Allwen
6.5. Sexuality in Ecotopia
6.6. Ecotopia - an Equalitarian Society?
6.7. Female Clothing in Ecotopia

7. Brave New World
7.1. Suspended Motherhood and Artificial Procreation
7.2. Women and Work
7.3. Sexuality and Love
7.4. Lenina and the Subversiveness of Green
7.5. John and the Traditional Female Roles in Literature
7.6. Evaluation

8. 1984
8.1. Orwell and Misogyny – a Battle in Literary Criticism
8.2. Representation of Women in 1984
8.2.1 Outer Party Women Party-determined Sexuality
8.2.2. Prole Women
8.2.3. Mothers
8.2.4. Julia
8.3. Women’s Clothing in 1984
8.4. Evaluation

9. The Handmaid’s Tale
9.1. Pre-Gilead society
9.2. Roles of Women in Gilead
9.2.1.Wives and Daughters
9.2.2. Aunts
9.2.3. Econowives and Marthas
9.2.4. Handmaids
9.2.5. Unwomen
9.3. Colour Coded Female Clothing in The Handmaid’s Tale
9.4. The ‘Women Only Enclave’
9.4.1. Serena Joy
9.4.2. Moira
9.4.3. Offwarren/Janine
9.4.3. Offred
9.5. Female Sexuality in Gilead
9.6. Historical Notes
9.7. Evaluation

10.Male Utopia - Female Dystopia? - Feminist Criticism

11. Summary and Conclusion



Being a great lover of mythological tales since childhood, I have early discovered that certain traits and patterns of behaviour were usually ascribed to certain gender roles. Yet even within the roles of the respective genders, considerable differences were to be found. Those who shared many characteristics tended to end in similar ways. Strong and capable Penthesilea ends dead on the battlefield of Troy and her corpse is raped by Achilles. Atalanta, who beats male heroes in great adventures is tricked into marriage against her will, by an offended goddess and a man who is not her equal. Helen’s beauty has the power to launch thousand ships. Yet Helen herself is only a toy for men and gods. Penelope sits and weaves for twenty years waiting for her husband to return from a Trojan war while he is pursued and seduced by enchantresses. The more I read, in mythology and other fiction, the more often I discovered some endlessly repeating characteristics and patterns of behaviour of diverse roles.

During my studies I became very interested in gender roles in Anglo-American literature, again particularly in those of female characters. Female roles in literature were always the more interesting to me when read from the background of the historical period in which they were created. Some of those fictional characters reflected the roles women were expected to fill at that particular age and geographical area. Others again were bad examples and warnings of what happens to women who do not fit into socially accepted roles. Once in a while a heroine would rise above the expected roles yet in the end she would return to the domestic area in which she was expected to be, or she would be destroyed. Of course there were always exceptions. Yet the first permanent and recognisable change of such roles in literature becomes obvious at the turn from the 19th to the 20th century. It is no coincidence that the same time in history marks the rise of the women’s liberation and suffrage movement with sweeping changes occurring in many issues of gender and social class. For the next hundred years, the roles and characteristics of women in literature underwent a greater change than in all previous centuries put together.

At the same time a revival of literary utopias occurred. Unlike early utopias, which were geographically separated from the known world, those modern utopias were often set in the future as were most of the dystopias written in the new century. Therefore I decided that an analysis of female roles in the relevant utopias and dystopias would be a worthwhile project, as it would encompass how the aforementioned social changes have been reflected in literature expressing hopes for and fears of possible futures.

1. Introduction

Utopias are imaginary worlds, often created as a form of critique against grievances existing in the author’s own world. Utopias are thus usually critical mirrors reflecting the times and societies in which they are written. Yet they also present ideas, concepts and hopes for a far happier and better world for both men and women. The situation of women within those fictional worlds is, in most cases, rarely discussed in a forthright manner but hints and pieces of information are scattered throughout the text. Early utopias are usually mere descriptions of such societies by outsiders while the inhabitants of the respective utopia, both male or female, are barely ever given a voice of their own. That lack of characters makes it almost impossible to study the roles of any of the two genders in depth. Still Plato’s Republic and More’s Utopia have to be considered within this paper, since they are the fundaments of the genre.

Dystopias are imaginary worlds usually created as warnings of social and political trends. They are not only ‘utopias gone wrong’ but also depictions of a bad yet possible futures to which our society might evolve or regress. Keith Booker has very accurately described the aspects of criticism which dystopias always contain: “by focusing their critiques of society on imaginatively distant settings, dystopian fictions provide fresh perspectives on problematic social and political practices that might otherwise be taken for granted or considered natural and inevitable.”1 Contrary to utopias, dystopias are seldom described by an outsider2 but very often depicted from the point of view of a character who is already a longstanding citizen.

1.1. Selection of Novels

With the exception of The Handmaid’s Tale, all novels selected for analyses within this thesis were written by male authors. This was a deliberate choice. One might argue that novels by feminist author’s, including utopias Corbett’s New Amazonia,Gilman’s Herland or any of the modern feminist dystopias, beside Atwood’s, might have been a better choice. My reasons for not choosing them were various, and both personal and methodical. Considering a possible career as a teacher, I discovered that above mentioned novels are rarely found on school or even university curricula for English Literature3, except in the specified fields of Gender Studies. This, again, is due to various reasons which are of no particular interest here.

A further reason has already been partly mentioned in the preface. My special interest is to analyse whether the traditional female roles in literature have changed with the rise of women’s liberation movements and their progress within the next hundred years, particularly in utopias and dystopias. As mentioned before, this genre of literature always contains criticism of the author’s own society and thus, explicitly and implicitly, also the role of women in that society. Many critics who concern themselves with female roles in utopian and dystopian fiction seem to restrict themselves to feminist novels only and sometimes read them exclusively against the somewhat one-sided background of radical feminism. That is another reason why I did not wish to limit my analysis exclusively to that of female roles in utopian and dystopian literature which was written by females or female feminists, but have deliberately chosen authors from various ideological backgrounds – feminists of both sexes, an alleged misogynist and others.

Utopias which are to be analysed in detail within the scope of this thesis are Bellamy’s Looking Backward 2000- 1887, William Morris’ News from Nowhere and Callenbach’s Ecotopia. These novels dedicate more time and space to the question of the role of women in their respective imaginary societies, than most other previous works of utopian fiction since Plato. Unsurprisingly, the first two novels were written during the so-called first wave of the feminist movement, while Ecotopia was written during the second wave. The first two novels are especially interesting in regard to their historical context. Callenbach’s Ecotopia was chosen for its decidedly feminist tendencies and the connection between women and nature.

Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World and Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale were chosen as representatives of the dystopian genre. 1984 has been widely reputed as misogynistic book and is also of special interest in comparison to The Handmaid’s Tale. Brave New World has been chosen for its reputed depiction of women as mere sexual objects and the idea of suspending motherhood. The Handmaid’s Tale is often regarded as the most successful feminist dystopia and is of special interest because the traditional female roles, in literature as well as in life, are represented there in an extraordinarily intriguing manner. It is also a rare and fascinating depiction of a society in transit from the world as we know it to a dystopia, while in other fictional dystopias we are usually presented with already established societies. To analyse all the gender-related aspects of The Handmaid’s Tale would require much more space than it can be given to that novel within the scope of this thesis. Therefore I intend to use that particular novel primarily as an example of how a female and feminist author uses the traditional roles within the feminist utopian and dystopian genre.

1.2. Methodology

In order to analyse female roles in selected utopian and dystopian novels, it is also necessary to determine those roles in literature in general. Traditional female roles in literature do not represent the historical reality of women. Fictional female characters are often stereotyped as ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Thus some female characters stand as representatives of an highly idealised perception of womanhood. Others are traditionally perceived as representatives of womankind in its manipulative and most inferior form. I will define those traditional roles of women in literature from my own reading experience and subsequently analyse to what degree they are still present in the utopian and dystopian novels selected for analyses in this work. A short overview of selected studies on female roles in literature will also be included.

The novels will be treated primarily in order of genre, beginning with utopias. Within the genre, the novels will be arranged in order of their year of publication, because it is in viewing them chronologically that we are best able to discern the manifest changes of female roles through time. Preceding the actual analysis of each novel, it will sometimes be necessary to briefly outline its immediate historical and cultural background. Bellamy and Morris have written their respective utopias during the first wave of the feminist movement. The situation of women in those two utopias can thus also be regarded as the respective author’s answer to the so called ‘Woman Question’. Callenbach’s Ecotopia is very evidently influenced by the Ecofeminist Movement. Thus it is also necessary to determine the fundamental ideas and main aims of that particular movement and analyse how they are incorporated in the society presented in that novel.

Despite the fact that the subject of fashion has often been ridiculed and that women who concerned themselves with it were, and often still are, seen as superficial, clothes have always been a sign of status, defining the roles of groups and individuals in society. Therefore a brief analysis of female fashions as described in some of the utopias and dystopias is also justified within this thesis.

2. Traditional Female Roles in Literature

The probably oldest role of women in literature is that of a temptress. Even before the devil-tempted Eve seduced Adam out of Eden and caused the Fall of Man, women in even older mythologies have been seducing heroes and bringing about their fall. In the earliest work of literature known to us today, the Epic of Gilgamesh, the first mortal woman to appear is a temptress. A prostitute named Shamhat4 is sent out by Gilgamesh to seduce Enkidu, a wild, uncivilised man raised by animals:

“Shamhat unclutched her bosom, exposed her sex, and he took in her
voluptuousness. /She was not restrained, but took his energy.
She spread out her robe and he lay upon her,
she performed for the primitive the task of womankind.
His lust groaned over her;
for six days and seven nights Enkidu stayed aroused,
and had intercourse with the harlot
until he was sated with her charms.
But when he turned his attention to his animals,
the gazelles saw Enkidu and darted off,
the wild animals distanced themselves from his body.”5

This kind of sexual attraction was for centuries regarded as the greatest power women possessed. Yet Shamhat fulfils a more complex role. The seduction leads to the man’s expulsion from the animal world into the world of humans - the civilisation. This aspect of manipulation and domestication of men by women is often repeated in literature, although rarely so openly connected with blatant sexuality as in this case.

The traditional roles of women as described in the following categories are necessarily very simplified. Female characters who fit into only one of the categories are becoming rarer in post-medieval literature. The basic roles as such have not changed much over the centuries, but as the characterisation of female characters in fiction became less and less one-dimensional, the lines between the roles became blurred and fictional women became representatives of more than one role, sometimes even in a paradoxical manner. Yet even in modern literature, the basic role models are still frequently recognisable although the perception of those roles has been changing immensely within the last decades. With the rise of feminism, especially those roles which were traditionally regarded as negative have been re-evaluated to a large extent.

2.1. Basic Roles – Mothers and Prizes

The first and foremost role of women in history is that of a mother. Naturally, literature too reflects that fact. Many female characters in fiction are often reduced to a role of a mother and/or a bride. This is most evident in medieval heroic epics. The mother’s only function is to bear a great hero. He again undertakes heroic tasks in order to win his prize, who will become a mother and bear him a son whose destiny is to repeat the same circle of action. Another popular genre in which the role of a woman as a prize is very evident is the fairy tale, in which princesses usually only have the function of being rewards for brave men. Thus, women were often depicted as a type of possession to be won (prize) and than used according to its purpose, i.e. procreation of children (mother). The use of those roles became more subtle in its expression in post-medieval centuries, where those roles were further defined and idealised to angels. The trend of casting women in fiction in such roles has never completely stopped.

2.2. Angels and Jezebels

In Greco-Roman and Judean-Christian mythologies, which are arguably the fundaments of western literature, the role of Shamhat – a woman using her sexual attractiveness to manipulate a man - recurs innumerable times. Often this power is used by women to promote their own ‘selfish’ aims. They were usually perceived as negative examples, like Delilah and Salome. Even goddesses in Greek mythology are not above using that method quite frequently. Yet those female characters who manipulate men for some ‘greater good’, sometimes even at a price of self-sacrifice, were traditionally perceived as positive examples, like Esther saving her people from genocide by the appeal to her royal husband.

2.2.1. Angels

Angels are quite frequently virgins or very virtuous but gentle married women and mothers. Chastity in deed and thought is often the main attribute of such fictional characters. They often strive to keep it even at a price of their own life. Their other important attributes are submissiveness to the appropriate male authority (husband/father), ignorance of the world outside the domestic areas, and often a general appearance of asexuality. Their world usually rotates only around their (future) husband and (possible) children. The main role of an angel is to support the hero emotionally and, when necessary, to reform and domesticate him. In their case the domestication is not achieved by such an open display of sexuality as in the case of Shamhat, but in more elaborate rituals, especially the ritual of marriage. That last ritual usually symbolises the complete domestication. One could claim that the loss of the physical virginity is a kind of price or even self sacrifice those oddly asexual angels have to pay in order to domesticate the hero. The most immaculate archetypes of that role are to be found in Roman mythology, especially in the characters of Verginia and Lucretia. Otherwise, the praise of such ‘pure’ women has reached its zenith in Victorian Literature, possibly in reaction to the rise of the feminist movement.

2.2.2. Jezebels

The term jezebels has been chosen in this context because the name of the biblical queen has not only become a synonym for a prostitute but also for an amoral manipulative female6. Thus here the term does not define only prostitutes or generally promiscuous women characters, although they too belong in this category. However, jezebels are also all female characters who use their sexual attractiveness in order to promote their own ‘selfish’ aims. The most frequent of those aims are financial gain, or wish for revenge and jealousy. Those women are sometimes paid, or bribed in some other way, by enemies of a hero who cannot be defeated by anything else but the so called ‘female wiles’. Another frequent attribute of those women is their lack of maternity, either in the sense that they are actually unmarried and childless, or they are generally devoid of any maternal feelings. Such women characters are very frequently depicted as negative examples and usually punished, or, more seldom, reformed.

From a modern point of view, jezebels tend to be much more complex and interesting characters than their usual fictional rivals, the angels. Probably the most famous examples from this category are Morgan Le Fay, Lady Macbeth, Thackeray’s Becky Sharp7 and Margaret Mitchell’s Scarlett O’Hara.

2.3 Amazons

This category does not only include the mythical tribe but all those women in literature who, at least temporarily, take over leadership in a male dominated world or refuse to even pretend that they submit to male authority. Like jezebels, they too usually lack maternal feelings. The perception of such women tended to be negative, since their behaviour was considered unnatural and they were regarded as some kind of hybrids or half-male creatures. Those fictional females who persisted in assuming what was traditionally considered a male role, were usually perceived as examples of unnatural womanhood and, like the jezebels, they too almost always found punishment and death at the end. This category includes characters like Penthesilea in Greek Mythology and Dickens’ Mrs. Joe Gargery. The positively perceived fictional heroines of such a nature were usually themselves ‘domesticated’ by marriage at the end, like the mythological virgin huntress Atalanta, Brünhild in the Song of the Nibelungs, or Shakespeare’s Portia . In such cases the loss of their virginity usually symbolised their submission to male dominancy.

2.4. Old Witches, Biddies and Wise Women

Women belonging to this category are quite frequently sexually inactive or of an advanced age, usually past the menopause and thus unable the bear children anymore.8 They are usually cast in three general roles, of which two have a negative and one a positive connotation. Such female roles are nowadays most evident in fairy tales and mythology, evil witches and good wise women/fairy godmothers. The third role is that of biddy.9

2.4.1 Old Witches

In folklore, the old witch is often evil for evil’s sake, without evidence of further motivation. Yet since her agenda usually consists of eating children and enslaving maidens, one can assume that this female role is an early evidence on the ever recurring literary element of the old woman who is jealous of those of her sex who are still young, attractive and able to bear children. In literature, the old witch is usually an unattractive and authoritative elderly mother figure and/or a frustrated old spinster who is feared and/or hated. She often wields some kind of authority over younger women, and very often over men too Those men are usually relatives, who depended on her in financial or social matters. Like jezebels and amazons, the old witches’ destiny in literature is very often either reformation by penance or staying defeated and alone. Examples from this category are most obviously found in fairy tales, often as wicked stepmothers. More modern examples are Austen’s Mrs. Ferras and Lady DeBurgh, as well as Dickens’ unforgettable Miss Havisham.

2.4.2. Biddies

Biddies are always elderly women and usually possess very repelling manners. They are often objects of ridicule. The best examples in this category are Austen’s Mrs. Bennet and one of Dickens’ most memorable characters - Mrs. Gamp.

2.4.3. Wise women

Unlike the other two categories, wise women are not necessarily elderly. In legends the hero goes for help and advice to a wise woman, who is usually in communication with gods, like the Cumaean Sybil. Those women are frequently celibate, since they belong to a god or goddess, like the Vestal Virgins. Wise women are rarely found in literature between the end antiquity and beginning of the twentieth century. Traces of that role are found in positive elderly female characters, who are also partly extensions of the motherly angel type, and are usually depicted as kind, supportive and well meaning elderly relatives.

2.5. Evaluation of Categories

Considering female roles in literature as described above, it is very obvious that the field of literature and the societies it reflects have been dominated by men for centuries. It seems female roles were usually determined mainly on the basis of their relation to men. The traditional evaluation of those roles was made on the same basis. The obedient ones were rewarded, the rebellious or authoritative ones were punished. Even angels are punished if they fail to keep their chastity and lose it due to seduction or even rape.

Mothers and prizes have some similarities with the angels yet the latter are more advanced characters and different enough to constitute separate categories. Jezebels, old witches and amazons overlap in so far as they both seem to be perceived as threatening to male dominance.

It is surprising, and to some extent even paradox, how much power is ascribed to women in literature, and how they are idealised or condemned for exercising that power. Evidently, female characters often use (sexual) manipulation, to achieve their goals through men. It is the only power given to them in a male dominated world. The difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ is determined by whether they use this power for positive (manipulation into domestication, civilisation) or negative aims (amoral manipulation in order to promote own interests). Despite all the usual claims of frailty, helplessness, physical and intellectual inferiority of women, angels seem to be worshipped as some kind of higher beings, while jezebels and amazons are feared as some kind of powerful demons, most probably succubae.

2.6. Selected Critical Studies on Female Roles in Literature

The categories and definitions of traditional female roles in literature, as presented previously in this chapter, were compiled and written exclusively from my perception and from my reading experience, without previous consultation of any secondary literature on that subject. While I prefer to use my own categories, it is evident that the perception of the traditional female roles is fundamentally very similar with most literary critics. The basic summary of many critical analyses of the perception of females in classic literature can be summed up as follows10:

a) Women, especially in literature written by men, are categorised as either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, with seldom any grey shades in between. The number of subcategories in those two main categories vary according to the, usually psychoanalytical, method the particular critic uses.
b) A ‘good woman’ is self-sacrificing and submissive to male authority.
c) Since female sexuality in general appears as threatening, positive women figures in traditional literature are often above physical matters.
d) Attractiveness/sexuality is the main weapon of women. Since women can only gain influence through manipulating men, they are judged by the way they use it in that manipulation of men.
e) Female characters threatening male dominance are usually perceived as negative and often punished.

Most critical studies on female roles concentrate on those last mentioned, traditionally negative roles of women threatening male dominance. In her extensive study on fear of women in literature, Margaret Hallissy11 analyses the figure of the venomous or poison using woman in literature and connects it, in a psychological analysis, with a general fear of females and their sexuality, as expressed by male authors. She argues that, in traditional literature, the role of the men is to be in motion while the role of the woman is to stay in stasis (Odysseus/Penelope). According to Hallissy, a woman, in her positive role, was supposed to represent the concept of home and shelter to the hero when he is in need of it and let him go again, after his needs have been fulfilled. In that case she is a nurturing mother and self-sacrificing lover. She leaves the male dominancy unchallenged and the man stays free. The good woman serves others, the evil one serves her own goals. Therefore, if the woman wants to keep the male tied to herself and the house, she is perceived as negative (Odysseus/Circe), selfish and endangering the male dominance by entrapping the man in the house. Hallissy further states that:

The idea of the deceptiveness of women is essential to understanding the image of poison. Poison can never be used as an honorable weapon in a fair duel between worthy opponents, as the sword or gun, male weapons, can. A man who uses such a secret weapon is beneath contempt. Publicly acknowledge rivalry is a kind of bonding in which each worthy opponent gives the other the opportunity to demonstrate prowess. Such heroic rivalries must be between equals, between the same kinds of creatures; an earl does not duel with a churl. But women, inferior creatures, cannot participate in this male bonding ritual. In fact, a woman cannot openly and honestly declare herself a man's enemy at all; there are no rituals to express male-female rivalry. Unlike the duel, or its larger equivalent, war, male-female enmity creates a situation in which no one gains glory. Men cannot demonstrate prowess by fighting an opponent so weak; women have no hope of winning in hand-to-hand combat. Therefore they use poison.12

Hallissy uses that particular image of the nature of rivalry between male and female in the context of her specific topic of women and poison. However, if the term ‘poison’ was replaced by the term ‘manipulation’ in that statement, it would still be just as valid. Open rivalry between men and women is always regarded as unnatural in traditional literature, therefore female characters have to resort to manipulation. Later on in argumentation, Hallissy also explicitly comments on that male fear of being manipulated by women and female sexuality:

Even if she [a woman] does not resort to murder, she may try to manipulate body or feelings with her special knowledge and dangerous fluids. A man must admit that in at least one crucial area, sexuality, she seems to be much more in control not only of her own body but of his as well. 13

Hallissy’s interpretation claims that the aspect of domestication is seen as a negative one. I choose to remain with my previous statement that, in literature, the domestication of men by women is overall regarded as a more positive aspect. It is true that psychological analyses of male characters in mythology, and even many modern novels, show that there is resentment against that aspect of domestication/civilisation by women. This is most especially true of adolescent characters, like Mark Twain’s famous pair Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. However, the necessity of the domestication of the male is shown too. As Roy has argued, one of the most striking things about Golding’s Lord of the Flies, is that it is not only the isolation of their island that makes the boys revert to complete savagery, but also the absence of female influence, which serves to identify the female with civilization.14

Katharine M. Rogers analyses the elements of misogyny in literature and presents various negative roles in which female characters were categorised from antiquity up to the twentieth century. Rogers concludes that the charges most often made against women are that their emotions and passions are stronger than their reason and that they often use men to gain financial or other advantages dictated to them by their greed or other passions.15

On the basis of Jungian psychology, Sarah Appleton Aguiar analyses the negative stereotypes of women in fiction written by men and divides them into five categories. ‘Domineering shrews’ are all those women who have taken authority and power away from men without giving it back, and who therefore often appear masculine. She also cites Mrs. Joe Gargery as an example from that category. The category of ‘witch’, as presented by Aguiar, includes enchantresses like Circe as well as old, supposedly malevolent women. She too chooses Miss Havisham as the best representation of the latter role. ‘Femme fatale’ is defined as a sexually active women, often a prostitute or other promiscuous character, who triggers the male fear of female sexuality. The category ‘devouring mother’ includes all female characters who refuse motherhood completely and those whose children suffer due to their refusal or selfishness. The fifth category is termed ‘the castrating bitch’ and incorporates all the stereotypes described in the first four categories. According to Aguiar, that is the most powerful and most feared female role in fiction written by men. Female characters belonging to that role are always punished most mercilessly. Aguiar further analyses negative women roles as they appear in recent fiction written by women, especially in popular literature, and shows how the negative stereotype of ‘the bitch’ is not merely a male invention. There is however a difference in the perception of the ‘bitch’ concept:

Unlike so many of the portrayals of the bitch in male-authored fiction, contemporary feminist renderings of the bitch suggest that she is not born a bitch,(...) she is, instead, created by specific circumstances and, more importantly, by herself. This character makes the choice, either consciously or subconsciously, to reject the traditional roles open to her and to possess power, a power that is always presupposed to have been usurped from the male sphere. And although in most cases she does not reject her femininity, she does reject the social limitations of femininity.16

3. Women in Early Utopian Tradition

Plato’s Republic has been a fundamental influence on utopias and dystopias for centuries. Most regulations applied there frequently recur in later works of the genre, although sometimes appropriately modified to fit the developments of their time. The position and role of women in an ideal state is no exception to this influence. The role of the women in Republic will not be analysed in detail here, but has to be succinctly described in order to show how fundamental this influence is, especially in regard to women and professions and women’s role in the pursuit of eugenics, which is an aspect often found in utopian and dystopian literature.

In Republic every male and female citizen of the ideal state must have a useful profession, best suited to his or her talents and inclinations. Women are also not restricted only to what is traditionally regarded as female work, even although they are allotted the lighter tasks, since they are considered to be physically weaker than men. Otherwise they can work with men on an equal basis: “there is no pursuit of the administrators of a state that belongs to a woman because she is a woman or to a man because he is a man. (455e)17 Women also get the same education as men, and are even to join their physical training. Such women can even be soldiers or belong to the highest and most honoured ranks of the “guardians”. Traditional marriage is suspended. Best men and women have to mate in a ceremony organised by the state, in order to produce the best children. “The women (...), beginning at the age of twenty, shall bear for the state to the age of forty, and the man shall beget for the state from the time he passes his prime in swiftness in running to the age of fifty-five.” (460e)18 Only after that period are they allowed to choose their own partners. Motherhood does not hinder women in their tasks and responsibilities since “the children shall be common, and (...) no parent shall know its own offspring nor any child its parent.” (457d)19 Despite the fact that Plato’s Republic, like most concepts of a state which are based on pure reason, does not sound as a desirable place to live, its definition of female roles in society is surprisingly liberal. Women are almost equal to men in their rights and duties, with the important exception that the highest office of the philosopher king is reserved for men only. Yet even there women are still partly regarded as prizes:

And on the young men, surely, who excel in war and other pursuits we must bestow honors and prizes, and, in particular, the opportunity of more frequent intercourse with the women, which will at the same time be a plausible pretext for having them beget as many of the children as possible.” (460b)20

In the eponym of the utopian genre, Sir Thomas More depicts the female citizens of the fictional state of Utopia in a rather liberal light, considering his historical and biographical background. Women in Utopia work and fight alongside their husbands and are free to spend their leisure time in intellectual pursuits. Consequently, all children get the same education, regardless of their sex. The tradition of a monogamous marriage is still kept in Utopia, yet women cannot be forced into marriage since both parties, male and female must consent. Also both parties are allowed to see each other naked before the marriage to assure themselves of the attractiveness of the future spouse. No man in Utopia can divorce his wife because she has become old and unattractive. Divorce is granted in cases where both partner consent to it due to mutual incompatibility or if one of them commits adultery or shows otherwise intolerable behaviour. Women and men utopia are both punished alike for sins like adultery and premarital sexual intercourse. All those regulations constitute an immense progress compared to the double standards usually employed in More’s society.

Yet Utopia is still recognisable as a strictly patriarchal society. Women are not elected to management positions like ‘Bencheaters’, although it is implied that wives of those magistrates actively assist in official tasks, e.g. the investigations carried out before a divorce is granted to a couple. While women in Utopia can share their husband’s professions and even fight in wars, the traditional housekeeping tasks like cooking are left exclusively to them, even although that task has been somewhat eased by the regulation of communal meals, where women of different households take turns in preparing the food for the community. The most obvious evidence of patriarchy in Utopia is that women have to fall on their knees, confess their sins to their husbands and beg their forgiveness, while men in return do not have to confess to them. Also, men and women are separated during the services at the temple. Women can become priests, although it does not happen often and only elderly widows are eligible for such positions.

The role of women in Plato’s Republic and More’s Utopia stand as best representatives of those roles in pre-industrial utopian fiction. Similar works in English Literature, like Francis Bacons’ New Atlantis, have nothing much to add to the analysis of female roles in utopian tradition. New Atlantis itself seems to be populated only by mothers.

4. Looking Backward

4.1. Bellamy and the ‘Woman Question’

In Bellamy’s biography, Sylvia E. Bowman terms his date of marriage as “one of the most important dates in the life of Bellamy, for his marriage and his subsequent fatherhood were to complete his education and to provide the emotional impetus which would eventually make of the would-be hermit a reformer.”12 Bellamy himself has stated that having a daughter has made him aware of the women’s situation in his time and was the basis of his wish to change that aspect of society.3 Bellamy clearly realised some of the defects in his own society in regard to the situation of its female members. Those were usually financially dependant on their husbands or other male relatives and as such had to stick to a certain code of unnatural, affected behaviour. The lack of education and the conduct expected of them by the society have put women in the role of moral guardians, who clung to the old and conservative values and thus became enemies of any kind of positive progress:

It is the misfortune of women that they are bound up with conservative ideas and the preservation of the status quo. Hence, a man must hate them when he rebels. Then it is that love is a chain.4

Bellamy therefore agreed with many feminists of his time that women should be given the opportunities to educate themselves and earn their own living and thus escape the financial dependence, in which he saw the root of the whole evil. Yet he was also concerned with the fact that many novels, which dealt with emancipation of women, seemed to predict that such women would become domineering, selfishly ambitious and averse to household work and even motherhood:

Womanly charm, wrote Bellamy, did not have to be replaced by unsexed women, for such charm could bloom in a factory as well as in a hothouse atmosphere. Furthermore, such forecasts filled the public with trepidation and made the subject of woman's rights an unpopular one. The enfranchised woman should be presented, therefore, in a “winning and propitiating guise”; she should be shown not only to possess strength and ability but to be so feminine that marriage would seem a fitting crown to her life. 5

4.2. Reception of Looking Backward

Looking Backward was arguably the most popular and most influential fictional utopia It was published in 1888 and immediately became a huge success6. All over the United States the so-called ‘Bellamy Clubs’ or ‘National Clubs’ were founded and their members discussed and propagated the ideas Bellamy presented in his novel7. A few enthusiasts even founded colonies which were at least partly based on the utopian system in the book8, even though Bellamy himself did not believe in such an approach.9 Like any other such work, it also provoked criticism. In this case it also found multiple critical answers in literary form. Some of those were written as direct sequels to Looking Backward, while others expressed their criticism by writing their own counter-utopias. The probably best known of those is William Morris’ News from Nowhere.

In the four years after the novel’s original publication, it became available in all major European languages and has spread its influence on single readers and even whole political movements in a greater part of Europe.10 Between the World Wars, its popularity was revived again in Canada, the United States, South Africa, Indonesia, and New Zealand, and its influence continues even today, since there are still Bellamy societies California and in Holland.11

An especially interesting aspect in the reception of this novel is its popularity with a large part of its female audience. The book was well received not only by a great part of female audience in the United State but also by women in Germany.12 One of the most interesting reactions in came from Frances B. Willard, a firm advocate of women’s rights and a leader of the Temperance Movement, who regarded the book as “a revelation and an Evangel.”13 She declared that she and some of her colleagues in the movement thought “that Edward Bellamy must be Edwardina. --i.e., [that]a big-hearted, big-brained woman wrote the book.”14 She and other women from various suffragist movements have consequently joined the Nationalist Club in Boston.15 It seems they were drawn to Bellamy since they saw him as fellow feminist and man capable of mainstreaming their ideas in public.16 Most of the other women who joined the Nationalist Club seem to have been domestic feminists, who, like Bellamy himself, believed that women and men were generally so different in their respective talents, that women could not compete with men in the fields of work and politics, but who still wanted a better education and higher recognition and recompense for domestic work.17 Again other, more radical suffragettes, did and could not support Bellamy, his vision and his kind of feminism, since they could not identify themselves with Bellamy’s idea of women not being not fully able to participate in the professional world on an equal basis with men.18 It was on suggestion of two such ladies, Mary Ford and Mrs Diaz, that he eventually expanded and adjusted the role of female citizens of his utopia to more acceptable dimensions in Equality, his own official sequel to Looking Backward.

4.3. Women in Looking Backward

4.3.1. Women and Work

“What a paradise for womankind the world must be now!” (169)19 Thus exclaims Julian West when he hears about the reduction of household chores, the first of improvements of women’s situation in 2000. As Mrs. Leete explains, there is no housework for her to do, since most of the work in that area is taken care of by public institutions.

Our washing is all done at public laundries at excessively cheap rates, and our cooking at public kitchens. The making and repairing of all we wear are done outside in public shops. Electricity, of course, takes the place of all fires and lighting. We choose houses no larger than we need, and furnish them so as to involve the minimum of trouble to keep them in order.(168) 20

Women are also members of the industrial army. They do not retire from their work upon

their marriage but are granted extended maternity leaves. Although this regulation sounds very modern at first, it soon becomes evident that the supposed equality of men and women is only a superficial one. “Under no circumstances is a woman permitted to follow any employment not perfectly adapted, both as to kind and degree of labor, to her sex.” (263) Women are given lighter tasks than men, due to their inferiority in strength, their working hours are considerably shorter than those of men and they are granted more frequent vacations and respites. It is rather futile to argue about the differences in the average physical strength of men and women21, it seems that the free choice of profession for women is limited by other aspects, too. Although Dr. Leete at first refers to women as “efficient co-laborers with the men” (263) he soon after reduces their part in that cooperation to that of “allied forces” (264). The female force in the industrial army is an “imperium in imperio” (264), with their own discipline and exclusively female workers and officers. As Dr. Leete patronisingly explains:

In your day there was no career for women except in an unnatural rivalry with men.

We have given them a world of their own, with its emulations, ambitions, and careers, and I assure you they are very happy in it.” (265).

There is no true equality between the sexes but a kind of apartheid. Both sexes have their own hierarchy within their own ‘pyramid’. Women can only compete with women and men with men. Anything else would be regarded as unnatural in this society. Whether, in “the world of their own” (265), women are allowed to pursue the same professions as men is never explicitly stated. However, the implications by omission are obvious. While all women serve their time in the industrial army, there is no mention that any of them were allowed to leave it in order to pursue any of the liberal professions like medicine, teaching or creating art and literature. According to Dr Leete, “schools of technology, of medicine, of art, of music, of histrionics, and of higher liberal learning are always open to aspirants without condition.“ (138) Yet he also states that the school “remains open to every man till the age of thirty is reached”(138, emphasis added).22 Furthermore, only male members of the industrial army are eligible for the election to the President of the United States and only “the men of the nation” (218), at least those who are either retired from the army or belong to the liberal professions, are allowed to vote in the elections. Retired women are only allowed to choose a female general from their ranks, who than belongs to the presidential cabinet but is allowed to concern herself only with the matters regarding women. The fact that she has “a veto on measures respecting women’s work, pending appeals to Congress” (264), only emphasises the fact that the actual “measures”, and other regulations and laws, are made and decided by men, since women are not members of the National Congress.

Thus, the American society in 2000 still seems to largely differentiate between women’s and men’s work. Under such circumstances it is reasonably safe to assume that a great part of female industrial army is employed in the same public institutions which save them the household chores at home. Still, it is a progress compared to the circumstances of lower class women in 1887, who had to do both the housekeeping and work outside their home for a living.

Yet there is more to the concept of working women than just the fact that in such a way they can contribute to the common wealth. In fact that is just a side effect while the real reasons are given by Dr. Leete as follows:

The men of this day so well appreciate that they owe to the beauty and grace of women the chief zest of their lives and their main incentive to effort, that they permit them to work at all only because it is fully understood that a certain regular requirement of labor, of a sort adapted to their powers, is well for body and mind, during the period of maximum physical vigor. (203)

Work adds to their “magnificent health” (263) and since “[w]omen are a very happy race nowadays [...] their power of giving happiness to men has been of course increased in proportion” (265, emphasis added). On reflection, such an obvious sexist tone underlies many a mention of women in the whole novel and especially the twenty-fifth chapter, which is devoted mainly to the role of female Americans in the year 2000. Barely a paradise for womankind.

4.3.2. Wives and Mothers

The first and foremost role of women in Looking Backward is that of a wife and mother. Childbearing is still considered the greatest service a woman can perform for the society. Motherhood and marriage do not only not interfere with a woman’s career but they even promote it, because only women who are both wives and mothers are given higher ranks in the female industrial army. Since they alone are considered as full representatives of their sex, it is implied that all other women are in some way incomplete.

According to Dr Leete, only love matches are made in the new world. Women do not have to sell themselves into loveless marriages in order to gain financial stability, since both men and women earn the same amount on their credit cards. Thus, they “meet with the ease of perfect equals, suitor to each other in nothing but love.” (268). Women are free to “tell their love” (269) and have abandoned the manners of coquettishness and concealing their feelings. Or so Dr. Leete claims. The reality seems to be somewhat different. Having the same financial means has never made anyone to “perfect equals”, especially not in matters of love, as is also evident in the novel itself. As Dr. Leete points out, many women in his society do not only need to love a man to accept him as husband but have to admire him too. Therefore they seek to marry men of high ranks and reputation, which is obviously the only requirement for admiration in their society. Only women of a “very evil sort of courage” (271) marry men who have not distinguished themselves by being very useful to the society in general. To Dr. Leete, the feelings of those women towards those men obviously do not even deserve to be called ‘love’ but are reduced to term ‘pity’. Those women are obviously not in line with what society expects of them. The whole concept of the rather superficial women’s liberation in the fictional United States of the year 2000 has one major consequence which, like the rest of the regulations in this new society, serves one final goal – the perfecting of human race by method of eugenics:

[F]or the first time in human history the principle of sexual selection, with its tendency to preserve and transmit the better types of the race, and let the inferior types drop out, has unhindered operation. (...) Every generation is sifted through a little finer mesh than the last. The attributes that human nature admires are preserved, those that repel it are left behind. (270)

The perspective in which Dr. Leete puts his female fellow citizens is generally very similar to that of previous centuries. On one side they are being patronised and protected, on the other idealised and stylised to objects of admiration. The doctor himself states that men would think it enough if women would just repay the society by cultivating their grace and beauty, but it is women themselves who require more, not the men. As explained in the previous chapter, the reasons why women are given their “own world” in matters of profession are rather sexist and patronising, in some ways even like a toy given to children to keep them happy and quiet. The idealisation of the female sex is taken further, as it seems that the women’s choice of a husband is the key factor which ensures the improvement of humankind. This can lead to only two conclusions. Either Bellamy, and by extension the society of 2000 represented by Dr. Leete, believed that only men have undesirable traits which can be inherited by (male) children, or, more probably, they all believed that women are only a kind of incubator men need in order to give their semen, which already contains everything that determines the physical and mental characteristics of a child, a place to grow. It seems that women are reduced to a centuries old role, one which is a recurring motif especially in literature – they are regarded as prizes, by whose means men are allowed to extend their line:

[N]ot all the encouragements and incentives of every sort which we have provided to develop industry, talent, genius, excellence of whatever kind, are comparable in their effect on our young men with the fact that our women sit aloft as judges of the race and reserve themselves to reward the winners. (...) Our women have risen to the full height of their responsibility as the wardens of the world to come, to whose keeping the keys of the future are confided. Their feeling of duty in this respect amounts to a sense of religious consecration. It is a cult in which they educate their daughters from childhood. (270-271, emphasis added)

4.3.3. Female Characters in Looking Backward

Dr Leete often emphasises how happy his female fellow citizens are with their situation in the new society. Yet those statements would be more convincing if they were made by the ladies themselves or even confirmed by any of them. Neither does their behaviour confirm his explanations on role of women in that society.

There are three female characters in Looking Backward and only one, Edith Leete, is of any prominence in the novel. The first character we encounter is her namesake and great grandmother Edith Bartlett of whom we only learn, through Julian, that she is rich, beautiful und graceful, and thus fit to be married by Julian, whose criteria for a wife seem to be fulfilled by those three aforementioned qualities. She belongs to Julian’s old life and is seen by him from a perspective of that age too. About Mrs. Leete we learn little more than that she too is good looking and “well-preserved”. Otherwise she herself has little to say in the course of the novel, except to enlighten Julian as to Edith’s ancestry. Thus we are left with Edith Leete as the only really visible representative of female sex in this novel.

Considering Edith’s behaviour throughout the book, she does not seem to fit the official role of the woman in 2000 as described by Dr Leete. She always seems to be around the house and we never see or hear that she is going to school or to her work within the female industrial army. We do not even know which of the former would be appropriate for her, since her age is given only vaguely as she appears to Julian as being “in the first blush of womanhood”(118). In fact, most of Edith’s behaviour throughout the book does not distinguish her much from any of the more saccharine heroines in Victorian novels. Her thoughts seem to be mainly preoccupied with the question how to make Julian happy and comfortable. She easily breaks out in sentimental tears. Her speech is rarely delivered in a normal tone but is usually marked by exclamations, cries and sighs, and often by an added line on “how stupid” she is (158,166,189) just because she had failed to think of something to make Julian more comfortable. Her encounters with Julian are marked by blushes, lowering of eyes, evasive answers and fascinated glances, which are the signs of coquetry and should have been discarded long ago, according to Edith’s father. Neither is it line with the “serene frankness and ingenuous directness” (263), which Julian claims to see in Edith, nor with ”the entire frankness and unconstraint” which, according to Edith’s father, characterise the relation between the sexes in his world. The evidence of the lack of that famed frankness is especially emphasised when we are informed about Edith’s constant efforts to hide her ancestry. Edith is also prone to what constitutes one of the most persistent clichés about women – love of shopping and pretty clothes. It is also implied that she and her mother cannot keep up with serious subjects, like abolition of money, since as soon as that subject is mentioned, Mrs Leete changes the subject to “the point of ladies fashion in the nineteenth century” (146). The subject of money is only discussed further when Julian and the doctor retreat alone to latter’s resort on the top of the house. Such procedure is often to be observed in the course of the novel. The ladies usually retreat at some point, especially after dinner, since the old fashioned habit of leaving the men alone with their brandy and cigars still seems to be the custom. Most serious topics are explained and discussed while the men are alone, and even when Mrs. Leete and Edith are present, they usually do not participate in the discussion.

Edith seems to be a counterbalance to her father’s rationality. While he supplies Julian with all the necessary information about the society he has woken up in, Edith’s role is to provide Julian with emotional support so he can cope with all the changes in his disrupted life. Dr. Leete assumes the role of Julian’s tutor, while Edith usually puts herself in the role of Julian’s pupil. She rarely gives any explanations about her own world, as this seems to be a privilege of her father, who, it is implied, has a greater overall knowledge of it. Edith seems happier in encouraging Julian to lecture her. Certainly, this habit of letting the man talk could and should also be attributed to her thirst for knowledge about history and the time he lived in. Yet in the end we are informed that Edith has been in love with Julian, or rather – her own image of him, even before she even met him and when he appeared she did everything she could to make him love her too. Thus her strange behaviour, which did not fit the norms of her own society but was rather reminiscent of women in Julian’s time, can be at least partly explained by her applying the old-fashioned manners of female behaviour to win Julian, who might have been appalled by her society’s approach to such matters. She abstained from “frankness”, i.e., did not tell him whose grand-granddaughter she is, because she felt she would have been “forcing” herself on him (293) and she was “dreadfully afraid of shocking” (293) him. Yet, even if Edith’s behaviour as a blushing Victorian maiden was a guise, alone the fact that she wants to marry Julian makes her one of the rare exceptions in her own society. As, mentioned before, many women choose to marry successful men, to further promote the improvement of human race. That Edith might have another view on that matter is evident even before her declaration of love for Julian. After Dr. Leete has explained the nature and bestowal of blue and red ribbons, which are the “honors of the nation” (201) for those who have made great services to the society, Edith claims that she and her mother would not think more highly of him even if had gotten any.23

Edith is not the only one to behave inconsistently. Her father, who, by his own account, regards those females who marry ‘undeserving’ men as women “of evil courage”, is absolutely happy that his daughter will marry a man who has not yet made any contribution to the society, let alone distinguished himself in any way but as a famous anachronism. Parrinder24 makes a similar observation with the additional stress on the fact that Julian is “a dubious nineteenth-century specimen”25 and as such not really fit to merge into the gene pool already cleaned by a century of applied eugenics. Yet the doctor seems to truly expect that Julian will become a valued member of the society once he gets his historical lectureship at a college. After all, no one will be able to beat him on that field of expertise. Julian himself is the only one who seems to worry about his inadequacy to become Edith’s husband.

I should be a fool not to know that I cannot seem to you as other men of your own generation do, but as some strange uncanny being, a stranded creature of an unknown sea, whose forlornness touches your compassion despite its grotesqueness.

I have been so foolish, you were so kind, as to almost forget that this must needs be so, and to fancy I might in time become naturalized, as we used to say, in this age, so as to feel like one of you and to seem to you like the other men about you. But Mr. Barton's sermon taught me how vain such a fancy is, how great the gulf between us must seem to you. (288)

However, Julian can be regarded as a reformed character at the end. He has realised the flaws of the society he came from and has learned to appreciate and approve of the new order, as is clearly shown in the way he behaves when he is thrown back into the nineteenth century, which might be regarded as his symbolic purification. Otherwise he is healthy, his insomnia cured, educated, handsome and willing to work. Such genes are probably welcomed in 2000, despite Julian’s origins.

The romance between Edith and Julian is a very strange one in more than one aspect. He does not mind that for her he is a fantasy figure come to life, and she even insists on that it is her wish that he see his first love, Edith Bartlett in her:

“You must not love me too much for myself,” she said. “I shall be very jealous for her. I shall not let you forget her. I am going to tell you something which you may think strange. Do you not believe that spirits sometimes come back to the world to fulfil some work that lay near their hearts? What if I were to tell you that I have sometimes thought that her spirit lives in me that Edith Bartlett, not Edith Leete, is my real name. I cannot know it; of course none of us can know who we really are; but I can feel it. Can you wonder that I have such a feeling, seeing how my life was affected by her and by you, even before you came? So you see you need not trouble to love me at all, if only you are true to her. I shall not be likely to be jealous.” (292)

Edith seems to yearn for old times which Julian has lived in. She is sentimental to the core and her whole love life is a fantasy. It is not Julian she loves but the old sad romance he had with her ancestress.26 She offers herself as an ersatz-Edith Bartlett and will even act like her to make Julian happy. If Edith were the future of womankind, it would be an extremely worrying prospect indeed.

4.4. Female Fashion in Looking Backward

Corsets, bustles and extremely voluminous petticoats were all part of extremely restrictive female fashion of the Victorian Era. While the latter to mainly restricted movement and comfort, corsets were finally being recognised as a serious danger for their wearers health. The liberation of the body by adapting more comfortable and functional styles of clothing was an important one within some circles of the feminist movements.27

Bellamy seems to ignore the valiant efforts of Amelia Bloomer, Dr. Mary Walker, Susan Taylor Converse and others, who promoted more sensible clothes for women in the nineteenth century.28 Women clothing in 2000 has, according to Julian, barley changed, even although the inefficiency of nineteenth century lady’s dresses would prevent almost any kind of serious work.29 In Equality Bellamy gives more thought to the functionality of female attire. Edith explains how she and her mother have worn dresses of Victorian style in order to prevent shocking Julian and that in the new world such garments are outdated. Like most of the other ‘corrections’ to women’s issues in Equality, it sounds forced, awkward and unintentionally comical:

“Edith,” [Julian] said, “there were a great many institutions of the nineteenth century which we tolerated because we did not know how to get rid of them, without, however, having a bit better opinion of them than you have, and one of them was the costume by means of which our women used to disguise and cripple themselves.” I am delighted!” exclaimed Edith. “I perfectly detest these horrible bags, and will not wear them a moment longer!” 30

In 2000, both sexes wear the same kind of costume, one which appears masculine to a 19th century eye. Yet according to Edith, she and her contemporaries think that it is “ the only natural and convenient solution of the dress necessity, which is essentially the same for both sexes, since their bodily conformation is on the same general lines.”31

4.5. Blurring of Gender Roles in Looking Backward

An aspect which should be added here is that of blurring the gender roles in Bellamy’s Utopia. Roemer32 has presented a very interesting study on how Julian West is partly feminised within the course of the novel. As I have observed in case of Edith, she usually speaks in an emotionally loaded manner. Roemer observes the same in the character of Julian:

Most of West's outbursts, however, more closely resemble the hysterics of mistreated sentimental heroines separated from their lovers, or the lamentations of destitute orphans and suddenly impoverished and uprooted “pampered heiresses” of the mid-nineteenth century. He shouts, he pants, he cries, he faints and gets dizzy spells, recalling the helplessness of the “swooning heroine”33

Furthermore Roemer shows that the fact that Julian in Utopia is dependant on the Leetes, in financial and almost any other way, puts him in the same situation in which many of the his female readers found themselves in their lives. Even the professions Julian finally takes up in Utopia are regarded as traditionally female - teaching and writing romance novels.34 Those latter arguments are rather questionable, since Julian is teaching at a college, which is still a men dominated domain in the 19th century and Looking Backward is at least as much a socialist reform programme as it is a romance novel. But Roemer does not intend to explain Julian as a completely feminised character, but as an “androgynous voice”35 which allows the reader to identify with him, regardless of his or her sex. Roemer’s aim in that argumentation is to explain the immense appeal the novel had at the time of its original publication, especially since women were the primary audience of novels at that time. That is certainly a valid conclusion but I would claim that the whole concept of Julian’s part-feminisation adds a subversive tone to the whole novel.

The fundamental idea which defines the station of women in Looking Backward is “the recognition of the distinct individuality of the sexes” (264), which cannot be obliterated and thus perfect equality cannot be achieved. Yet by letting Julian display traditionally female traits as described above, and making Edith seem to Julian like a “young and innocent boy” (263), as well as letting Edith take a “self-assumed guardianship” (206) over Julian, Bellamy undermines the whole idea of the assumed complete difference between the sexes. Both hero and heroine display traits or appearances which are traditionally ascribed to the members of the opposite sex.

4.6. Evaluation

The fictional society in Looking Backward is still strictly patriarchal. Women are given more space and responsibility, yet they still do not have the right to vote or to work in those professions which are traditionally regarded as belonging to the male domain. Their ambitions are constricted to the world of their own. They are also still confined to the traditional roles of prizes, even if Bellamy tries to stylise those facts in glorious words.

In Chapter 4.1. it was stated that one Bellamy’s intentions was to presented the future women in a “wining and propitiating guise.”36 Judging by the reaction of many of his contemporaries he succeeded in that plan. Edith seems to have fulfilled her task. Yet to many modern readers, and some of the more forward-looking nineteenth century suffragettes, she appears as no novelty. Pfaelzer sums up this opinion perfectly in her comment on female characters in Looking Backward:

Bellamy perpetuated images of female inferiority and created socialist female characters who conformed to the Cult of True Womanhood: pure, pious, domestic, and submissive. 37

Edith’s old-fashioned behaviour in the novel itself can be at least partly explained by her being “dreadfully afraid of shocking” (293) Julian. This leads her to behave in a manner more familiar to him, which prevents Julian from going mad in the first place. Yet this only reverts to the old role of a female supplying emotional support at any cost. There might be an attempt on novelty in the character of Edith but there is not enough. Her role is still mainly that of a love interest and a nurturing mother figure, that of an angel. She also has domesticating effect on Julian.

Bellamy seems to have become aware of some of the logical and ideological flaws in his book, especially through the critique offered by some of his readership.38 In Equality, written as a sequel to Looking Backward, he very obviously tries to straighten some of those flaws and devotes a large part of that work to further explanation on the situation of women in his Utopia39, although the obvious ‘corrections’ of Looking Backward in that book appear unintentionally comical at times. Sometimes one wonders whether Bellamy has not added most of the twenty-fifth chapter as an afterthought, too. In all his explanations and elaborations previous to that chapter, Dr. Leete tends to speak of men only and seldom mentions the women.


1 s. Booker, Keith M.. Dystopian Literature: A Theory and Research Guide. Westport. CT: Greenwood Press. 1994. p.4.

2 Interestingly, most visitors who arrive in such world first think it is a utopia. The Traveller in Time Machine and John the Savage in Brave New World only gradually discover the negative sides of what they at first consider to be a utopia.

3 cf. among others: <> (18.12.08) and Wenzel. Peter. “Be Prepared: Utopie und Antiutopie” In: Crime and Treachery. Neuere Kriminal- und Spionageliteratur. Diller, H. J. et al. eds. Anglistik & Englischunterricht Series. Vol. 37. Heidelberg. Carl Winter UP. 1989. pp.181-193.

4 The spelling of this and other names differ in various translations of the epic. Here, names and quotations are all given according to the translation by Maureen Gallery Kovacs. The Epic of Gilgamesh. Kovacs, Maureen Gallery (trans.). Stanford. Stanford UP.1989.

5 s. ibid. p. 9.

6 cf., for example, Jezebel in modern culture.<>

7 From my reading of Vanity Fair I am convinced that Amelia and Becky are, on the surface, described in traditional female roles of angel and jezebel, even although Thackeray’s use of those roles is very subversive at a closer look.

8 The term ‘old’ is not quite adequate here since the definitions of an ‘old woman’ vary strongly in different societies and different centuries. I still decided to use the expression ‘old witch’ in the heading of this category because it is a very familiar and recognisable concept in our culture. Also I want to differentiate between the term ‘witch’ in the sense of an ‘evil old woman’ and its other frequent use as a synonym of ‘enchantress’, since the latter belongs into the categories of the previous subsection 2.2.

9 Here used as a pejorative term for an old woman.

10 Following works are considered here: Aguiar, Sarah Appleton.. The Bitch Is Back: Wicked Women in Literature. Carbondale. Southern Illinois UP. 2001 Cranny-Francis, Anne. 1992. Engendered Fiction: Analysing Gender in the Production and Reception of Texts. Kensington. University of New South Wales Press. Hallissy, Margaret. Venomous Woman: Fear of the Female in Literature. New York: Greenwood Press. 1987. Rogers, Katharine M. The Troublesome Helpmate: A History of Misogyny in Literature.Seattle: University of Washington Press. 1968 Wall, Kathleen: The Callisto Myth from Ovid to Atwood: Initiation and Rape in Literature. Kingston, Ont.: McGill-Queens UP. 1988.

11 Summary of the basic arguments on female role as given by Hallissy.

12 s. Hallissy. p. 5-6.

13 s. Hallissy. p. 141

14 cf.Roy, Paula Alida. "Boys’ Club—no Girls Allowed: Absence as Presence in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies (1954)." In: Women in Literature : Reading Through the Lens of Gender. Fisher, Jerilyn et al., eds. Westport. Greenwood Press. 2003.pp. 175-177. Roy further argues that the generally positive aspect of civilisation through female influence is presented as weak and ineffectual in the long term and at distance.

15 cf. Rogers, esp. pp. 267-268.

16 s. Aguiar. p.98.

17 Plato. “Republic”. Shorey, Paul. (trans.). In: The Collected Dialogues of Plato, Including the Letters. Hamilton Edith et. al(eds.). New York: Pantheon Books. 1961.pp. 575 – 844. Here referring to p.699 (appropriate Stephanus Numbers are given directly in the text)

18 ibid. p. 700.

19 ibid. p. 696.

20 ibid. p. 699.

1 All but otherwise referenced biographical information on Bellamy in this Chapter 4.1., is taken from: Bowman, Sylvia E. The Year 2000: A Critical Biography of Edward Bellamy. New York: Bookman Associates. 1958.

2 s. Bowman. 1958. p.70.

3 cf. Bellamy citation in: Bowman. 1958. p.274.

4 s. Bellamy: Unpublished Papers. Quoted in: Morgan, Arthur E.. Edward Bellamy. New York: Columbia UP. 1944. p. 84.

5 s.Bowman. 1958. p. 270.

6 cf. Bowman, Sylvia E. Edward Bellamy Abroad: An American Prophet's Influence. New York: Twayne Publishers. 1962.Here referring to p. 29.

7 cf. ibid. p. 29

8 cf. ibid. pp. 99 -102.

9 cf. ibid. p. 49.

10 cf. ibid. p.29

11 cf. ibid. Introduction *xx

12 cf. ibid. p 151.

13 For those citations from Willard’s letters see Bowman.1958. p.120.

14 cf. ibid.

15 cf. Morgan. p.251. for the list of notable female members.

16 cf. Strauss, Sylvia.. “Gender, Class and Race in Utopia”. In: Patai, Daphne (ed.). Essays on Edward Bellamy. Amherst. University of Massachusetts Press. 1988. pp.68 -90. Here referring to. p.86.

17 cf. ibid. p.77

18 cf. Strauss. p.77., Bowman. 1958. p.275.,

19 All page references henceforth according to: Bellamy, Edward. Looking Backward 2000-1887. Thomas, John L. (ed). The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 1970. [1967].

20 Bellamy does not seem to be very familiar with neither female clothes nor housekeeping. Housekeeping certainly does not consist only of washing, cooking and mending clothes, as Bellamy seems to assume.

21 Although it has to be added that laundry, which is traditionally regarded as ‘woman’s work’ is a task that requires a great amount of physical strength, especially when large items like bed linens are involved.

22 Dr. Leete’s general use of the terms „man“ and „men“ throughout the novel does not suggest that he applies those terms in the sense of ‘mankind’, which might include both sexes, but solely as a term defining the male members of human species.

23 Her mother on the other hand seems to have been of another opinion. Dr. Leete jokingly admits that she would not have married him if he hadn’t promised her that he was “bound to get the red ribbon or at least the blue”. Mrs. Leete’s has only a smile to offer on that. What appears like a jocular statement here, acquires a more serious undertone after his explanations in Chapter 25. Obviously, he has not gotten any and Mrs.. Leete might have married an illusion, just like her daughter will do.

24 cf. Parrinder, Patrick. “Eugenics and Utopia: Sexual Selection from Galton to Morris” . In: Utopian Studies 8.2. 1997. (25.01.09)

25 s. ibid.

26 for a different reading of this aspect of Julian/Edith relationship cf. Williams, Nicholas M.. “The Limits of Spatialized Form: Visibility and Obscurity in Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward.” In: Utopian Studies 10.2: 25. 1999. Questia. 25 Jan. 2009 <>.

27 cf. Patricia A. Cunningham. Reforming Women's Fashion, 1850-1920: Politics, Health, and Art. Kent. OH: Kent State UP. 2003.

28 For further details on those three particular styles, confer to Cunningham esp. pp.41-42 and 79ff.

29 Strauss. 78-79. follows a similar train of thoughts.

30 s. Bellamy, Edward.2006. Equality. BiblioBazaar. p. 56.

31 s. ibid. p.58.

32 Roemer, Kenneth M. “The Literary Domestication of Utopia: There's No Looking Backward Without Uncle Tom and Uncle True”. In: American Transcendental Quarterly. New Series 3. No.1. 1989. pp.101-122.

33 s. ibid. p. 110.

34 cf. ibid. p.110-111.

35 s. ibid. p.109.

36 cf. reference 5

37 s. Pfaelzer, Jean. “Immanence, Indeterminance, And the Utopian Pun In Looking Backward”. In: Essays on Edward Bellamy. Patai, Daphne (ed.). Amherst : University of Massachusetts Press. pp. 51-67. 1988. Here referring to p. 61-62.

38 compare also Chapter. 4.2.

39 cf. Bellamy. Equality. Chapter 6. and Chapters 19-20.

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Role of Women in Utopian and Dystopian Novels
RWTH Aachen University
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Brave New World, Utopia, Dystopia, Anti-Utopia, 1984, Ecotopia, Handmaid's Tale, News from Nowhere, Looking Backward, William Morris, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Margaret Atwood, Thomas More, Gender Roles, Feminism, Utopie
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Magister Jelena Vukadinovic (Author), 2009, Role of Women in Utopian and Dystopian Novels, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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