A Modern Utopia

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3.

I should find myself contrasting my position with my preconceptions about a Utopian visit. I had always imagined myself as standing outside the general machinery of the State—in the distinguished visitors' gallery, as it were—and getting the new world in a series of comprehensive perspective views. But this Utopia, for all the sweeping floats of generalisation I do my best to maintain, is swallowing me up. I find myself going between my work and the room in which I sleep and the place in which I dine, very much as I went to and fro in that real world into which I fell five-and-forty years ago. I find about me mountains and horizons that limit my view, institutions that vanish also without an explanation, beyond the limit of sight, and a great complexity of things I do not understand and about which, to tell the truth, I do not formulate acute curiosities. People, very unrepresentative people, people just as casual as people in the real world, come into personal relations with us, and little threads of private and immediate interest spin themselves rapidly into a thickening grey veil across the general view. I lose the comprehensive interrogation of my first arrival; I find myself interested in the grain of the wood I work, in birds among the tree branches, in little irrelevant things, and it is only now and then that I get fairly back to the mood that takes all Utopia for its picture.

We spend our first surplus of Utopian money in the reorganisation of our wardrobes upon more Utopian lines; we develop acquaintance with several of our fellow workers, and of those who share our table at the inn. We pass insensibly into acquaintanceships and the beginnings of friendships. The World Utopia, I say, seems for a time to be swallowing me up. At the thought of detail it looms too big for me. The question of government, of its sustaining ideas, of race, and the wider future, hang like the arch of the sky over these daily incidents, very great indeed, but very remote. These people about me are everyday people, people not so very far from the minimum wage, accustomed much as the everyday people of earth are accustomed to take their world as they find it. Such enquiries as I attempt are pretty obviously a bore to them, pass outside their range as completely as Utopian speculation on earth outranges a stevedore or a member of Parliament or a working plumber. Even the little things of daily life interest them in a different way. So I get on with my facts and reasoning rather slowly. I find myself looking among the pleasant multitudes of the streets for types that promise congenial conversation.

My sense of loneliness is increased during this interlude by the better social success of the botanist. I find him presently falling into conversation with two women who are accustomed to sit at a table near our own. They wear the loose, coloured robes of soft material that are the usual wear of common adult Utopian women; they are both dark and sallow, and they affect amber and crimson in their garments. Their faces strike me as a little unintelligent, and there is a faint touch of middle-aged coquetry in their bearing that I do not like. Yet on earth we should consider them women of exceptional refinement. But the botanist evidently sees in this direction scope for the feelings that have wilted a little under my inattention, and he begins that petty intercourse of a word, of a slight civility, of vague enquiries and comparisons that leads at last to associations and confidences. Such superficial confidences, that is to say, as he finds satisfactory.

This throws me back upon my private observations.

The general effect of a Utopian population is vigour. Everyone one meets seems to be not only in good health but in training; one rarely meets fat people, bald people, or bent or grey. People who would be obese or bent and obviously aged on earth are here in good repair, and as a consequence the whole effect of a crowd is livelier and more invigorating than on earth. The dress is varied and graceful; that of the women reminds one most of the Italian fifteenth century; they have an abundance of soft and beautifully-coloured stuffs, and the clothes, even of the poorest, fit admirably. Their hair is very simply but very carefully and beautifully dressed, and except in very sunny weather they do not wear hats or bonnets. There is little difference in deportment between one class and another; they all are graceful and bear themselves with quiet dignity, and among a group of them a European woman of fashion in her lace and feathers, her hat and metal ornaments, her mixed accumulations of “trimmings,” would look like a barbarian tricked out with the miscellaneous plunder of a museum. Boys and girls wear much the same sort of costume—brown leather shoes, then a sort of combination of hose and close-fitting trousers that reaches from toe to waist, and over this a beltless jacket fitting very well, or a belted tunic. Many slender women wear the same sort of costume. We should see them in it very often in such a place as Lucerne, as they returned from expeditions in the mountains. The older men would wear long robes very frequently, but the greater proportion of the men would go in variations of much the same costume as the children. There would certainly be hooded cloaks and umbrellas for rainy weather, high boots for mud and snow, and cloaks and coats and furry robes for the winter. There would be no doubt a freer use of colour than terrestrial Europe sees in these days, but the costume of the women at least would be soberer and more practical, and (in harmony with our discussion in the previous chapter) less differentiated from the men's.

But these, of course, are generalisations. These are the mere translation of the social facts we have hypotheticated into the language of costume. There will be a great variety of costume and no compulsions. The doubles of people who are naturally foppish on earth will be foppish in Utopia, and people who have no natural taste on earth will have inartistic equivalents. Everyone will not be quiet in tone, or harmonious, or beautiful. Occasionally, as I go through the streets to my work, I shall turn round to glance again at some robe shot with gold embroidery, some slashing of the sleeves, some eccentricity of cut, or some discord or untidiness. But these will be but transient flashes in a general flow of harmonious graciousness; dress will have scarcely any of that effect of disorderly conflict, of self-assertion qualified by the fear of ridicule, that it has in the crudely competitive civilisations of earth.

I shall have the seeker's attitude of mind during those few days at Lucerne. I shall become a student of faces. I shall be, as it were, looking for someone. I shall see heavy faces, dull faces, faces with an uncongenial animation, alien faces, and among these some with an immediate quality of appeal. I should see desirable men approaching me, and I should think; “Now, if I were to speak to you?” Many of these latter I should note wore the same clothing as the man who spoke to us at Wassen; I should begin to think of it as a sort of uniform… .

Then I should see grave-faced girls, girls of that budding age when their bearing becomes delusively wise, and the old deception of my youth will recur to me; “Could you and I but talk together?” I should think. Women will pass me lightly, women with open and inviting faces, but they will not attract me, and there will come beautiful women, women with that touch of claustral preoccupation which forbids the thought of any near approach. They are private and secret, and I may not enter, I know, into their thoughts… .

I go as often as I can to the seat by the end of old Kapelbrucke, and watch the people passing over.

I shall find a quality of dissatisfaction throughout all these days. I shall come to see this period more and more distinctly as a pause, as a waiting interlude, and the idea of an encounter with my double, which came at first as if it were a witticism, as something verbal and surprising, begins to take substance. The idea grows in my mind that after all this is the “someone” I am seeking, this Utopian self of mine. I had at first an idea of a grotesque encounter, as of something happening in a looking glass, but presently it dawns on me that my Utopian self must be a very different person from me. His training will be different, his mental content different. But between us there will be a strange link of essential identity, a sympathy, an understanding. I find the thing rising suddenly to a preponderance in my mind. I find the interest of details dwindling to the vanishing point. That I have come to Utopia is the lesser thing now; the greater is that I have come to meet myself.

I spend hours trying to imagine the encounter, inventing little dialogues. I go alone to the Bureau to find if any news has come to hand from the Great Index in Paris, but I am told to wait another twenty-four hours. I cease absolutely to be interested in anything else, except so far as it leads towards intercourse with this being who is to be at once so strangely alien and so totally mine.

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