Abstract

We use Karl Polanyi’s Great Transformation thesis to argue that Victorian novelists used the utopian genre to articulate visions of humanity’s new economic and political orientation, specifically the rise of the market society. We examine three novels: Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s The Coming Race (1871), Samuel Butler’s Erewhon (1872), and William Morris’s News from Nowhere (1890). But the “great big beautiful tomorrows” that these novels envision cannot distance themselves from industrial capitalism, despite their criticisms of it. In these novels, revolutions may eliminate industrial labor, but they result in dependency on highly advanced machines or reversion to a preindustrial state. We argue that these novels indirectly prefigure Polanyi’s theory of double movement, which results in the development of what we know today as the neoliberal state.

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