Welcome to the latest in our series of audio adventures, Tales for Our Time. This month's pick is very timely after the last two years - an English social novelist's sole venture into futuristic dystopias: Anthony Trollope's view from 1882 of an enlightened society a century hence - The Fixed Period.
George Pereira, a First Hour Founding Member of The Mark Steyn Club from Massachusetts, places this particular tale in the context of its contemporaries:
I have a fondness for Victorian and Edwardian fantasy and science fiction. One of the traits the utopian societies often written about, in common with The Fixed Period, is that they come into being after there is much shedding of blood; the wolves, the sheepdogs and a great many sheep are all brutally eliminated and what's left is Utopia! Also there are often outrageous elements to the stories. For example, The King in Yellow by Robert W Chambers and written in 1895 has in the first few paragraphs an astonishing view of America in 1920.
One of the elements are Lethal Chambers.
'Now the Government has determined to establish a Lethal Chamber in every city, town and village in the country, it remains to be seen whether or not that class of human creatures from whose desponding ranks new victims of self-destruction fall daily will accept the relief thus provided.'
That in itself would be an enormous undertaking. The Fixed Period is very much a part of the Victorian and Edwardian fantasy and science fiction tradition.
Indeed, George. There are, however, other elements percolating around Anthony Trollope's Britannula. It is, for one thing, a republic, and without Her Majesty's Dominions. And so, in tonight's episode, President Neverbend bristles when the visiting English cricket team decline to treat him as a foreigner:
"As for a foreigner,—we don't call you foreigners."
"Why not?" said I, rather anxious to prove that we were foreigners. "What makes a foreigner but a different allegiance? Do we not call the Americans foreigners?" Great Britain and France had been for years engaged in the great maritime contest with the united fleets of Russia and America, and had only just made that glorious peace by which, as politicians said, all the world was to be governed for the future; and after that, it need not be doubted but that the Americans were foreign to the English;—and if the Americans, why not the Britannulists? We had separated ourselves from Great Britain, without coming to blows indeed; but still our own flag, the Southern Cross, flew as proudly to our gentle breezes as ever had done the Union-jack amidst the inclemency of a British winter. It was the flag of Britannula, with which Great Britain had no concern. At the present moment I was specially anxious to hear a distinguished Englishman like Lord Marylebone acknowledge that we were foreigners. "If we be not foreigners, what are we, my lord?"
"Englishmen, of course," said he. "What else? Don't you talk English?"
"So do the Americans, my lord," said I, with a smile that was intended to be gracious. "Our language is spreading itself over the world, and is no sign of nationality."
Speaking of language, Anthony Trollope rather over-indulges his taste for contrived names here: Eva's English suitor is a baronet called "Sir Kennington Oval". The Oval is a famous Test cricket ground, and Kennington is the district of South London in which it is located. As for the team's other baronet, "Sir Lords Longstop", Lord's is the other famous cricket ground in London, and ...oh, never mind: explaining jokes is never a good idea, especially when they're as lumbering as Mr Trollope's.
If you have friends who might appreciate The Fixed Period, Northanger Abbey, Nineteen Eighty-Four or our other tales, we have a special Steyn Club Gift Membership that lets them in on that and on all the other fun in The Mark Steyn Club.
If you've only joined the Steyn Club in recent days and missed our earlier serials (Conan Doyle's The Tragedy of the Korosko, Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent, Baroness Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel, Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda, plus Kipling, Kafka, Dickens, Gogol, Louisa May Alcott, P G Wodehouse, H G Wells, Scott Fitzgerald and more), you can find them all on our easy-to-access Netflix-style Tales for Our Time home page. Indeed, it's so easy to access that we've introduced a similar format for The Mark Steyn Show.
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To become a member of The Mark Steyn Club, please click here - and please join me tomorrow for Part Eleven of The Fixed Period.