A Modern Utopia, by H. G. Wells

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Now in the first place, a state so vast and complex as this world Utopia, and with so migratory a people, will need some handy symbol to check the distribution of services and commodities. Almost certainly they will need to have money. They will have money, and it is not inconceivable that, for all his sorrowful thoughts, our botanist, with his trained observation, his habit of looking at little things upon the ground, would be the one to see and pick up the coin that has fallen from some wayfarer’s pocket. (This, in our first hour or so before we reach the inn in the Urseren Thal.) You figure us upon the high Gotthard road, heads together over the little disk that contrives to tell us so much of this strange world.

I have to admit that I had not really heard of this Wells novel before. Of course, like the original Utopia, the fictional framework is not the point; the books is about the ideal way to run a society, and what it might look like if you were to be transported to that society while on holiday in Switzerland, to discover that everyone you know on Earth has a parallel equivalent in the Utopia, except that of course they are happier.

Utopia is preserved by a caste of self-dubbed samurai who are devoted to keeping society fair. Wells is clear about the evils of racism, and the importance of equality for women; somewhat less convincing on a utopian vision of marriage, and downright weird on animals (no meat-eating, but no household pets either). To be honest, I did not find the ideas awfully interesting, though Beveridge claimed that they had inspired his vision of the welfare state.

The bit that did grab me was where the narrator meets his equivalent on Utopia. Jorge Luis Borges’ story “The Other” has fascinated me for many years – it’s the one where he meets his younger self, but discovers that in fact they don’t have much to say to each other. The interaction between the narrator and his double in A Modern Utopia is similarly awkward. Basically, we need other people for mental stimulation – our own thought processes are not different enough to be interesting.

Anyway, not my favourite Wells novel, but you can get it here. Next up is Mr Britling Sees It Through.

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