Utopianism and Joanna Baillie
Utopianism and Joanna Baillie: A Preface to Converging Revolutions
Regina Hewitt, University of South Florida
1 The context for Sargent’s essay is notable: it appears in a volume organized to “rehabilitate” the concept of utopia in the postmodern, post-Soviet world and to celebrate the centennial (and continuing vitality) of the Karl Ernst Osthaus Museum, which was founded “as an aesthetic-artistic counter-model to the social utopias of the nineteenth century” and meant to promote “the redesign of social life through art” (Rüsen, Fehr, Rieger ix). Disjoining utopianism from totalitarian states is also important to Jacoby, who argues that utopian imaginings of peaceful and prosperous societies can be distinguished qualitatively from fantasies of political, religious or racial domination (8-22, 82).
2 Sargisson formulated “transgressive utopianism” in Contemporary Feminist Utopias, but I will most often cite the concept as she further developed it in Utopian Bodies.
3 Given the remarkable growth in scholarship on Baillie, it is no longer feasible to give a complete list of studies. Additional works will be cited as they become relevant to points developed later in this essay.
4 In Symbolic Interactions, I argue that the plays in the Series as well as those published as “miscellaneous” share the overarching purpose of studying situated behavior in all its intellectual and emotional complexity. In some cases, a particular passion is spotlighted, but the plays never suggest that people experience only one emotion at a time. Baillie was exasperated by reviewers who inferred the latter idea from her work and then criticized her for it (Symbolic Interactions 30-31; Baillie, Letters 12).
5 For instance, the Preface to Tilar J. Mazzeo’s conceptually and analytically innovative study of plagiarism includes an explanation for why the study focuses on canonical rather than recovered authors.
6 Laura Mandell’s “Canons Die Hard,” published when recovery work had just advanced sufficiently to be reflected in anthologies, includes reflections on the ideals sought by expanding the canon. Though she does not use utopian terms, she did include an “imaginary table of contents” to represent an anthology centered on women writers in contrast to anthologies merely adding them to an existing formation. (I refer to this page in the past tense as the link was no longer active at my date of access.) In more theoretically influenced meditations, Wang analyzes the tension between biologically and culturally centered approaches to recovering women writers, with the former involving a simple “recuperation” of female figures and the latter having the potential to “reorder . . . literary history” and “reinstate . . . forgotten categories of” thinking (116). He urges greater attention to the challenging of biology and essentialism in Mary Wollstonecraft’s thought that aligns her work with “Enlightenment utopian politics” (122-43, 183).
7 Despite acknowledging utopias as thought experiments, Kumar still argues for keeping the term for the genre type, and despite acknowledging that utopias are not “blue-prints,” he maintains that they must delineate a society fully and be judged by the extent to which “we feel we want to live in it” (176). The eight-volume set of Modern British Utopias recently edited by Gregory Claeys also focuses exclusively on the genre type.
8 Revisionist trends also recognize non-Western forms of utopianism. Hudson criticizes Kumar not only for relying on structure but for limiting utopianism to European traditions (20). Leading the way toward global dialogue is Qian Ma’s Feminist Utopian Discourse in Eighteenth-Century Chinese and English Fiction.
9 By “intentional communities,” Sargisson means “bodies of people who have chosen to live—and usually work in some way—together” because of their shared political or spiritual values (Utopian Bodies 29). Sargisson has researched such communities in the United Kingdom (Utopian Bodies) and New Zealand (“Justice Inside Utopia?”, Living in Utopia) extensively. The household, the structure/institution associated with women in the private sphere, can be a site for the convergence of feminism and ecology partly because of the derivation of the latter term from oikos (household) and partly because feminism often parallels the patriarchal domination of women with the domination of nature (Utopian Bodies 56, 18).
10 Sargisson also deals with the question of identity in connection with utopian transgressions of the self/other dualism and the property/gift dualism.
11 Without denying that Baillie is probably correct in believing herself to have been a victim of gender discrimination, we should not lose sight of the fact that she nevertheless enjoyed a very successful career. As Slagle’s biography details, some of her plays were performed, and she was well known for her published dramas, poems, and charitable editing.
12 Brewer’s “Joanna Baillie and Lord Byron” addresses Byron’s conflicted reactions to the ability of Baillie, a woman, to write tragedies, which he considered a masculine accomplishment.
13 Gatrell details attitudes and behaviors surrounding public executions during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
14 Hudson pointedly uses the term “heuristic,” but a sense of heuristic function (and sometimes casual use of the term) appears in most new approaches to utopianism.
15 To give just one example of the turn in Romantic-era studies from deploring ideology, I would single out Anthony Jarrells’s Britain’s Bloodless Revolutions, which undertakes a positive investigation of the ways the literature of the period legitimates nonviolent change. In sociological studies, James M. Jasper’s Art of Moral Protest and Brian M. Lowe’s Emerging Moral Vocabularies both recognize individual and emotional convictions as factors in social policy and social change even when they are not openly joined to social movements. Lowe includes an anecdote about his mother’s refusal to buy or wear fur even though she had no connection with animal rights activists (xi-xii).
16 For different reasons, Sargisson is also highly critical of deep ecology. Her objections center on its being insufficiently “transgressive of the oppositional Self/Other relation.” In her view, deep ecologists presume that they, but not all other humans, can know nature. Their position is “a subsumption of Otherness” with imperialistic implications (Utopian Bodies 134).
17 Here, I use “narrative” differently and more simply than Forbes, who argues that Baillie “attach[es] the passions to narrative” in the plays so as to make them meaningful and manageable rather than “aberrant” (44).
18 This dismissal of the personal imagination might well be added to Sargisson’s examples of the use of the public/private dichotomy to trivialize a body of knowledge and/or a group of thinkers.
19 Defining knowledge as performed or performative would also be in keeping with Baillie’s immersion in the theater and the focus on performativity in many studies of her work. A sense of performance itself as vital to Baillie’s presentation—and modification—of gender roles was introduced in Burroughs’s Closet Stages, and notions of performativity inform such other examinations of her as those by Crochunis (“Authorial Performances”), Forbes, Leach, and Purinton (“Women’s Sovereignty”). Analyzing contemporary performances, Jill Dolin argues that the alternative reality audience members experience deserves to be called “utopian.”
20 This function appears in Swirski, though less prominently, as the “phenomenology of peril” (97).
21 A thorough overview of these trends can be found in Denzin and Lincoln’s Handbook of Qualitative Research. In a separate article, Denzin credits performative approaches with opening “a positive utopian space” where solutions to social problems can be imagined (196).
22 I first ventured this suggestion in “Joanna Baillie at Hull-House,” published before Hill’s essay.
23 Baillie consistently thought that Martineau was a bit too extreme in her theoretical commitments. Though she signed Martineau’s petition for U.S. copyright protection of U.K. authors, Baillie suspected that Martineau’s zeal to have women writers sign would defeat the purpose of getting Congressmen to take the document seriously. For her part, Martineau admired Baillie’s intellect but considered her a figure of the past even in the 1830s (Hewitt, “Joanna Baillie at Hull-House” 125). Martineau was 40 years younger than Baillie.
24 My Possibilities of Society explores the thinking of five early non-Marxist sociologists (Durkheim, Mead, Simmel, Tönnies, and Weber). In Marxist sociology, contentions over utopia and ideology have a long history including the work of Adorno, Althusser, Mannheim and others. But new approaches to utopianism have moved away from these controversies. Kumar explains that movement as a widespread acknowledgment that ideology is everywhere and as a result of a substitution of the concept of “discourse” for the concept of “ideology” (172-73).
25 This volume contains the essay by geographer David Harvey that I cited above.
Romantic Circles Praxis Series
Series Editor: Orrin N. C. Wang
Volume Technical Editor: Mike Quilligan