Great Utopian and Dystopian Works of Literature

Course No. 2341
Professor Pamela Bedore, Ph.D.
University of Connecticut
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What Will You Learn?

  • Understand the paradox of the term utopia," which means "no place," but is also a homonym for eutopia-a good or perfect place."
  • Dive deep into the works of authors you know and discover new writers such as Ursula K. LeGuin, Octavia Butler, Margaret Atwood, Samuel R. Delaney, and more.
  • Discover the subgenres associated with utopian and dystopia writings, such as the concept of euchronia," and learn how these new categories affect literature."
  • Examine our fascination with the nightmarish and pessimistic views that make dystopian literature so popular, especially for the young adult audience.

Course Overview

Can literature change our real world society? At its foundation, utopian and dystopian fiction asks a few seemingly simple questions aimed at doing just that. Who are we as a society? Who do we want to be? Who are we afraid we might become? When these questions are framed in the speculative versions of Heaven and Hell on earth, you won’t find easy answers, but you will find tremendously insightful and often entertaining perspectives.

Utopian and dystopian writing sits at the crossroads of literature and other important academic disciplines such as philosophy, history, psychology, politics, and sociology It serves as a useful tool to discuss our present condition and future prospects—to imagine a better tomorrow and warn of dangerous possibilities. To examine the future of mankind through detailed and fascinating stories that highlight and exploit our anxieties in adventurous, thought-provoking, and engaging ways. From Thomas More’s foundational text Utopia published in 1516to the 21st-century phenomenon of The Hunger Games, dive into stories that seek to find the best—and the worst—in humanity, with the hope of better understanding ourselves and the world. Great Utopian and Dystopian Works of Literature delivers 24 illuminating lectures, led by Pamela Bedore, Associate Professor of English at the University of Connecticut, which plunge you into the history and development of utopian ideas and their dystopian counterparts. You’ll encounter some of the most powerful and influential texts in this genre as you travel centuries into the past and thousands of years into the future, through worlds that are beautiful, laughable, terrifying, and always thought-provoking.

Professor Bedore brings an acute understanding of literature’s ability to both reflect and shape society, as well as an immense enthusiasm for great storytelling, introducing you to fresh perspectives on deep-rooted themes you thought you knew. She will take you on an expedition through a variety of idealized utopian and flawed dystopian worlds, embarking across a broad survey of the differing perspectives and historical backdrops that shaped the genre, from the influence of scientific optimism in the 17th century and satire in the 18th to deeply political and sociological approaches in the 19th and 20th centuries and beyond. Even if you are familiar with these writers, this course provides so many deep insight and alternative perspectives, it will be as if you are reading them for the first time. Uncover the darkness behind seeming utopias and discover the hope that lives beneath the terror of dystopias as you deep dive into classics, blockbusters, and little known gems by:

  • Jonathan Swift
  • Louisa May Alcott
  • Samuel Butler
  • Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Edward Bellamy
  • H.G. Wells
  • Samuel Delany
  • George Orwell
  • Octavia Butler
  • Anthony Burgess
  • Margaret Atwood
  • And many more

With Professor Bedore, you’ll follow these authors and more as they explore the limits of how humans live together, build societies, and view our own humanity.

The Heavenly Places of Utopia

Professor Bedore begins her study of utopian and dystopian storytelling with a look at utopia, the earlier of the two genres to be widely recognized. Utopia, both as a word and a concept, is a paradox. As she notes, the word “utopia” means “no place,” but it is also a homonym for eutopia—a good or perfect place. This contradiction is the foundation on which the genre is built and why it provides such rich opportunities for exploration. Can we invent a perfect place if it is also no place?

Starting with the book most often credited as the beginning of the utopian genre, Thomas More’s Concerning the Highest State of the Republic and the New Island Utopia, Professor Bedore moves chronologically through history. She examines how humor was introduced into utopian literature with Jonathan Swift, reveals how utopian concepts were used to market the idea of the American Dream, and explores the intersection between utopian stories and science fiction. Lastly, Professor Bedore looks at alternative and selective approaches to creating utopias, such as that of Charlotte Perkins Gilman, who tells the story of a world populated only by women.

As you travel through time and across various lands, you’ll discover classic and contemporary authors, novels, and short stories that have critiqued, educated, and ultimately contributed to impacting the world as we know it.

The Hellish Nightmares of Dystopia

The Hunger Games. Divergent. The Giver. The Maze Runner. The City of Ember. In recent years, much has been made of the terms “dystopian literature,” specifically in relation to Young Adult literature. The modern generation misleads itself by assuming that the dystopian novels which are popping up left and right were created simply for them. At the same time, the older generations does this fascinating classification of books a disservice if they believe the young adult selection chronicles the entire genre.

First used in public by John Stuart Mill in a speech in 1868, the term “dystopia” has often been understood to be the opposite of utopia. If one is an idealized version of society, wouldn’t the other be its the nightmare alternative? Professor Bedore demonstrates how the truth—that utopia and dystopia are both based on the same impulses through different means—is less counterintuitive than it first appears.

The turn of the 20th century saw the beginning of the transition in thought from utopian visions to dystopian. Was this merely a reflection of modern cynicism, or are there deeper reasons that we turn to darker visions of the future? Professor Bedore dives deep into our fascination with worst case scenario stories, exploring many of the political and social forces that brought dystopian anxieties to the surface of literature. She reviews the impact of historical milestones such as:

  • Globalization and political strife: the wars of the 20th century have been particularly impactful thanks to global scale and the technologies of modern warfare
  • Rapid industrialization: the loss of traditional and agricultural jobs and increasing urbanization have led to rapid change and precarious quality of life for many
  • Increasing reliance on technology: the increasing automation of modern life has displaced workers and led to speculation about the increasing influence of “intelligent” machines
  • Democratization of literature: dime novels, penny dreadfuls, and other popular entertainments have often focused on the sensational and the lurid—elements much more familiar to dystopia than utopia

Professor Bedore will introduce you to the “Big Three Dystopias” of the 20th century—Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We (1921), Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) and George Orwelll’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) in a whole new light. She will dissect how each one reflects the tensions and anxieties of the modern world and trace their influence through later writers like Ursula K. LeGuin, Octavia Butler, Margaret Atwood, Samuel R. Delaney, and many more.

Two Sides of the Same Coin?

Utopian and dystopian novels transport us to other worlds, but as this course will point out, those utopias and dystopias are often the same speculative world. Many of the portrayals of the future being depicted in current films and books including The Hunger Games, Elysium, and 3% present a push-me, pull-me worldview, with an elite set of haves and a distinct set of have-nots.

As Professor Bedore explores, one of the key elements of dystopia—and by extension, utopia—is the balance of different social and cultural needs; utopias are an attempt to create harmony between the needs and desires of people and dystopias are often the result of drastic imbalances. However, it’s not the only balancing act that utopian and dystopian novels tackle. The most powerful and enduring works covered in this course are often the result of examining particular tensions and contrasts like:

  • Freedom vs. security- what is the ideal balance between being safe and being free?
  • Chaos vs. conformity- how much structure is necessary for a “good” society?
  • Kinetic vs. static- do people crave change and rapid growth or comfortable predictability?
  • Intellectual vs. visceral- are the greater joys in life the ones of the mind or of the body?

In a world with limited resources, these equilibria are not easy to maintain in perfection, which means a utopia for some often results in dystopia for others.

Visions of the Past and Future

Utopian and dystopian literature is considered “speculative fiction,” which also includes the genres of science fiction and fantasy. Likewise, utopia and dystopia are also broad categories themselves that contain many subgenres with differing ideologies and techniques: feminist utopia, cyberpunk dystopia, heterotopia, apocalyptic lit and many more.

Among the various subcategories presented by Professor Bedore is a particularly useful one known as “euchronia,” a utopia that is set in a different time rather than a different place. Euchronias are usually set in the “real world” but also in a different time, anywhere from a few generations to several hundreds of thousands of years forward or backward. Euchronias are often a more direct way for authors to critique their own society—seeking to transport readers to extreme, alternative realities. Euchronias are exemplified by works like H.G. Well’s The Time Machine, set over 700,000 years in the future, Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward, which occurs just a little over 100 years into the future (from its original date of 1887), or Ursula K. LeGuin’sHainish Cycle novels set in an alternate history and future throughout the series. These stories are fascinating not just in their speculation about the future or the past, but also in their ambivalent view of progress. They present complicated worlds that are both utopic and dystopic depending on the perspective—an important thread that runs throughout the utopian and dystopian traditions.

Whether you’d rather escape to an idealized world or explore the depths of the human condition, you’ll get the best of both worlds through this fascinating scope. Under the brilliant command of Professor Bedore, you’ll understand the motivations of these subversive worlds, the basis for these memorable characters, and how the body of literature has fueled lasting change. Open your imagination, suspend your disbelief, and take a provocative adventure through the great works of utopian and dystopian literature.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    Utopia: The Perfect Nowhere
    Enter the world of utopian and dystopian fiction. After a brief foray into the definition and origin of utopia, dive into Ursula K. LeGuin's short story The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas and explore the ambiguities of "perfect" worlds. Then, get a deeper understanding of the ways genre functions and how it shapes literature. x
  • 2
    Thomas More and Utopian Origins
    Take a step back and learn about the origins of the utopian genre, beginning with Thomas More's Utopia of 1516. More's foundational work gave us the word "utopia," but did it create the genre? Explore the elements of the story to see how it set conventions for later works but also critiqued the very idea of utopia in the process. x
  • 3
    Swift, Voltaire, and Utopian Satire
    Continue your exploration of the early history of utopia by examining notable works produced during the two centuries following More's initial work. Compare and contrast the ideas of classical "utopia" and "critical utopia" and understand how laughter was an integral part of 18th-century utopian storytelling, focusing on Voltaire's Candide and Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. x
  • 4
    American Dreamers: Hawthorne and Alcott
    The 19th century was the century of "utopia" and also marked the transition from utopian to dystopian stories in popular literature. Look at Americans who attempted to build real-world utopias, and in turn examine the work of two authors who reacted to the American attempt at perfect societies: Nathaniel Hawthorne and Louisa May Alcott. Consider the ways that optimistic, utopian thinking is integral to the idea of the American Dream. x
  • 5
    Samuel Butler and Utopian Technologies
    Shift your attention from rural American utopias to explore from a different perspective: Victorian anxieties about technology and the vanishing frontier. Analyze these fears in Samuel Butler's Erewhon, which utilizes utopian conventions and heavy doses of satire to critique religion, health, education, and humanity's increasingly complex relationship to machines. x
  • 6
    Edward Bellamy and Utopian Activism
    Can utopian literature have real-world impact? This question is integral to understanding the significance of Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy. Witness the ways Bellamy's socialist vision of the future had genuine influence on the social activists of Gilded Age America. Professor Bedore also introduces the idea of "euchronia"–a form of utopia set in a different time rather than a different place. x
  • 7
    H. G. Wells and Utopian Science Fiction
    Unlike the utopian tradition, science fiction doesn't have a single text that defines its origin. It does, however, have several figures credited with its creation. One such figure is H.G. Wells, who not only helped in the creation of science fiction as a genre, but was also deeply devoted to utopian thinking. Ultimately, his work brought utopia and science fiction together in the same space, highlighting their intersections and their differences. x
  • 8
    Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Gendered Utopia
    Many utopian stories were concerned with the "woman question," or the quest to determine where women belong in an ideal society. Charlotte Perkins Gilman went a step further by creating a utopian society populated solely by women: Herland. See how questions of gender equality are reframed without the reference of an opposite gender and the impact of Gilman's vision on the feminist movements of the later 20th century. x
  • 9
    Yevgeny Zamyatin and Dystopian Uniformity
    Shift your attention from utopian blueprints to the cautionary tales of dystopia and explore the origins of the genre and the complex ways it functions in literature. Examine the period between World War I and World War II that produced the "Big Three Dystopias" and dive into the earliest of them, We by Yevgeny Zamyatin. x
  • 10
    Aldous Huxley and Dystopian Pleasure
    Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, published in 1932, is the second of the "Big Three" dystopian novels of the interwar years. Investigate the ways Huxley projects the anxieties of his day onto the future, creating a world in which people are controlled not by pain or fear, but by pleasure, and consider how utopian and dystopia are often only matters of perspective. x
  • 11
    George Orwell and Totalitarian Dystopia
    Perhaps the most famous of the three defining dystopias of the early 20th century, George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four has created a vocabulary of ideas we continue to use in political discourse today. Trace the ways Orwell uses language to shape his dystopic vision and the way it both reflects and distorts reality. x
  • 12
    John Wyndham and Young Adult Dystopia
    Published during the wave of anti-communist hysteria of the 1950s, John Wyndham's The Chrysalids is one of the earliest examples of Young Adult dystopian fiction and a potent examination of the fear of the Other" in dystopian storytelling. See how it set the stage for the extremely rich strain of dystopian literature aimed at younger readers that dominates bestseller lists in the 21st century." x
  • 13
    Philip K. Dick's Dystopian Crime Prevention
    Examine the parallels between social and political issues that become prominently reflected in science fiction literature as utopias and dystopias become less independent of each other. Look at the portrayal of community, choice, and rules to determine when the sacrifices being made cross the threshold between a completely perfect society and a complete lack of freedom. As the genre starts to tackle "big" questions of philosophy around individual free will, the line blurs and we are left with dystopias that are dressed up to look like utopias. x
  • 14
    Anthony Burgess, Free Will, and Dystopia
    Delve deeper into the central question of free will and how utopian studies respond emotionally and intellectually to this conundrum by examining A Clockwork Orange. Discover the literature that influenced it and was impacted by it, while exploring the nuanced differences between reading and watching this pivotal work. Burgess looks at extreme situations to pose questions we continue to struggle with, such as: What's the right balance between security and freedom? Under what circumstances is it acceptable for the State to curtail individual freedoms? x
  • 15
    The Feminist Utopian Movement of the 1970s
    The feminist utopian movement began in the 1970s and, despite the name, doesn't feature very many "traditional utopias." There is a guarded optimism represented in these novels that dealt with real-world issues of discrimination by creating societies portrayed as classless, crimeless, government-free, but laden with satire. x
  • 16
    Ursula K. Le Guin and the Ambiguous Utopia
    Delve into the science fiction-based worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin, who approaches various situations with an open mind, drawing upon disciplines like physics, anthropology, and fine arts. She builds worlds in which people attempt all kinds of strategies of governance, including no governance at all. Discover how Le Guin uses sci-fi and utopia to explore LGBTQ issues with the intent to change our views on gender and sexuality. x
  • 17
    Samuel Delany and the Heterotopia
    Focusing on Trouble on Triton, explore the ways Delany introduces readers to ambiguous heterotopia through a society where your identity (such as sex, race, religion, and sexual preference) can easily be changed. Investigate whether this abundance of individual freedom results in utopia or dystopia. x
  • 18
    Octavia Butler and the Utopian Alien
    None of Octavia Butler's writings fit perfectly into the categories of utopia or dystopia, but she is vital to this study because her utopian writing represents a turning point that moves us from the feminist utopian renaissance of the 1970s to the more complex negotiation between utopian and dystopian impulses that helped shape the genres as they are today. In the first of two lectures focused on her, delve into her usage of aliens to show the importance of working toward social change. x
  • 19
    Octavia Butler and Utopian Hybridity
    Examine the many ways Butler challenges boundaries-not only of genres, but also of human identity. In this lecture, you'll see how she tackles the questions that are important in defining utopian futures: what does it mean to be human? Is utopia always an unresolvable paradox? And if it is, does it have to be? How much can we change and still be considered human? And really, does being human even matter? x
  • 20
    Margaret Atwood and Environmental Dystopia
    Margaret Atwood is an icon in utopian and dystopian fiction. Explore the ways she has helped to shape utopian thought and sexual politics with one of her classic novels, The Handmaid's Tale, as well as her more recent MaddAddam trilogy. Atwood is known for apocalyptic writing but you'll see how even her darkest works have elements of humor and satire with intrinsic meaning. x
  • 21
    Suzanne Collins and Dystopian Games
    Does it seem like a lot of the most popular books for young adults lately have been dystopias? In this lecture, explore why teens are so drawn to dystopia, what current anxieties are being tracked in this large body of YA literature, and what the impact of this literature on young adult readers has been. You'll also discover why this subgenre is so popular with adults. x
  • 22
    Cyberpunk Dystopia: Doctorow and Anderson
    The cyberpunk genre was developed in the 1980s and often features advanced information technology that allows much of the action to take place in cyber space rather than physical space, with an emphasis on the dangers and pleasures of the spaces between the cyber and physical worlds. Through satire or in earnest, we get at the same anxieties about contemporary American society: the internet has amazing potential to create a better, more egalitarian world, but we may be going about it all wrong, creating not only a more oppressive world, but a new generation of young people who rely on technology without truly understanding it. x
  • 23
    Apocalyptic Literature in the 21st Century
    Dive into the world of post-apocalyptic literature, which examines the aftermath of a cataclysmic event. Review the four major apocalyptic sources: technological, biomedical, environmental, or supernatural, and explore bodies of work that utilize each one. You'll see how even the worst dystopian situations often sneak hopes of utopian thinking into the stories because humanity survives on a core of optimism that whispers that no matter how bad things get, we can imagine-and maybe even attain-something better. x
  • 24
    The Future of Utopia and Dystopia
    Reflect on how dystopia shows us the darker side of contemporary reality right here in our connected global world, focusing on issues we struggle with every day: totalitarian government, new technologies, economic disparity, control of sexuality, and environmental degradation. Conclude with the recurring theme around utopian yearnings and the sinister road that leads to dystopia, proving that the perfect place is no place. This powerful genre embodies a simultaneous optimism and cynicism that is, perhaps, an inherent part of the human condition. x

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Your professor

Pamela Bedore

About Your Professor

Pamela Bedore, Ph.D.
University of Connecticut
Pamela Bedore is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Connecticut, where she teaches courses in American Literature, Popular Culture, and Genre Fiction. She holds undergraduate degrees in English and Education from Queen’s University, a Master’s from Simon Fraser University, and a PhD from the University of Rochester. Dr. Bedore has published widely on science fiction, detective fiction, and writing...
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Reviews

Great Utopian and Dystopian Works of Literature is rated 4.1 out of 5 by 47.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outside My Area Of Interest - Took A Chance! I have a number of Great Courses in the areas of science, math, and history. The description for this course was intriguing. Although I had read only a few of the works, this had been so long ago I had forgotten - and maybe never completely grasped - their full meaning. Being outside my primary area of interest I took a chance in making the purchase. A pre-purchase concern was whether one could appreciate these works and the shared information without having been previously exposed to them. This concern was unfounded as the instructor provides background and the primary (often detailed) storylines in her presentation. The material is well structured, the topics mesh, and the instructor's enthusiasm in the subject is infectious. Some reviewers complained about socialist, feminist, or LGBT overtones. I (a non-liberal male) find such complaints meaningless in terms of course definition. The title accurately describes content and the stories - like all good stories of this genre - are meant to be a thought provoking commentary on a society and its people. Interpret is you will - that is the point! I first took the course about a year ago. There is much to digest in these lectures and they are so enjoyable that I have started the series again. Also I have a cousin just graduating from high school and bound for college. I will be purchasing the course as a gift for her. The visual version is the one I have reviewed and the one I would recommend.
Date published: 2018-06-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Interesting material The lecturer's Valley Girl style is off putting (I'm in my 70's) and distracts from the material. Mannered expressions like "Okaaaay!" seem inappropriate to the seriousness of the discussion.
Date published: 2018-05-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative! The Dvds have clarified lots of the genre to me now.
Date published: 2018-04-30
Rated 3 out of 5 by from very good BUT most chapters stopped before Completion. I could not listen to one whole chapter all the way through because of a defect in my streaming. It could only be corrected by going to settings and starting all over again. very difficult to do when driving. Wish I could have continued listening without these interruptions.
Date published: 2018-04-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Lots of fun! I really enjoyed Dr. Bedore's thorough consideration of utopian and dystopian literature. My "must-read" book list just increased by about ten books, and I've discovered a new all-time favorite in Octavia Butler. Thanks Dr. Bedore!
Date published: 2018-03-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Thought Provoking and Chilling This course was such an interesting addition to the Great Courses repertoire. I never would have considered this genre to have been worthy of much speculation, more so Utopian literature than dystopian literature. This course surprised me in a lot of ways. I now know there to be such a wealth of literature and popular fiction about the genre than I could have ever dreamed of. The course made me think about what great literature is supposed to make us do. It makes us think deeply about what it means to be human and want can we do to help improve society for the benefit of everyone. The goal of courses like these are to enrich the learning experience and make you want to know more. Great Works of Utopian and Dystopian literature makes me want to read more of these genre works.
Date published: 2018-03-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting and Wide-Ranging Professor Bedore provides great insights into utopian and dystopian worlds (are they the same?) [cue eerie music]. The course is wide-ranging and fascinating. I loved the way Bedore introduced a book and would say "before I give the spoilers, go read it!" Best advice ever. She loves the topic and now I do too!
Date published: 2018-02-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent on Audio My disclaimer is that I haven’t finished it, but after 15 years of listening to TTC, this is my first review, because this lecture is really well delivered and extremely interesting. The lecturer covers ground quickly with enthusiasm and insight. As an English major it reminds me of literature I loved while tying that into a line of works that introduces ones I haven’t yet explored.
Date published: 2018-01-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Terrific spinoff on so many other disciplnes. Not just for lit freaks but digestible by most geeks.
Date published: 2017-12-30
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Great Disappointment My husband and I are regular customers. We have never had a critical comment about any of our courses. This one, however, was not what I had anticipated. It is a thinly veiled tract for feminist, homosexual and socialist ideas. Some of the greatest science fiction utopian and dystopian writers are not even mentioned! Additionally, the lecturer is probably ok for junior high kids, but not for adults. She comes across as a bit silly. I am so disappointed. You can bet I will read the fine print next time I buy a course.
Date published: 2017-11-04
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Misnomer I thought I purchased a course on dystopian and utopian literature. What I got was a protracted feminist/gender studies lecture. Let me sum up: a UTOPIAN society is run by women. A DYSTOPIAN society is run by oppressive white middle class men with machines which eventually become more intelligent than their creators, take over their environment, and inevitably destroy everything because they were not created by women.
Date published: 2017-09-26
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Great Utopian and Dystopian Works of Literature Here is a suggestion for you. The course arrived the day you asked for this review. I have had this same thing happen in the past. This course has approximately 12 hours of lecture. There is no way I can give a review for you that quickly. Perhaps you can give your customers a few weeks to actually listen to the course before asking for a review.
Date published: 2017-09-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent presentation, excellent overview. Professor Bedore's lectures evidence a lot of preparation, which were both enjoyable and helpful. They are clear, well organized, enthusiastic and energetic throughout. She moves and turns her body at appropriate times for emphasis and to signal transitions. Likewise, the volume and tone of her voice varies appropriate to the content of what she is taking. In sum, she is a dynamic speaker. Similarly, her lectures are well organized and provide a good overview of the literature of utopia. They cover its origins and history, its major thematic developments, representative works and authors and, to a significant extent, it underlying theories and critical response. I was very satisfied with it as a survey course and would recommend it to anyone who seeks a basic understanding of the genre.
Date published: 2017-09-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This Course Will Get You "Nowhere" Utopias allow authors and readers to imagine societies that are much better than ours and dystopias societies that are much worse. Professor Bedore ably analyzes at least three dozen novels and short stories of both types and those that fall in-between. As you probably know, the genre—with a bit of a precedent in Plato’s Republic—began in the early 16th century with Thomas More’s Utopia (Greek for “no place”), in which two speakers in dialog described a large island kingdom that had succeeded in eliminating poverty and cultivating virtue. The most famous dystopias come from the first half of the twentieth century: Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and George Orwell’s 1984. Yet more than half the course covers works written since 1950, most of it previously unknown to me. This genre poses two large challenges. First, it is hard to separate utopia/dystopia from science fiction, which also deals with imaginary societies. In fact, the Teaching Company’s “How Great Science Fiction Works,” with Gary K. Wolfe, has one lecture entirely devoted to several of the same utopias and dystopias that Bedore discusses. Other works in that course, like Philip K. Dick’s Man in the High Castle, would also fit here. Second, utopia and dystopia aren’t really opposite kinds of societies so much as opposite poles on a spectrum, in which most societies have elements of both. In Brave New World, for example, the global state keeps everyone in line with the never-ending physical pleasure of drugs and promiscuous relations—this is supposed to be an entirely bad thing? Samuel Butler’s Erewhon treats criminals like sick people and sick people like criminals. In Ursula Le Guin’s Omelas everyone is happy except for just one miserable filthy and wasted child. Even More’s Utopia has slaves. Many works have experimented with gender. In 1915 Charlotte Perkins Gilman imagined a women’s society with no men in Herland, and James Tiptree, Jr. brought back the idea in 1976 with Houston, Houston, Do You Read? In other works since the 1970s people change gender once (Samuel Delany’s Trouble on Triton), other people can be one gender one month, and another gender the next (Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness), and men can get pregnant (Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild). Of course there is also Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale, in which fertile women are handed out as prizes to leaders of the religious dystopia of Gilead. Another important theme is free will or the lack of it. In Brave New World citizens are fitted by genetic engineering and hypnopedia (sleep teaching) for permanent membership in one of five social castes. The precogs in Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report and the wretched child in Omelas have no choice about their necessary but terrible role. In Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, which I plan never, ever to read or watch because it sounds too violent, the government conditions the murderous protagonist, Alex the Large, to become nauseated if he commits any violence, even in self-defense. In Octavia Butler’s Fledgling, groups of humans live with vampires who feed on them while also bestowing long life, better health and physical pleasure, but these humans are in fact addicted to this treatment. I have very few complaints and only minor ones at that. I wish that Bedore had included much more discussion of William Morris’s News from Nowhere, which gets only a very brief mention at the end of Lecture 6 on Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward. The same is true of B.F. Skinner’s Walden II in Lecture 15. There is nothing at all on Gerhart Hauptmann’s Isle of the Great Mother, which would have fit nicely with Herland as a feminist separatist utopia. On the other hand, Voltaire’s Candide and H.G. Wells’ Time Machine could have been left out because the utopian/dystopian motifs represented only part of their stories. I didn’t quite like Bedore’s mannerisms in her otherwise well-delivered lectures, sometimes giving the viewer sidelong glances and trying weakly to build excitement with trite phrases like “Guess who…” or “Yep, that’s right!” She irritated me a bit by using the cumbersome “de-familiarized” in Lecture 6 instead of “disoriented” and by pronouncing samurai in Lecture 7 as “samyurai.” Still, I heartily recommend this course to anyone with an interest in this kind of literature, whether you have already read these works or would like to. Bedore is very considerate in not spoiling the ending whenever possible!
Date published: 2017-09-09
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not really about Utopia/Dystopia The only Great Courses title that I've ever quit listening to. It's not really about Utopias/Dystopias. It's just a platform for lectures on feminist and LGTB topics. A major disappointment. Short on information on Utopia/Dystopias as works of literature
Date published: 2017-08-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding presentation and fascinating ideas. I've bought several Great Courses and this is the best! Nice graphics and illustrations, and the speaker is engaging throughout. A must buy!
Date published: 2017-08-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Love the content, hate the reading. This is a great course, it has given me a new perspective on classics I've read and a huge reading list of new pieces to pick up. I hate the way it's read though, it feels forced. I would have preferred the standard style which feels more like sitting in on the lecture, less like some kind of slam poetry or spoken word production. This should not dissuade anyone from getting the course, it's very good. I just hope TTC moves away from this style; it's annoying.
Date published: 2017-07-20
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Utopian & Dystopian Literature I quit listening half way through. The verbiage is pointless and petty. It is not worth the sixty dollars I paid, and when I have time I will request a refund. It is stunning anyone would take a class in something so meaningless. In addition, it is irritating that the speaker/professor appears to use the first half as a personal platform to advocate the women's rights movement. Apparently Utop & Dystop blossomed solely to propagandize women's plight on earth. I think the civilized world is aware of this. We don't need a re-education camp. The lectures have nothing insightful or utilitarian, which I found in abundance of How Jesus Became God, and How to Publish Your Book. Finally, the disks are defective. they would not re-play lecture 5 and 7, but continue to default and repeat lectures 4 and 6.
Date published: 2017-07-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Broad and insightful This course is an easy one to review. Professor Bedore is my kind of literature professor. I still consider "A Skeptics Guide to the Great Books" from "The Great Courses" to be my favorite of this type of course but this one comes in close second. She focuses on the story and not on some hypothetical symbolism. She provides interesting and profound insights into the stories. I have already read many of the books covered in this course, as probably many have that would bother to read this review. I still found her treatments more than worth my time. I found her reviews of "Animal Farm" and "1984" brought back the excitement, joy, insights, and simple pleasure of the original experiences. Take "Clockwork Orange" as another example. I have read the book and seen the movie and have been both troubled and captivated. Many have avoided this story or tried it and have been repulsed by the ultra-violence. I am not claiming that view is unfounded but Professor Bedore explains, articulately, why she thinks this story is so important. She directly addresses the question, "Is the ultra-violence necessary?" I very much enjoyed her insights. The big benefit of course like this though is finding new stuff to read. I have added many to my list.
Date published: 2017-07-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good course with some problems The professor knew the material well and introduced me to some books I have not read like "We" which I recommended to our daughter who is an 8th grade English Language Arts teacher. They study some dystopian works in her class. My one complaint is that the professor dwells to long on some more "liberal/feminist" authors and works. I agree these need to be covered to give a well rounded approach to the subject but in my opinion she went overboard. The professor could have also covered books such as "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand as a utopian and dystopian word or even "Star Trek" as a utopian work. I liked the course overall and would recommend it to people who read either utopian and/or dystopian works.
Date published: 2017-07-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Course on Utopia/Distopia Lit I just finished this course and loved it. It was a well researched and well presented history of the evolution of utopia/dystopia fiction by an excellent lecturer who clearly loves the subject. While I had read some of the works covered (1984, Brave New World, The Handmaid's Tale) there were many that I hadn't yet read and will be putting these works on my reading list.
Date published: 2017-07-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great recommendations for further reads I really enjoyed this course. I am a comparative newbie to this genre and I was pleased that it managed to hold my attention throughout. I do have every intention of reading some of the major works recommended. I found that the balance between on the one hand diving into individual works and on the other broader examinations of related genres and their evolution was about right and maintained the level of interest.
Date published: 2017-06-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from fun & engaging I like the genre of YA dystopian literature and I love this course. I selected CD version and listen to it while I'm driving. I'm re-listening to the first 6 CDs, then will move on to the next 6. I have added a few titles to "want to read" list from her lectures. She sounds young, enthusiastic, & knowledgeable. I'm learning about the greater world of dystopia and utopia (of which modern YA dystopia is but one slice). I already feel the urge to re-read (re-watch) more beloved recent dystopian stories again with what I've learned in mind. Soooo glad I got it! Great as an audio-only selection!
Date published: 2017-06-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Timely and informative An exploration through literature of the best and worst of mankind's possibilities. The lectures are clear, concise and entertaining as well as informative. The course organization is logical and complete. The timeliness needs no explanation.
Date published: 2017-05-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from one of the best courses! I love the professor´s presentation style, so energetic, euphoric even, very entertaining and really engaging. also the books she covers are a perfect mix, lots of beloved classics and new discoveries for me. i hope she will do another course for the great courses!
Date published: 2017-05-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Listen in a Quiet Room Very enjoyable subject matter and presentation. I've even gone back and reread some of the works Professor Badore cites. The audio CD's have one annoying problem. Professor Bedore has a habit of pausing when she wants to emphasize an important word or phrase, then softening her tone and dropping her volume dramatically when uttering that key word/phrase. This technique might work well if you're watching a DVD and the important word/phrase appears on the screen. But if you're driving in a car or listening with earphones, the very thing that she wants to emphasize is totally lost. "And the most important thing to remember is...(inaudible)." The first time it happens, you think its your fault. By the fifth, it's totally annoying and you start automatically reaching for the volume control. This problem is the only reason I didn't give it a higher rating.
Date published: 2017-05-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from A general complaint about TTC's new style I confess I might be completely alone in making this complaint - which is why I'm hoping people will mark "helpful" or "not helpful" to give their word - but TTC has become WAY overproduced. It's painfully evident in this course. Before, professors would be organically lodged in classrooms, where you could sometimes hear audiences. My favorite, professor Arnold Weinstein is a good example. He often riffs, improvises - he lectures organically! ALL, and I mean ALL, new courses have this very slick overproduced style where the lecturer seems to read of a script, and have this really affected, non-organic, style of lecturing. Please, TTC, bring back the old, more authentic style! Or at least, try to adopt this more produced style with the old more authentic style.
Date published: 2017-05-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The prof is enjoyable to watch I have to strain every muscle to understand what she says. I get about half and so can get the gist... but it's difficult.
Date published: 2017-04-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great start then slips into gender studies Perhaps it is just my age but the fanaticism of viewing everything in gender terms has become a bit jaded. The course starts out fine and the presenter is certainly enthusiastic and draws the participant into the material. Then by the third disc it gets into sex and gender - maybe this is reflective on contemporary values - the presenter certainly has a bias this way. Having stated this, the presenter is good just puts too much emphasis on this angle of dystopia / utopia / heterotopia (???). Worth completing though.
Date published: 2017-04-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Fascinating overview of little-understood genre I've read a fair number of the novels she refers to, but wasn't particularly interested in the topic, especially the dystopian aspect. However, it was surprisingly fascinating, a great overview of a little-appreciated literary genre. As often happens with Great Courses, I was surprised how much I learned and how relevant this was towards contemporary issues. I can't give the topic 5 stars, despite the quality of the presentation, simply because some of it is rather depressing! But you'll come away with lots of new information and perspectives.
Date published: 2017-04-16
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