"a Condition Of Potentiality": American Women's Utopian And Science Fiction, 1920-1960




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The 1920-1960 period of women-authored United States utopian and science fiction deserves a reassessment. This study focuses on utopian texts and science fiction texts with strong utopian emphasis and recovers 41 women-authored utopian and science fiction texts from the period, almost doubling the number of titles in existing bibliographies. In so doing, the dissertation asserts, first, that the recovered texts mean that the 1920- 60 period is rich in women-authored utopian and science fiction; second, that many of these texts address issues that feminist theorists did not articulate until the 1970s; third, this means that we must reassess the ways in which we think of the period, utopian and science fiction, and feminist theory; and fourth, the issues these texts address are especially apparent through a material feminist frame. This reassessment disrupts the notions that critical and ambiguous feminist utopian and science fiction texts began changing their respective fields in the 1970s, showing that many women-authored works did so in earlier decades. Because of this, material feminism - which seeks to highlight the connections among science, culture, nature, and bodies - is a particularly suitable theoretical framework for a study of women's utopian and science fiction. Chapter two outlines emergent material feminism and its call for a deconstruction of remaining boundaries between natures and bodies. Chapter Three focuses on how women authors of utopian and science fiction in the 1920-1960 era empower "otherness" and subvert utopian and science fiction tropes of alien/other by representing females as aliens, hybrids, mutants, and sexual others. This works to destabilize norms and complicate sexual dichotomies. The argument of empowered others is extended in chapter four by contending that Ayn Rand's heroine Dagny Taggart is an androgynous "other" that continues to disrupt feminist readings. She is complicated, problematic, messy, and she is also one of the most influential female characters of the twentieth century. For these reasons alone, she is a feminist figure worth studying. Chapter five focuses on those texts that question the ways in which technoscience and nature intersect, often warning against scientific hubris or against an all-out distrust of science. Chapter 6 emphasizes process and exploration in The Unpredictable Adventure and The Green Kingdom, texts that prefigure feminist utopian and science fictions of the 1960s and 70s. The ways in which these texts disrupt what has been currently argued about the period in both fields of literature is an important case for the dynamism of the 1920-1960 period.