The Dystopian Novel: Good Reads from Bad Places with Jane Mallison
The relationship between citizen and society has long been a subject for the imagination. As early as the fourth century BCE, Plato gave the topic a positive spin, envisioning Kallipolis (“beautiful city”) ruled by a philosopher-king. In the sixteenth century, Thomas More continued thinking of an ideal state, christening it “Utopia” (a pun in classical Greek: “good place” and “no place).
For more than a century now, the dark, gloomier version of a “dystopia” has flourished. There’s a dazzling array of this sub-genre of novels: varieties of the totalitarian state, technology run amok, the loss of hard-won rights for women and African-Americans, disastrous climate change – to give just a few examples. While such books can sound depressing, the ingenuity and wit of their authors makes them fascinating. Also, as writer Walker Percy puts it, “We predict in order that it may not come true.”
Jane Mallison is the former head of the English department at New York City’s prestigious Trinity School.
- February 6: George Orwell, 1984 (1948)
- March 13: Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)
- April 10: Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (1931)
- May 8: Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Sower (1993)
Having read any of these at an earlier time is a plus: they may seem different to you in 2019.