Daniel Defoe, or How to Bring Utopia Back Home
English writer, Daniel Defoe, raised the refreshing possibility of transporting the essence of Utopia into the real world.
The distances covered in the world we inhabit today will never be surpassed. Utopian societies, exotic, morally superior countries that have illuminated our literature, seem not only far away, but rather impossible, too. Unlike other literary Utopias, for example, those of Thomas Moore in 1516, or Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis (1627), those imagined by Daniel Defoe question the assumptions of the others, as none of these was never really brought back home.
The first and most important of Defoe’s Utopias was the island home of Robinson Crusoe (1719). A remote, apparently uninhabited island is the perfect place to encounter the deepest of human passions, face-to-face, and with the solitude and wisdom that only hard work will bring.
In the much less successful sequel, The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1720), the castaway, back in London, found the same stoicism in the streets of the city, even when surrounded by people. He found the beauty of solitude at the London stock exchange. Not everything was lost: the great adventurer was able to retreat into his interior, and to visit only himself, despite all the distractions of the outside world.
Defoe then created a second Utopia. In the novel, Captain Singleton (1720), a pirate protagonist proceeds as had Crusoe. Then after his long adventure at sea, he again brings the dream home to England. But Singleton is not at all interior. His was a communal Utopia. Notions such as equality, common property, interracial respect, and an equitable distribution of wealth, are typical of a unique pirate culture. Preserved very much inside the captain, they remain even upon his arrival back home.
The idea of realizing Utopia is deeply reassuring, even today. An ability to relocate one of these magical places, to reshape it to more real or manageable proportions, not only celebrates the poetry of spaces which don’t exist (though they should). They also become fertile territory for the creation of the Utopia that we all carry with us. It’s a pristine place that’s never been colonized, and with which no one has traded. And it’s been stained neither by ambition nor by misery.
*Images: The Public Domain Review
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