Aristopia

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Aristopia
Author Castello N. Holford
Country United States
Language English
Genre Alternate history
Speculative fiction
Utopian fiction
Publisher Arena Publishing Co.
Publication date
1895
Media type Print (Hardcover)
Pages 234 pp.
ISBN N/A

Aristopia: A Romance-History of the New World is an 1895 utopian novel by Castello Holford, considered the first novel-length alternate history in English (and among the earliest alternate histories in general).[1]

Though part of the major wave utopian and dystopian literature that distinguished the final decades of the nineteenth century,[2][3] Holford's book reverses the normal stance of utopian projection: instead of imagining a better society at a future time or in a far-off place, he supposes that the founding of the United States occurred under different conditions and follows its development forward to a superior society in his own day.

In Aristopia (Greek for "the best place"), Ralph Morton, an early settler in Virginia, discovers a reef made of solid gold. He cannily uses his wealth to build a planned society, based on the Utopia of Sir Thomas More, with innovations and adaptations of his own. In Aristopia, all the land is owned by the government, and only leased to businesses and private citizens. Large-scale trade is also monoplized by the state, and inherited wealth is limited. Morton welcomes productive refugees from European conflicts — Huguenots, Irish fugitives from Cromwell's wars, and northern Italian and Swiss artisans. The colony prospers, buys more land from the Indians, and spreads westward. Morton dies at age 100; his descendants and successors carry his policies forward.

The Aristopians support the American Revolution, and on their own initiative conquer Canada. Aristopia comes to dominate the new nation, eventually ruling all of North America north of Mexico.[4]

Holford loads his description of Aristopia with satirical remedies for what he saw as contemporary problems and circumstances. In Aristopian jurisprudence, for example, the Court for Assessing the Value of Abstract Words and Phrases polices the language to prevent abuses; it is the largest and busiest function in the Palace of Justice.

The English playwright Henry Arthur Jones was taken with the idea of Aristopia, and used it in his own polemical writings, as in his "The Tax-Wise Men of Aristopia"[5] and his My Dear Wells.[6]

Holford was not the first writer in English to employ the term "Aristopia." The eighteenth-century freethinker John Fransham (1730–1810) left a posthumous manuscript titled Memorablilia Classica, which contains a piece called "The Code of Aristopia, or Scheme for a Perfect Government."[7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Brian Stableford cites two short fictions, Nathaniel Hawthorne's "P's Correspondence" (1845) and Edward Everett Hale's "Hands Off" (1881), as precedents in American literature. Brian Stableford, Science Fact and Science Fiction: An Encyclopedia, New York, CRC Press/Routledge, 2006; pp. 18-19.
  2. ^ Kenneth M. Roemer, The Obsolete Necessity: America in Utopian Writings, 1888–1900, Kent, OH, Kent State University Press, 1976.
  3. ^ Jean Pfaelzer, The Utopian Novel in America, 1886–1896: The Politics of Form, Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1984.
  4. ^ Everett F. Bleiler with Richard Bleiler, Science-Fiction: The Early Years, Kent, OH, Kent State University Press, 1990; p. 369.
  5. ^ Henry Arthur Jones, "The Tax-Wise Men of Aristopia," The World's Work: A History of Our Time, Vol. 41 (November 1920–April 1921), p. 240.
  6. ^ Henry Arthur Jones, My Dear Wells: Being a Series of Letters Addressed by Arthur Henry Jones to Mr. H. G. Wells, Upon Bolshevism, Collectivism, Internationalism, and the Distribution of Wealth, New York, E. P. Dutton, 1921; p. 242.
  7. ^  "Fransham, John". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 

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