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Dystopian Literature

5. A History of Dystopia: 18th-19th Centuries

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In this module, we trace the history of the dystopian novel from the earliest use of the word 'dystopia' in 1747 to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. As we move through the module, we consider: (i) the earliest novels that might be described as dystopian: Mary Shelley's The Last Man (1826), the work of Jules Verne (1828-1905), and Richard Jeffries' After London (1885); (ii) the work of H. G. Wells, including The War of the Worlds (1898), 'A Story of Days to Come' (1899) and When the Sleeper Wakes (1899); (iii) the move from narratives about human extinction to narratives about totalitarian control, including the works of Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), Ayn Rand (1905-82) and Yevgeny Zamyatin (1884-37); (iv) the interest among dystopian writers in application of principles of industrial efficiency – as represented by figures such as Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856-1915) and Henry Ford (1863-1947) – to humanity itself; and (v) the extent to which dystopian writers in this period believed in the idea of human perfectibility.


In this course, Professor Nicole Pohl (Oxford Brookes University) provides an introduction to and overview of dystopian literature. In the first module, we introduce the concepts of 'utopia' and 'dystopia' themselves, as well as the idea of dystopias as "utopias which have decayed". In the second and third modules, we think about two major types of dystopia – dystopias of totalitarian control (e.g. Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four) and dystopias of environmental collapse (e.g. H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds). In the fourth module, we explore the connection between dystopia and satire, looking in particular at Thomas More's Utopia (1516), before turning in the fifth and sixth modules to consider the history of dystopia from the first use of the word in the mid-18th century to the emergence of young adult dystopian fiction in the 21st. In the seventh and final module, we consider two emerging trends in dystopian fiction today – climate change fiction (or 'cli-fi', for short) and solarpunk.


Prof. Nicole Pohl is Professor in Early Modern Literature and Critical Theory at Oxford Brookes University. Her research focuses on utopias and utopianism.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Pohl, N. (2022, May 12). Dystopian Literature - A History of Dystopia: 18th-19th Centuries [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Pohl, N. "Dystopian Literature – A History of Dystopia: 18th-19th Centuries." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 12 May 2022,

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