Hewitt, "Utopianism and Joanna Baillie: A Preface to Converging Revolutions"

Utopianism and Joanna Baillie

Utopianism and Joanna Baillie: A Preface to Converging Revolutions

Regina Hewitt, University of South Florida

  1. This volume brings together two revolutions in scholarship—one involving the recovery of a concept, the other the recovery of an author.  In the revolution that is changing the methods and goals of the social and political sciences, geography, and law, the concept of utopianism, once banished as daydreaming, is being welcomed as a serious strategy for advancing social change.  Despite skepticism about whether utopian thinking can and should survive in a world where socialist experiments have failed, capitalism is stalking the globe relentlessly, and postmodernism has evacuated grand theories and metanarratives, the concept has found new advocates who are redefining its relevance.  David Harvey, Wayne Hudson, Russell Jacoby, Ruth Levitas, Martin Parker and Lyman Tower Sargent, among others, have moved away from the view of utopias as “blueprints” of a polis to be accepted or rejected and toward views of utopias as springboards for criticizing some particular state of affairs and speculating about alternatives.[1] Taking this redefinition farther, Lucy Sargisson has posited “transgressive utopianism” to characterize the social organizations fostered by feminist, ecological, and other practices that avoid “blueprints” but that nevertheless challenge things as they are and create options for making them different (Utopian Bodies 15, 30).[2]  In the revolution that is expanding the Romantic-era canon, Joanna Baillie, once exiled beyond even the marginal territory of “minor” writers, is being repositioned as a significant dramatist and poet.  From vanguard studies by Anne Mellor, Catherine Burroughs, Marjean Purinton and William Brewer, we learned that Baillie was a key player in the theatrical public sphere (or counter-public sphere), a questioner of gender roles as astute as Mary Wollstonecraft, and a writer as innovative as Wordsworth or Byron.  We have continued to learn about Baillie’s life, situation and priorities from Judith Slagle’s biography and edition of Baillie’s letters; from Myers’s and Burwick’s research into the legal and medical contexts in which and with which she worked; and from Carlson’s, Cox’s, and Gamer’s analyses of the conventions of genre and gender she deployed.[3]

  2. At first glance, these two revolutions appear to have little in common.  No one has claimed that Baillie is a utopian writer.  But if we recognize utopias by their function as springboards rather than by their form as blueprints, we should be making that claim.  Baillie’s work has many functionally utopian aspects:  most prominently, the stated intention of her Series of Plays on the passions (according to the Introductory Discourse published with the first volume) is to bring about a “more just, more merciful, more compassionate” society whose members have greater respect for all humankind (Works 4).  In this projected society, people would be able to control their emotions, preventing them from becoming self-destructive obsessions and turning them instead to socially fulfilling purposes. The plays in the Series (and arguably those outside of the Series too[4]) focus critical attention on impassioned interactions, asking spectators to imagine how the scenes might have unfolded differently if the participants “foresee[n]” the approaching “tempest” and taken reasonable measures to palliate its effects (Works 11).  By bringing together these scholarly revolutions, we gain a new way of understanding Baillie’s designs and of analyzing the features and implications of her works.  Despite the increasing number of studies, much remains to be learned about this writer, and this Praxis volume enlists utopianism in the ongoing exploration.

  3. Much, too, remains to be learned (or acknowledged) about the utopian aspects of scholarly recovery work, which is now so prominent that scholars who publish on traditionally canonical figures sometimes feel a need to explain their choice.[5] The effort to place Baillie, along with other formerly neglected writers, in the Romantic-era canon shows a utopian opposition to a given order.[6]   Resisting  the idea that a small number of male poets can justly represent the period, it imagines an alternative order including women and men, English and Celtic heritages, elite sonneteers and popular novelists, dramatists and journalists.  In recovery work, then, present desires for justly balanced human relations are projected into scholarship, and they are satisfied in the expanded canon to a greater extent than they are (yet) satisfied in lived experience. Far from allowing a “presentist” confusion of historical and current ideas to compromise research, the ongoing process of adjusting the canon requires a nuanced separation of historical, current, and projected values.  It inaugurates a process of change in lived experience by introducing into our present understanding of the period a set of relations that reflects a consciously cultivated departure from historical or prevailing patterns.  Like a fictional utopia, a revised canon is a springboard into an alternative world.  The scholarly practices that enable such leaps deserve to be acknowledged as positively and strategically utopian.

  4. This Praxis volume celebrates and continues the efforts of Baillie scholars to educe the implications of her work for our world. In the remainder of this preface, I elaborate on the features of the new utopianism that can enrich our understanding of Baillie’s career-defining Series of Plays.  For the most part, I proceed by juxtaposing the utopian features with statements from the Introductory Discourse, sharing Sargisson’s belief that “interesting . . . things happen when [different ‘bodies of thought’] meet” (Utopian Bodies 28). At the end, I preview the essays that follow in the volume, commenting on how they contribute to an understanding of “utopianism and Joanna Baillie.”

    *          *          *

  5. As already mentioned, the shift away from structure and toward function or process is the most salient feature of the new approach to utopian studies.  While some scholars still favor associating the term with the genre of works exhibiting detailed descriptions of an ideal polity discovered by some traveler(s) after an extraordinary voyage, many others prefer to apply it to works or practices that conduct thought experiments involving aspects of the authors’ or actors’ society.[7]  For Martin Parker, a sociologist who reads utopias as about organization (i.e. patterns of behavior) rather than structures, all utopias from More through the present “are thought experiments which alter key organizational variables” (222).  Moving even farther away from structural priorities, Russell Jacoby criticizes “blueprint” utopias for their authoritarian prescriptiveness and recovers an “iconoclastic” utopia tradition rooted in Romantic philosophies and Jewish mysticism and exemplified by Ernst Bloch.  “Iconoclastic” utopias are strongly critical of the present but offer only abstract or spiritual hints about the nature of a preferred alternative.  For Jacoby, this “imageless” approach is more respectful of the decisions of individual future actors and grows out of the respectful reluctance to represent or name the deity:  it approaches what is good or holy only apophatically—“by negation” (xiv-xvi, 32-36, 147). Such revisionist trends in utopian studies supplement attention to the so-called classic or genre utopias with attention to many less schematic—or “non-totalist,” 0 Hudson’s term—examples of social critique and innovation.[8]  This shift away from structure allows us to categorize Baillie’s plays as utopian.  Though they do not detail the governments and institutions in invented polities, they do depict the interactions of people in imaginary settings that evoke interactions in the spectators’ world; the purpose of the depictions, explicitly theorized in the Introductory Discourse, is to criticize certain behavior patterns and to arouse a desire to change them.

  6. Some feminist utopian studies go beyond supplementing the traditional political genre to critiquing the genre itself for preserving a masculinist bias in favor of the public sphere.  This critique, especially as developed by Sargisson, is worth investigating in light of the importance of the public/private sphere distinction for studies of Baillie and other Romantic-era women writers. Though the conceptual distinction between public and private spheres does not always accurately apply to lived experience in particular times and places (as Romanticists know from Mellor’s challenge to Habermas in Mothers of the Nation), the dichotomy nevertheless lingers in theory.  It has been (and may still be) used to exclude women from politics.  By extension, relegating anything to the private sphere serves as a strategy for making it “politically irrelevant and impotent.”  Anything so relegated can be ignored as trivial or “treated” as deviant (Utopian Bodies 55-60).  For Sargisson, utopianism challenges such taken-for-granted dualisms behind conventional thinking.  It crosses the line between public and private.  “Utopia, the no place that is a good place, is an other-place” with respect to the conventional distinctions in society (59).  It does not accept the “other”-ing of the private.  Blending feminism with ecology, Sargisson posits the household as a utopian frame of reference for social relations and concentrates on how ecologically oriented “intentional communities” serve as spaces in which criticism of public/private distinctions can be expressed and in which alternatives can be enacted.[9]  Such communities, for instance, reject typical valorizations of private property and exclusive ownership (76-116).

  7. A textual or literary parallel to Sargisson’s treatment of intentional communities can be found in Nicole Pohl’s reading of country house poems.  Like Sargisson (whom Pohl cites only in passing 12), Pohl sees utopianism as concerned with the conceptualization of people in “socio-political space,” including the “enclosure” of women within masculinist designs (2, 1).  For Pohl, manipulating the country house genre gives women writers the opportunity to challenge the hierarchies of gender and economics implied by the country house ideal.  Writers like Sarah Scott and Mary Hamilton springboard from these poems and create “spaces of resistance” within the traditional household ideal.  They “recode” the use and effects of space:  instead of showing off wealth and power in reception areas, feminist versions dedicate those halls to reading and painting; instead of ascribing their identities to their status as wives, women occupants achieve their identities by cooperative artistic and social work (67-87, 10).[10]   Such subversions of normative household arrangements and routines, whether in fictional communities of women or intentional communities of ecological activists, introduce into the present culture of their writers, members, readers, or observers criticisms of those dominant norms, and they show that alternatives are conceivable.  Even if no one believes that the given alternatives are perfect, the very fact of their existing and displacing the norm allows them to serve a positive utopian function  (Utopian Bodies 154).

  8. Baillie’s resistance to norms that exclude women from public roles is strongly voiced in her Introductory Discourse:  “I believe there is no man that ever lived, who has behaved in a certain manner on a certain occasion, who has not had amongst women some corresponding spirit, who, on the like occasion, and every way similarly circumstanced, would have behaved in the like manner” (Works 9n§).  Her plays give women significant, though often not perfect, roles.  While Jane De Monfort and the Countess Albini, who may evoke Mary Wollstonecraft (Mellor, “Joanna Baillie” 565), are strong and admirable, Annabella in Witchcraft and Elburga in Ethwald are strong but obsessed and selfish figures. By creating a variety of women characters, Baillie resists the gender essentialism that offers a biological justification for relegating women to the private sphere.  Baillie herself wanted to participate in the public world of the theater and believed that gender discrimination limited her success:  “John any-body would have stood higher with the critics than Joanna Baillie,” she remarked in exasperation in the later years of her career (Letters 9).[11]  Baillie defied gender stereotypes in her selection of topics as well as in her creation of strong female characters, for she wrote about the public and masculinist topics of wars and trials in ways that Byron found powerful and convincing.[12]

  9. Though Baillie’s topical choices follow partly from the conventions of tragedy and comedy with which she worked, she can be seen as “recoding” (to borrow Pohl’s term) the incidents and interactions so as to resist rather than reinforce expectations.  Independently of Pohl’s conceptualizations of utopian strategies, Carlson and Friedman-Romell have argued that a reworking of expectations goes on in Baillie’s military plays (particularly Henriquez and Constantine Paleologus), which turn into critiques of aggressive, war-mongering cultures.  As Purinton has shown (in her essay on The Tryal as well as in her essay in this volume), Baillie’s comedies likewise can be read as indictments of conventional domestic arrangements, and I explore that possibility with specific reference to Pohl’s utopian “recoding” in my essay in this volume.  In this preface, I wish to apply Pohl’s notion of recoding space to Baillie’s treatment of scenes of public execution in her Introductory Discourse.

  10. Baillie scholars have found it difficult to interpret Baillie's arguments that people do not watch executions because they take “pleasure . . . from the suffering of a fellow-creature” but because they want to see “a human being bearing himself up under such [extreme] circumstances”; that people's curiosity about the thoughts and feelings of prisoners is predominantly sympathetic; that people learn about their own natures by observing others (including such unfortunate others as prisoners); and that such observations prove the predominance of “kindness” over “cruelty” in human nature and experience (Works 2-4). Skeptical readers (who include Myers, Leach, Carney, and Forbes)  see Baillie struggling to resolve tensions between the opposing forces of sympathy and curiosity without quite managing to do so.  For Myers, this imperfect resolution is positive because it exposes the cruelty that does exist in judicial processes, and because it reveals the complexity of the interactions between judges (in the professional as well as the general sense) and those being judged:  judicial scrutiny cannot be only sympathetic; it requires some distance and difference (“Speculations” 125, 127; “Theatre” 97-101, 106; “Medico-Legal Discourse” 342). For Leach, the tension is ethical (in a Levinasian sense) because the failure to know or sympathize fully preserves the “irreducible alterity” of the person being observed (639). While skeptical readings are keen and accurate in realizing that Baillie’s assertions about kindness are not supported by historical evidence or current experience, an alternative interpretation is possible if we take the assertions as constructions rather than descriptions.

  11. As I have argued elsewhere, Baillie’s exaggerated emphasis on sympathetic views of prisoners may participate in the “humanity-mongering” strategy of reformers who lobbied for (and eventually obtained) changes in criminal laws, trial procedures, and treatment of prisoners.  Baillie’s assertions do not describe the attitudes that most people exhibit but the attitudes that reformers wanted them to adopt (Symbolic Interactions 59-60).  This line of interpretation can be further developed  by drawing on Pohl’s concepts of utopian “resistance” and “recoding.”  The sites of the prison and the scaffold were coded in Baillie’s culture to encourage certain ways of thinking and acting:  officially, they were supposed to inspire respect for the law; in practice, they licensed a carnivalesque release of fear of its power.[13]  Baillie’s Discourse systematically excludes both the official lesson and its carnivalesque inversion.  In Pohl’s utopian vocabulary, it turns the site of the scaffold into a “space of resistance” that Baillie “recodes” with alternative meaning.  The spectators she invents demonstrate the alternative attitude of sympathetic curiosity and focus on the humanity they share with the prisoner.  The counterfactual scene in the Introductory Discourse exhibits the features of critique and creativity that Sargisson finds in utopian writing (Utopian Bodies 30, 50-52):  it implies a criticism of the attitudes that are written out of the scene, and it creates a different mode of observing and acting. Baillie’s readers, like readers of all utopias, can reinscribe conventional attitudes if they wish, but they can also critically evaluate the norm and open their minds to alternatives, either the sympathetic one presented or others that might follow conjecturally.  Baillie’s scene is functionally utopian as long as it moves spectators to think seriously about how a just, merciful, and compassionate society would treat lawbreakers and inspires them to try to align their society’s practices more carefully with their values.   To sum up this assessment in terms favored by other utopian scholars, one might say that Baillie’s scene is “heuristic”:  its importance attaches to its ability to advance criticism of some feature of a familiar world and to arouse a desire to change that feature; the alternative it posits is not to be embraced as an ideal but to be used for the  “heuristic” purpose of  stimulating comparisons and unsettling the assumption that what exists is necessary or inevitable.[14]

  12. Baillie’s preoccupation with justice is itself characteristic of utopian thinking.  Though her allusions to prisoners, executions, and sympathy are most often compared to Adam Smith’s (when literary or philosophical contexts are sought—as, for example, by Myers, Carney, Murray), we might do well to remember that More’s Utopia reflects critically on the use of capital punishment for theft.  So closely linked are justice and utopianism that Sargisson ventures this generalization about all utopian undertakings:  all utopias “seek (in some way) to create a just society” (“Justice” 322).  By that criterion, Baillie’s pursuit of a “more just, more merciful, more compassionate” society qualifies as utopian, but Sargisson’s analysis of justice can be extended to Baillie’s work in additional ways.  In the article positing the criterion of seeking justice (an article about intentional communities in New Zealand),  Sargisson distinguishes between substantive justice—the principles or characteristics such as equal rights or shared property that represent the concept to the group—and  procedural justice—the methods such as consensual decision-making by which the members enact their beliefs.  If we extend this analysis of utopianism as concerned with both substantive and procedural justice to Baillie, we gain further reasons to classify her work as utopian.  Not only does she pursue the substantive goal of justice combined with mercy and sympathy, she also specifies a procedure—control of the passions—by which to approach it (Works 9-11).

  13. This procedure of expecting social change to follow from personal or attitudinal change used to be scorned by most political scientists and sociologists and even by Romanticists who believed that we should criticize rather than perpetuate “the Romantic ideology.”  More recently, however, the idea that change starts at mental and personal levels has won much more favor in all fields.[15] Most utopian scholars (with the exception of David Harvey, whom I mention below) share Sargisson’s view that a change in “mindset” is the most important step in any transformations, though no one emphasizes the importance of “paradigm shifts in consciousness” (Utopian Bodies 15, 50, 94) as much as she. This new acceptance of personal transformation as sociologically significant might well be part of the new acceptance of the private sphere as politically significant on which I commented earlier.

  14. Coincidentally, control of the passions was one of the procedures identified by Robert Owen, the Romantic-era champion of cooperative industrial communities, as necessary for the transformation of society he imagined.  In A New View of Society, Owen approaches social reform through the transformation of individual character.  When people learn to be rational, “all the irritating, angry passions . . . will gradually subside and be replaced by the most frank and conciliating confidence and good-will” (21).  People who attain this control are better able to live and work together, better able to create a harmonious society.  (New Harmony was the name of one of the intentional communities inspired by Owen’s teaching.)  Though Owen and Baillie coincide in making control of the passions central to their views of just societies, they diverge over the means by which it would be attained.  Owen relied on lessons taught in his educational system; Baillie had more confidence in the theater.

  15. If personal transformation by itself is considered an inadequate utopian strategy, Baillie's situating her utopian project in the theater may enhance her credibility as a utopian thinker by balancing personal transformation (i.e., the control of the passions) with an existing collective cultural institution. Criticism of utopias that slight either collective or personal dimensions is the starting point from which David Harvey calls for a comprehensive “spatiotemporal” or “dialectical” utopianism. Working with the real world problem of urban blight in Baltimore, Harvey advocates a “revitalization of the utopian tradition” of imagining and hoping for a different world to unsettle the assumption that there is “no alternative” to allowing market forces to take their toll on modern cities (98).  But he cautions against reducing the utopian revival to the invention of a new city plan to be imposed on the existing space and its inhabitants.  That procedure would, he maintains, repeat the errors of spatial, materialized, or classical utopias, from More’s foundational city through current gated communities, that pay too much attention to a collective ideal and not enough to the ways in which such ideals  lock individuals into an unyielding grid (98-106).  He does not, however, favor merely inverting collective and individual priorities.  Such is the error of “process” utopias that focus on individual fulfillment at the expense of the collective.  In this category Harvey places the otherwise incompatible utopia of the marketplace that capitalists court and the utopia of nature that supersedes collectives and institutions for deep ecologists (106-110).[16]  What Harvey calls for is “spatiotemporal” or “dialectical” utopianism that adapts processes to spaces and their inhabitants, that balances individual and collective needs (110-20).  An example of a spatio-temporal approach might well be found in Baillie’s dramatic plan, which sees personal transformation—control of passions—emerging in the institutional context of the theater and moving into the existing sociolegal system of the audience as it affects judges, advocates, magistrates (singled out in the Discourse [Works 4]) and other office holders.

  16. The spectators at Baillie’s dramas might be compared to the visitors who conventionally travel to genre utopias.  Regarding these characters, Sargisson explains that they contribute an “estranged” perspective that facilitates the critical function of utopias (Utopian Bodies 8-9).  Distanced from the familiar world that their author wants to resist but not part of the alternative world in the text, commune, or theater, these figures gain an unusual perspective from which to evaluate both orders of things.  They can begin to see problems with arrangements they have otherwise taken for granted, and they can begin to imagine the benefit of seeking some alternative. Readers of the Introductory Discourse are put in the position of visitors to another world when they encounter Baillie’s sympathetically curious crowds around scaffolds and prisons.  If reader-visitors notice that these crowds do not behave in familiar ways but conjecture that the unfamiliar kindness is superior to the norm, and worth cultivating, they have activated the utopian estrangement of the text. To take virtually this same example from one of the plays, we can consider the crowd scenes in Rayner.  As Gamer has pointed out, the crowd waiting outside the court to hear the verdict in Rayner’s trial exhibits the sympathetic behavior Baillie valorizes in the Discourse (Gamer 140-41).  This scene (3.1) contrasts with the highly unsympathetic attitudes of the two hired executioners who boast about the high-ranking men they have killed and revel in their own celebrity status (5.1.412-13). Visitor-spectators at the play should feel estranged from both extremes and begin to evaluate them in comparison with the norm from their own world that the drama “call[s] up in the mind” (Works 13).

  17. The comparative exercise that Baillie assigns visitor-spectators amounts to a “thought experiment,” a practice associated with utopianism (for example, in the quotation from Parker at the beginning of this section) albeit not unique to it.  Thought experiments actually have a long history in philosophy and physics, which is treated by Gendler and Sorensen.  The most helpful source for understanding Baillie and utopian thought experimenting (since Parker does not elaborate) is a more interdisciplinary one—Peter Swirski’s Of Literature and Knowledge: Explorations in Narrative Thought Experiments, Evolution, and Game Theory.  Though he is concerned mainly with narrative, Swirski locates all thought experiments—even those in science and philosophy—on a continuum because they “differ . . . not in kind but only in degree,” and he maintains that “the narrative use of counterfactuals is not confined to any specific author, genre, period, country, or level of literary acclaim” (8, 13).  I suggest that the “narrative” setting the conditions for Baillie’s experiment is the Introductory Discourse; it explains the procedures that the audience carries out.[17]

  18. The main, and most controversial, procedure in Baillie’s as in all thought experiments is the derivation of “real” knowledge from “unreal,” imaginary, or fictive scenarios.  Critics of thought experiments sometimes argue that one cannot “milk real knowledge from unreal cows” and that the conclusions drawn are merely personal [18] and have no validity in the empirical world (Swirski 6).  Swirski counters this criticism at two levels.  At the more superficial level, he argues that real knowledge can come from imaginary or literary cases, because all learning is active rather than passive.  No matter what people are studying/reading/observing, they do not just absorb its contents or imitate its actions.  They go through active processes (Swirski lists five adapted from Sorensen), which include “recollecting” analogous cases and “rearranging” elements in the given and other cases.  Thought experiments offer controlled variations for people to work with.  Literary experiments in particular ask readers to learn about human nature by “trying to understand the actions and thoughts of the characters that star in them”; reader response “starts with the identification of the characters’ mental and emotional states” (90).  The correspondence between Swirski’s position on how readers learn about human nature from literary thought experiments and Baillie’s position on how spectators learn from drama seems clear enough to require no elaboration.  The point I would stress with respect to both positions, and extend to how readers/observers learn from utopian examples, is that people generate knowledge.[19]  Whether literary or scientific, knowledge is what people create through their mental activities, using texts, facts, counterfactuals, and other elements.  It is this active sense of knowing that enables Swirski to argue that literature is “an instrument of inquiry” (5-6).

  19. At a deeper level, Swirski grounds his position in evolutionary psychology, arguing that “our aptitude for imagining other worlds is rooted in evolutionary adaptation” (7).  Specifically, humans who could “contemplate imagined actions and their consequences” were better able to survive and this adaptive ability became part of the genetic make-up of their descendants (75-85).  As a result, literature can be considered “a form of functionally adaptive behavior” or at least an “exaptation—an evolutionary by-product” because it fosters the imaginative ability people need to survive in the world (71). Though I find Swirski’s co-evolutionary theory plausible and applicable to Baillie’s comedies (as I show in my essay in this volume), I have separated his points about knowledge generation from his theoretical basis as I do not believe the former necessarily depends on the latter.  One might easily accept the idea of active learning as an explanation for how an audience uses utopian literature, including Baillie’s, to criticize and reform their own world without agreeing that they are genetically predisposed to do so.

  20. An additionally relevant (to utopianism and Baillie) example of thought experimenting occurs in Michael Hill’s borrowing of the process for sociology.  Hill’s purpose is utopian, though he does not attach that term to it.  His purpose is to facilitate disciplinary change by encouraging colleagues to speculate about what sociology would be like if it had been “founded on the principles of observation and action advocated by Harriet Martineau” instead of on the principles of scientific detachment that did indeed form its basis (14).  (Martineau and Baillie were, incidentally, acquainted with each other—a point to which I return below.) A list of characteristics of the alternative sociology comprises the exceptional, imaginary case by which to evaluate the disciplinary norm.  Hill’s expectation is that colleagues can change their beliefs about how the discipline ought to be by evaluating the alternative; the specific characteristics on the list correspond to specific normative features that appear comparatively troublesome and in need of revision (14-16).  Of course, it is possible that colleagues will affirm the norm, but the experiment is conducted in the hope that the result will be otherwise.

  21. One reason for this hope is the danger containment function that Hill introduces into his analyses of thought experiments [20]—a function that Baillie also raises in the Discourse.  According to Hill, thought experiments contain the danger of speculation, making it safer to entertain unconventional ideas.  Because the experiments are not carried out on human subjects, they allow researchers to consider programs that might have damaging consequences and avoid or amend them before they have done harm (5-6).  Though Hill does not follow through with applying the danger containment function to his own example of Martineauian sociology, the application can easily be educed.  The exceptional or unfamiliar features of Martineauian sociology might appear dangerous to anyone on first acquaintance simply because they depart from the norm.  If asked to implement such changes immediately, few people would leap at the opportunity.  But given the chance to ponder the possible advantages, more people might see the innovative features in a positive light and be willing to modify existing practice as a result.  Danger containment might thus be a typical and salutary function of utopian thought experiments.  It is clearly a function of Baillie’s dramatic project, which gives spectators the chance to see the damage done by uncontrolled passion without having to experience it.  “We cannot,” she writes, “listen to the voice of reason and save ourselves” once a passion has become a driving force.  But having had the benefit of a dramatic example, “we can mark its [i.e., a given passion’s] rising signs, we can know the situations that will most expose us to its rage, and we can shelter our heads from the coming blast” (Works 11).

  22. More should be said about Hill’s selection of Martineau as a founding figure for a new sociology, which shows the practice of utopian scholarship but does not venture as far as it might beyond the disciplinary border.  Like others who have been instrumental in winning recognition for Martineau as the first woman sociologist (Hoecker-Drysdale, Lengermann and Niebrugge-Brantley), Hill is performing recovery work.  The resultingly expanded canon of founding sociologists, like the expanded canon of Romantic-era writers, reflects present desires for more justly balanced human relations.  In particular, both canons try to compensate for earlier exclusions of women.  But Hill leaves uncontested some aspects of Martineauian sociology that tie it to traditional practices within the field that are now being challenged by other revisionists.  For instance, Hill’s Martineauian sociology “would insist on logically ordered and carefully reasoned expositions of social processes and situations” and it would not treat discourse “as a primary source of empirical evidence” (14).  In contrast, narrative and performative sociologists are questioning these very hierarchies of logic, reason, and evidence.[21]  The lingering familiar elements in Hill’s reformed sociology are probably necessary for his larger purpose of getting colleagues in the area to credit Martineau at all, and they do not prevent his alternative from challenging some bad habits (his logical expositions are opposed to reliance on “simplistic, ad hoc formulas”) and replacing detachment with “active concern for oppressed peoples” (14). In calling attention to the lines that Hill does not cross, I am indicating how utopian thought experiments can lead beyond the specified alternative, for I suggest that Baillie is a more radical predecessor for a new kind of sociology than Martineau.[22]  Baillie’s dramatic studies of social interactions avoid the theorizing in Martineau’s prose, for which Baillie criticized Martineau’s Society in America:   While approving of the “descriptive part” of that work, which she found “marked with genius & often with good feeling,” Baillie objected to the “political discussions, always referring to abstract principles” (Letters 945).[23]  Moreover, Baillie’s commitment to facilitating audience response shows more confidence in spectators’ ability to learn than does Martineau’s commitment to distilling lessons in Illustrations of Political Economy.  To take Hill’s thought experiment further, we have to move into more interdisciplinary territory, to join literature with sociology.

  23. Moving in that direction, we will encounter Andrew Abbott’s “lyrical sociology,” a pairing of poetry and sociology named with deliberate reference to Lyrical Ballads (71).  Though Abbott mentions neither Baillie nor drama, the coincidence of his program with Baillie’s is striking, particularly as their goals converge in the concept of sympathy.  In a somewhat disorienting manipulation of categories, Abbott opposes the lyrical to all narrative forms—newly personal ethnographies as well as traditional quantitative studies that tell the stories of personified and determining variables (70-82).  For Abbott, lyrical studies do not tell stories; rather, they make vividly and emotionally present the “state of being” of the persons or communities being studied (75). Springboarding from Wordsworth’s evocations of rustic life, Abbott finds lyrical qualities in such books as E. P. Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class, which fulfills its “promise to bring to life those who are ignored” (81), and Michael Bell’s Childerly, which shows how residents of that village felt about gentrification and other changes in their environment (75-76).  The value of lyrical studies lies in their ability to rein in researchers’ and readers’ tendency to privilege their own subjectivities at the expense of the subjectivities of the people being studied and to interpret the experiences of those people according to a larger narrative suited to the research project.  Lyrical studies provide an alternative to this totalizing use of narrative or theory.  Abbott’s statements about the effects of this alternative are worth quoting in full, for it is in this elaboration that the consonance with Baillie emerges: 

           The lyrical text directly confronts us with the radical chasm between our own
           here and now and that of its subjects. Yet while the lyrical text shows us this
           chasm clearly, the chasm itself is crossed by our moral recognition of the
           common humanity we share with those we read about. The central emotion
           aroused by lyrical sociology is precisely this tense yoking of the vertigo of
           indexical difference with the comfort of human sympathy.  (95)

    What Abbott wants to infuse into the practice of sociology is what Baillie wanted to infuse into the practice of law and the treatment of prisoners—an awareness of common humanity, or in her words, “respect [for] ourselves, and our kind” (Works 4).

  24. The convergence of purposes seems more important than the different means—lyric and drama—by which they would achieve it.  Since Abbott does not mention drama, I can only speculate as to where he would place it with respect to lyrics and narratives, but it would be consistent with Baillie’s Discourse to align drama with lyric.  When she contrasts narrative and drama in the Introductory Discourse, she singles out the immediacy of the characters’ presence to the audience as an advantage of drama.  As Abbott values lyrics for conveying emotional states of being, Baillie values drama for giving us characters whom we can “expect to find . . . creatures like ourselves” and who must “speak directly for themselves” Works 7).  Abbott’s claims for the experience of human sympathy are open to the same kinds of questions that skeptics raise about Baillie’s claims for sympathetic curiosity, so it is instructive to notice how he answers them.  He concedes that the personal and emotional focus “can easily degenerate into voyeurism or exoticism or routinism or disillusionment.”  But, he considers these “pathologies” that do not compromise the healthy strain.  Since all methods can generate pathologies, the possibility of these problems associated with lyrical sociology should not undermine its non-pathological use and value (96).  If Baillie’s exaggerations of sympathetic responses are less troublesome when we read them as part of a utopian construction, the same might be said for Abbott’s.  Abbott’s project is clearly an example of utopian scholarship.  It criticizes the existing discipline for insensitivity toward the human beings who make up society, and it creates an alternative to correct it.

  25. Since utopianism is now an acknowledged strategy for change, it is a bit surprising that neither Abbott nor Hill makes explicit reference to it, but the omission should remind us of the longstanding hostility toward utopianism that existed in sociology.  Though the study of how people enact their social imaginings should be at the center of that discipline, until recently, its investment in defining itself as a science of the real world led it to keep utopianism at arm’s length.  Early sociologists defined their subject in terms of the genuine possibilities of society as opposed to utopian fantasies while Marxist sociologists paired utopianism with ideology in their polemics against false consciousness.[24]  But much sociological research now recognizes the power of the imagination as a part of reality as well as the power of symbolic resources.   To mark the turn of the millennium and set an agenda for the disciplinary future, the journal Contemporary Sociology devoted an issue to utopianism.  It features commissioned essays on solutions to such problems as hunger and violence as well as elaborations on the concepts of democracy and justice.  Though claiming that the issue tries to remain within the bounds of the “sociologically feasible,” the co-editors nevertheless end their introduction with the statement “we can create only worlds that we can imagine” (v).

  26. In addition to the direct recovery of utopianism in Contemporary Sociology, recent disciplinary turbulence has created a number of hybrid fields that are promising spaces for unconventional inquiry.  The hybrid field of sociolegal studies is particularly relevant as a context in which to study Baillie, given her singling out of “judges, magistrates, and advocates” as an audience for her work and her goal of pursuing justice.  In their Introduction to Between Law and Culture: Relocating Legal Studies [25] , the co-editors call attention to law as the “expression of culture” (Goldberg et al. xxiv). Instead of seeing law as the stabilizing regulator of culture, they see it as an element in always fluctuating cultural negotiations over possible actions and identities in society (ix-xxv).  Arguably, it is just such negotiations over permissible behaviors and roles that Baillie sought to influence with her plays.

  27. Another example from sociolegal studies further illustrates the seriousness with which creative interactions are now taken.  In “Law, Politics and the Subaltern in Counter-hegemonic Globalization,” Boaventura de Sousa Santos and César Rodríguez-Garavito announce their intention of treating the sometimes weak and poorly organized protests of disadvantaged workers against globalization as genuine acts of resistance.  Taking them as anything less—particularly dismissing them as idealistic or utopian (in the older pejorative fashion of the social sciences)—is itself an intellectual power play:  it is a way of denying the validity of protests that do not live up to earlier established criteria of resistance in social movement theory.  It trivializes this resistance so as to rule out of the realms of actuality and even possibility the notion of effective opposition to the new economy.  Defiantly, de Sousa Santos and Rodríguez-Garavito propose a “sociology of emergence” in which reality includes “what is possible . . . no matter how incipient” (17-18).  The willingness of these two sociologists to educe social change from cultural expressions and to turn the tables on colleagues who require ideas to achieve material success before they will notice them offers a lively example of the recovery of utopianism and the rising credibility of the imagination.  “[R]eality cannot be reduced to what exists,” they assert (17).  Such a defense of incipient and emerging realities can give us confidence in crediting Baillie’s work with utopian functions.

    *          *          *

  28. Each essay that follows in this volume participates in a utopian project of recovering Baillie by offering new material about her life or innovative insights into her works.  Though they seldom refer to utopianism explicitly or schematically, they proceed in the spirit of the new utopianism to seek justice for this author, calling for complete editions of her poems and plays, more attention to her presence among her contemporaries, and further evaluations of the ideas, purposes, and implications of her works.  While appreciating the efforts that have already given Baillie a respected place in Romantic studies, they approach scholarship on Baillie as a creative process that is open to repositionings and uneasy with fixed structures.

  29. Repositionings are most evident in Thomas McLean’s “One from Many: A New Chronology of Joanna Baillie’s Letters,” which is located in two different but linked sections of Romantic Circles. The "Chronological Listing" itself takes its place among other documents of its kind in the "Scholarly Resources" circle while McLean's introduction appears with the other reflective essays in this Praxis volume. As the essay explains, the "Chronology" merges information from letters McLean has discovered (and will soon publish) with information from Judith Bailey Slagle's edition into a comprehensive listing of all known letters. McLean’s “Chronology” can serve as an alternative index to the previously published volumes since its organization by time complements Slagle’s organization by circles of correspondents. It proposes alternative dating for some letters as well. Since the “Chronology” in the "Resource" circle is searchable, it can serve as a springboard for many investigations into Baillie’s whereabouts and acquaintances over the years, and the fluid structure of the electronic form (itself a utopian departure from the constraints of print) can incorporate new information should more letters surface. Annual updates and corrections will be possible if developments warrant.

  30. Repositionings of a different kind are effected by Robert Hale’s “‘[S]hak[ing] the dwellings of the great’: Liberation in Joanna Baillie’s Poems (1790),” which corrects the imbalance of attention to Baillie as a playwright with a reminder that Baillie was also a poet.  Hale places poems from Baillie’s first published volume in the context of the revolutionary age in which they appeared.  His readings of the texts reveal a subtext of social critique that supports a view of Baillie as a reformist—and utopian—writer.  The poet who appears in Hale’s essay is, like de Sousa Santos and Rodríguez-Garavito, sensitive to the injustices suffered by the laboring classes and willing to foster incipient protests against their oppression and incipient ideas for fairer treatment.

  31. William D. Brewer’s “The Liberating and Debilitating Imagination in Joanna Baillie’s Orra and The Dream pairs the relatively familiar play Orra with the less well known Dream to shed new light on Baillie’s resistance to gender stereotypes and the development of transgressive gender roles in the plays.  In Brewer’s reading of The Dream, Leonora emerges as a strong and effective actor against patriarchal power in contrast to Orra who imagines a matriarchal utopia that ends in madness. Brewer's warning against too simplistically positive a view of utopian imagining is comparable to David Harvey's skepticism about personal transformation as a sufficient utopian strategy. By examining the complex dynamics within and between the two plays, Brewer shows that Baillie did not underestimate the difficulty of changing patriarchal structures.

  32. Marjean D. Purinton’s “Feminist Utopianism and Female Sexuality in Joanna Baillie’s Comedies” shifts attention from the tragedies to three relatively less studied comedies, reading them as protests against the masculinist norms of female sexuality being codified by medical professionals in Baillie’s time.  Positing and analyzing alternative characterizations of women in these plays, Purinton argues explicitly for affinities with Sargisson’s views of utopian thinking as a means of unsettling the dualisms and oppositions that limit human relations.

  33. Finally, my own essay on “Joanna Baillie’s Ecotopian Comedies” looks at another group of the comedies (with some overlap in attention to The Second Marriage) for the ways in which they meld utopian and ecological concerns. As Sargisson’s intentional communities and Pohl’s country house poems are sites in which social and gender hierarchies can be contested and alternative organizations tried, so scenes in Baillie’s comedies criticize domineering, aggressive, and self-aggrandizing interactions and create opportunities for more cooperative households to be established.


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.

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