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In Nation and Novel, Patrick Parrinder tells us that 450 new works of prose fiction were published during the 17th century, of which 213 were translations. In other words there were 237 new works of prose fiction written and published in England during the century. Of those 237 works, I know of the following utopian or science fictions:

The Picture of a Perfit Commonwealth by Thomas Floyd (1600)
Mundus Alter et Idem by Joseph Hall (1605)
New Atlantis by Francis Bacon (1627)
The Man in the Moone by Francis Godwin (1638)
A Description of the Famous Kingdom of Macaria by Gabriel Plattes (1641)
Nova Solyma by Samuel Gott (1648)
A New and More Exact Mappe by Mary Cary (1651)
The Commonwealth of Oceana by James Harrington (1656)
Letters from Utopia by Marchemont Nedham (1657)
Government Described by John Streeter (1659)
New Atlantis Continued by R.H. (1660)
The Blazing World by Margaret Cavendish (1666)
The Isle of Pines by Henry Neville (1668)
The History of the Sevarites by Denis Vairasse (1675)
Gerania by Joshua Barnes (1675)
Antiquity Reviv’d by Francis Lee (1693)
The Free State of Noland by Anon (1696)

And probably quite a few other that I have missed. Some of these (Floyd, Plattes, Streeter, are little more than political tracts in disguise) and the Cary is an expression of the beliefs of one of the extreme puritan sects that flourished at the time. Yet the Bacon was one of the most influential books of the century, directly contributing to the foundation of the Royal Society. The Godwin was hugely popular, was continuously in print for several centuries, directly inspired fiction by Cyrano de Bergerac and a play by Aphra Behn, and was one of the major influences on the work of Jules Verne. Cavendish was a phenomenon, one of the first women along with Behn to earn a living as a writer. Harrington was a friend of Cromwell and influenced the political thinking of the time. Neville was one of the most popular writers of the period, famous for rather risque work. So this is a far from insignificant list.

In other words, nearly 10% of all the prose fictions published during the century (and probably more, I’m sure there are a number of works from the last quarter of the century that I have so far missed) were utopian or science fictions. It is a huge and significant proportion. Yet curiously not a single one of these works or authors (not even Bacon, Godwin or Cavendish) is even mentioned by Parrinder. And yet Parrinder is a well-known science fiction critic. Is he ashamed of the genre? Does he, like so many other academics, consider it insignificant in the history of literature? Or would these works in some way spoil his thesis?

First published at LiveJournal, 30 September 2007.

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