Five hundred years since its first publication, Thomas More’s Utopia remains astonishingly radical and provocative. Hovering between fantasy, satire, blueprint and game, More imagines an island nation where thousands live in peace and harmony, men and women are both educated, and property is communal. But there has always been a shadow at the heart of Utopia: “every utopia contains a dystopia, every dystopia contains a utopia,” in the words of Ursula K. Le Guin. In an increasingly unsettled world, can the contradictions of Utopia help us chart a different path?
To celebrate the quincentenary edition, published by Verso and Somerset House, Matt Beaumont and Gillian Darley explore how Utopia continues to inspire, and how utopia informs our visions of urban space and fictive possibilities.
Matthew Beaumont is a Professor of English Literature at UCL and the author of Nightwalking: A Nocturnal History of London and two books about utopian literature.
Gillian Darley is a writer, broadcaster, historian and architectural campaigner. Her seminal book Villages of Vision: A Study of Strange Utopias is published by Five Leaves Publications