How do readers transform Utopia? How do they manipulate imaginary worlds to gain new perceptions of their own worlds, perceptions that help them build desires to change reality into a somewhere resembling the author's nowhere? How do authors engage readers in this process? How do cultures, historical forces, and literary conventions create spaces enabling authors to invite and readers to engage? These are questions addressed in Utopian Audiences, the first study to employ a wide spectrum of reader-response approaches to define the nature and impact of utopian literature.
In the first part of the book, Kenneth M. Roemer establishes why utopian literature offers an attractive arena for reader-response criticism. He focuses on the literature's diversity, its provocative and multi-genre character, and the availability of documented responses as different as book illustrations and intentional communities. In the second part, he concentrates on late nineteenth-century America, which witnessed a grand outpouring of utopian literature, and in particular on Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, the most popular and influential American utopian novel.
The study progresses from broad cultural constructs to specific modern responses; from the perceptual systems and reading conventions allowing readers to "see" utopias to text-based models of implied readers and to documented readings of actual people, including Bellamy himself, reviewers, and 733 late twentieth-century readers. A fictional gathering of all the readers concludes the book.