Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

This unfinished utopian novel, written between 1610 and 1624, was published within a year of Francis Bacon’s death by William Rawley, Bacon’s chaplain and first biographer. Unlike the other visions of an ideal society to which Bacon indirectly refers (Plato’s myth of Atlantis and Thomas More’s De Optimo Reipublicae Statu, deque Nova Insula Utopia, 1516; Utopia, 1551), Bacon’s vision does not emphasize new governmental and social institutions. There is only indirect mention, without explanation, of an existing government in Bensalem. The elite ruling class of the peaceful and tolerant Bensalemites consists of a society of scholars and scientists, laboring together and living by the rules of science.

The depiction of this ideal society occurs almost exclusively through monologues or dialogues between the unidentified narrator and the other three main characters (Governor, Joabin, Father). There is very little action in the story. The narrator does not tour the island or visit Salomon’s House. There is, likewise, very little description of any of the characters. Apart from the rich costumes worn by the Bensalemites, Bacon offers no physical or psychological details about them. This kind of narrative approach results in flat characters who remain undeveloped and whose only role in the story is to narrate details about Bensalem and its scientific community.

Bacon adds verisimilitude in his narration in a number of ways that are traditional in utopian or science-fiction stories. The use of known departure and arrival points on the journey lends credibility to the existence of an unknown island in the South Sea, especially for a seventeenth century audience that was still aware that the earth had many as-yet-uncharted areas. The Bensalemites have alternate, exotic names for countries: Tyrambel (Mexico) and Coya...

(The entire section is 759 words.)