Saturday, 13 January 2018

From Whileaway to Nowhere

Doing some preparatory reading for my Utopias half-unit, which I’m teaching this term for the first time in several years, I find myself returning to Joanna Russ’s remarkable The Female Man (1975) and recalling those curious moments where its utopian realm, Whileaway, could be taken to bear upon Morris’s News from Nowhere. 

Take, for instance, this, which considerably complicates the utopian time-traveller Janet Evason’s emotional relationship with the teenager Laura Wilding back in the bad old world: ‘Taboos on Whileaway: sexual relations with anybody considerably older or younger than oneself … The taboos in Whileawayan society are cross-age taboos’.  If Morris’s William Guest had been able to learn of this interdiction, he might have prudently saved himself a great deal of emotional pain in his somewhat infatuated relation with Ellen in Nowhere, she being no less than thirty-five years younger than himself.

But if one Nowherian relationship might thus have been stopped in its tracks, another might have been successfully conjured up in its place.  Among his long stretches of utopian exposition in the British Museum, Morris’s Hammond declares that ‘I am old, and perhaps disappointed’; but Russ’s Whileaway provides just the figure we want to jolt him out of his melancholy and hopefully return him to a more active libidinal existence: ‘The Old Whileawayan Philosopher was sitting cross-legged among her disciples (as usual) when, without the slightest explanation, she put her fingers into her vagina, withdrew them, and asked, “What have I here?” … She was immensely entertained by this passion for myth-making’.  No worry about breaking Whileawayan age taboos here; for she is a perfectly apt one-hundred-and-three years old to Hammond’s one-hundred-and-five.  If only we could actually cross-breed the utopias, so that the two might meet!


Tony Pinkney said...

For an earlier post on 'The Female Man', written just after hearing the news of its author's death in 2011, see my 'Joanna Russ: Renewing Utopia' at

Kotick said...

In Bacon's 'New Atlantis' it's thirty-seven years since strangers last visited the island of Bensalem. I hope it's not quite as long as that since students last signed up for your Utopias course, Tony!

Tony Pinkney said...

I think it's probably seven years rather than thirty-seven, but the class has started in lively fashion, none the less, so I'm glad of that!