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"Fluent and highly readable, this new version should be welcomed by all admirers of the Utopia." --Louis Martz, Yale University
About the Author
Clarence H. Miller, now emeritus, was Dorothy McBride Orthwein Professor of English Literature at St. Louis University. He served as executive editor of the fifteen-volume Yale Edition of The Complete Works of St. Thomas More and is the author or editor of more than a dozen other books.
This edition of More's Utopia (and Bacon, and Neville), is a valuable volume in one respect: it makes available historic early translations/editions of these three texts. However, this aspect makes it less than desirable for one major intended audience of Oxford Classics: students in college courses. In particular, the 1557 edition of More's Utopia, while a fascinating read from a historical perspective (e.g. the use of "weal-public" alongside synonyms like commonweal, commonwealth, and republic), is simply too difficult and antiquated for most college students to understand and appreciate what is going on in this important text. I'm a college instructor and I ordered this volume because it seemed to offer a good value for all three works. But my students found it MUCH too hard to understand (and I have to admit, the Utopia text was even slow going for me), so I had to post an online version in more contemporary English for them to read, and the week's discussion was hijacked by this problem of the text. Bottom line, if you are looking for a course text that will engage your students, keep shopping, because this edition will only frustrate them (and you, when you have to find another text of Utopia for them to read).
As usual, Oxford does a good job with translations, introductions and notes.
More's "Utopia" is the longest and best of the three works presented in this book, at least as far as fleshing out the details of how a utopian civilization would really look, particularly when situated among other civilizations. But, since most people are familiar with it to some degree, I'll discuss the other two writings in more detail.
Bacon's "New Atlantis" is the least satisfying of the three utopian civilizations. First, it isn't complete, barely beginning before it ends. Second, it seems to be more about scientific specialization (i.e. how the New Atlantic culture has made great strides in various fields of science [e.g. agriculture, astronomy]) than about utopian society per se. It is interesting how Bacon relates these islanders, far from Europe, to the famed ancient Atlantean society.
Neville's "Isle of Pines" is an interesting tale of shipwreck and discovery. A ship sinks near the coast of a faraway island, killing everyone except a man with the last name "Pine" and a few women, one of whom is black. What follows is a fascinating story of old/new-world racism and debauchery. Basically, the Pine fellow starts bedding ALL the women (two of whom, if I recall, are sisters) because, you know, they're not getting rescued any time soon and they've got to keep civilization going. Eventually, they all dispense with the wearing of clothes. Then ALL the women get pregnant and turn into baby factories and everyone breeds like rabbits until there are hundreds of people within one or two generations. The interesting tack that Neville takes is that Pine only sleeps with the black woman at night, she "craftily" sneaking into his bed. In addition, her progeny happen to be the bad apples of the island, which is discussed from the perspective of some visiting sailors many years after the shipwreck. Fascinating view into the European mind from several centuries back.
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I have enjoyed Oxford World Classics for a long time because of the notes, biographies, and other content that is added to the book to supplement the stories themselves. This is a decent collection of three stories, with all the necessary notes and such. If you're curious about Utopia, buy this book and you'll get two other visions of Utopia as well, making for a good overall reading experience (once you get past the old language, which is rather clunky at times, but that is how it was written) and you'll learn a few things too.
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Thomas More was by no means the first person to write about an imagined ideal society (that was probably Plato in "The Republic"), but his "Utopia" was so influential that the title has passed into the English language (and a number of other languages) to designate such a society. The book is an account of a (fictional) meeting between More and a traveller named Raphael Hythloday, and is divided into two parts, the first being a discussion of some of the social problems of contemporary Europe, especially England and the second Hythloday's account of his travels in Utopia (supposedly somewhere in the New World), concentrating on the social and political institutions of that country.
There is much about Utopia which we would today consider progressive. Utopian society is democratic, with elected rulers and officials; it is also what we would call socialist, with no private property and all possessions communally owned. (The word "socialist" did not exist in More's day, but he clearly anticipated the concept). The inhabitants live simple lives and disdain luxury. Utopia is a welfare state with free education and healthcare. Euthanasia and divorce are permitted. Gambling is discouraged, as is hunting (on animal welfare grounds). All religions are tolerated; there is no single state religion. Some features of Utopian life would, from a twenty-first century perspective, seem less attractive, such as the penal system which permits slavery as a punishment for various offences including adultery. It should be borne in mind, however, that the system More describes here is less harsh than the one which prevailed in sixteenth-century England, where the death penalty could be imposed for relatively trivial offences against property.Read more ›
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