CFP: Imagining Socialism in 19th-century American Fiction

CFP: Imagining Socialism in 19th-century American Fiction
Panel Proposed for C19: The Society of Nineteenth-Century Americanists,
“Prospects: A New Century” – Berkeley, CA, April 12-15 2012

In keeping with the conference theme of “Prospects,” I would like to propose a panel of 3 or 4 papers (20 or 15-minutes, respectively) on the imagining of socialist community and/or a socialist America in fiction (short stories, novellas, novels). To offer a framing question for the panel, how did 19th century American fiction imagine the prospects of socialism?

“Socialism” in our current political milieu is nothing but a dirty word. While it was that, too, in 19th century America, it was also substantially more than that, particularly at the end of the century, when, conditioned by the profound crises of a boom and bust economy, readers were hungry for alternatives, and narratives of socialism helped them imagine what life under a different, cooperative system might mean. ¬†Edward Bellamy’s literary success alone testifies to this, but added to his well-known example, numerous novels of socialism were published in the US in the long 19th century–many “for” socialism, many against it; a few by writers still read and studied today, the bulk by writers now largely unknown. This significant body of fiction, added to the hundreds of philosophical and political tracts, periodical articles, and nonfiction books on socialism produced during the same time period (by what appears to be every major press in the US) suggests a significant literary market for discourse about socialism.

Objects of study for papers (which must be American fiction of the long 19th century) might include fiction that takes a positive view toward socialism and/or fiction that represents it dystopically. Texts investigated should go beyond anti-capitalist sentiment alone, actively imagining and playing out in narrative socialist alternatives, where “socialist” could refer to a number of different communitarian and cooperative forms of social organization. Especially welcome would be papers that think about the kinds of cultural or ideological work with which novels of socialism (again, for and/or against it) are engaged. But any serious considerations of this relatively understudied body of work will be welcome.

Please send, via email, a 250-word abstract and CV to Mike Duvall at by September 16.

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