Unveiling a Parallel
|Author||Alice Ilgenfritz Jones
|Genre||Science fiction Speculative fiction Utopian fiction|
|Publisher||Arena Publishing Co.|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
Unveiling a Parallel: A Romance is a feminist science fiction and utopian novel published in 1893. The first edition of the book attributed authorship to "Two Women of the West." They were Alice Ilgenfritz Jones and Ella Merchant, writers who lived in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Feminist issues and approaches were significant in this wave of speculative literature. While women writers typically advocated feminist causes and values (as in Mary Lane's Mizora and Elizabeth Corbett's New Amazonia), there were also exceptions: conservative and traditionally-oriented women who used speculative fiction to argue against feminism (as in Anna Bowman Dodd's The Republic of the Future).
Jones and Merchant differed from some other feminist novelists of their generation (like Corbett and Lane, mentioned above) in that they made their fictional protagonist male instead of female. Their hero travels to the planet Mars in an "aeroplane." (That term had originated in France in 1879; this novel provided one of the earliest uses of the word in English.) The nameless traveller visits two different "Marsian" societies; in both, there is equality between men and women. In one, Paleveria, women have adopted the negative characteristics of men; in Caskia, the other, gender equality "has made both sexes kind, loving, and generous."
Since Jones and Merchant were primarily interested in crafting a satiric commentary of their own society, they made their Mars and Martians strongly similar to Earth and human beings. The technological level is comparable on both planets; the Martians rely on Martian horses for transport. The narrator first lands in the Martian country of Paleveria, which is a republican and capitalist state, with clear class divisions; the people are vegetarians, and dress in loose robes. Their homes (at least among the aristocrats) are classical and palatial, with marble floors and statuary, silk hangings, and frescoes on the walls. Women in Paleveria can vote, hold political office, and run businesses; they propose marriage to men, have sex with male prostitutes, and even participate in wrestling matches.
The traveller stays with an astronomer named Severnius, in the city of Thursia; he studies diligently and learns the language. Severnius acts as his guide to Paleverian society — as does the astronomer's beautiful sister Elodia. The narrator soon falls in love with Elodia, but is shocked by her liberated traits and habits. Elodia is a banker by profession; she drinks alcohol and imbibes a Martian drug, has affairs with men, and eventually reveals an illegitimate child.
Severnius, for his part, asks the narrator about Earth, and the traveller is hard put to provide logical and acceptable explanations for many Earthly customs, mainly involving the distinctions between the sexes. The narrator is appalled by women participating in martial arts — and Elodia condemns this too; but she also condemns men's boxing matches, which the traveller accepts as natural.
The narrator is profoundly shocked when he learns of Elodia's illegitimate daughter; he leaves for a visit to Caskia. This northern country has a more co-operative and egalitarian social and economic order than Paleveria has; its people cultivate intellectual, artistic, and spiritual qualities. Caskia approaches the status of a Martian Utopia. In the city of Lunismar, the traveller meets another Martian woman, Ariadne, who is more traditionally feminine by conservative Earthly standards. He considers her "the highest and purest thing under heaven." He also meets a venerated teacher called The Master; the two have a long spiritual conversation. The narrator returns to Earth.
Unveiling a Parallel has been reprinted in several modern editions.
Alice Ilgenfritz Jones (1846–1905) wrote other novels during her career: High Water Mark (1879), Beatrice of Bayou Têche (1895), and The Chevalier of St. Denis (1900). She also wrote short fiction and travel essays. Ella Merchant, or Marchant (1857–1916), is a more obscure figure.
- "Two Women of the West," Unveiling a Parallel, Boston, Arena Publishing Co., 1983.
- Matthew Beaumont, Utopia Ltd.: Ideologies of Social Dreaming in England, 1870–1900, Leiden, Brill Academic Publishers, 2005.
- Jean Pfaelzer, The Utopian Novel in America, 1886–1896: The Politics of Form, Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1984.
- Kenneth Roemer, The Obsolete Necessity, 1888–1900, Kent, OH, Kent State University Press, 1976.
- William Shepard Walsh, A Handy Book of Curious Information, Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott, 1913; p. 14.
- Suzanne Romaine, Communicating Gender, London, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates/Taylor & Francis, 1998; pp. 331-2.
- Everett Franklin Bleiler with Richard Bleiler, Science-Fiction: The Early Years, Kent, OH, Kent State University Press, 1990; p. 753.