Voyages Towards Utopia: Mapping Utopian Spaces in Early-Modern French Prose
In the 17th and 18th century, a form of novel known as the voyage imaginaire gained tremendous popularity, portraying fantastic worlds at or beyond the margins of known spaces. These texts portray societies set anywhere from the mythical Southern Continent (now Australia and New Zealand) to the Moon itself. While such texts are conventionally mined for their insight into politics and religion, this dissertation proposes a novel approach. At the intersection of fictive geography and gendered ideals lies a wealth of revelations about gender and sexuality in 17th and 18th century France. Overwhelmingly, the study of gender and sexuality in the early-modern period has looked to judicial, religious, and medical texts, as well as canonical literature. However, an examination of the unconventional voyage imaginaire grants a valuable new angle into gender dynamics and sexuality. Collectively, the imaginary voyages selected enable a curated exploration of femininity, masculinity, gender roles, sexuality, and family dynamics in ways that would be impossible with works set in familiar milieux. By exploring popular imaginary novels set in the places that best captivated the French imagination, I explore how alterity grants the distance necessary to explore fundamental societal dynamics. In distinct ways, each work upholds, subverts, or reimagines categories such as gendered hierarchies or desire, and these reformulations of conventions in unique places between reality and wild imagination provide vital insights into 17th and 18th century French society.