Brexit, Erewhon, and Utopia

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
Porscha Fermanis University College Dublin, IE

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Viewing Brexit as part of a longer history of Anglo-Saxon racial and cultural exceptionalism, this article reflects on what Samuel Butler's satirical novel Erewhon, or Over the Range (1872) can tell us about the utopian impulses informing Brexit's neoimperialist ideology and hence about British identity politics today. Set in an inward-looking, socially homogeneous, and postindustrial society somewhere in the colonial southern hemisphere, Erewhon provides an anachronistic simulacrum of both an isolationist “Little England” and an imperial “Global Britain,” critiquing the idea of the self-sufficient, ethnonationalist “island nation” by demonstrating the extent to which it relies on the racial logic of White utopianism, as well as on a disavowal of the non-British labor that supports and sustains it.

Contributor Notes

Porscha Fermanis is Professor of Romantic Literature at University College Dublin. Her latest publication is Early Public Libraries and Colonial Citizenship in the British Southern Hemisphere (with Lara Atkin et al., 2019). A coedited collection, Worlding the South: Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture and the Southern Settler Colonies, and a monograph, Romantic Pasts: History, Fiction, and Feeling in Britain, 1790–1850, are forthcoming in 2021. She is currently the Principal Investigator of the European Research Council project “SouthHem” and is working on a book entitled Southern Settler Fiction and the Transcolonial Imaginary, 1820–1890. Email:

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