The religious history of the period is a dramatic one. Christianity, which for more than a thousand years had been represented throughout all of Western Europe by one church, the Roman Catholic Church, experienced a tremendous upheaval during the 16th century. The first overt action of revolt came in 1517 when Luther defied the authority of Rome. That marked the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, the consequences of which were that Europe was divided into numerous divergent sects and into warring camps. Actually, all of that turmoil occurred after More wrote his Utopia, but the causes of the Reformation were of long standing and had been a source of concern to conscientious Christians for at least two centuries. Among the principal evils alleged in the attacks against the church were arbitrary exercise of papal authority, greed of the clergy as revealed in the selling of pardons and of church offices, and the traffic in holy relics. Intelligent people were indignant over the propagation of superstitions to anesthetize the common people, and social critics were bitter over the enormous opulence of the church amid the poverty and squalor of the majority of Christians.
The work begins with written correspondence between Thomas More and several people he had met on the continent: Peter Gilles, town clerk of Antwerp, and Hieronymus van Busleyden, counselor to Charles V. More chose these letters, which are communications between actual people, to further the plausibility of his fictional land. In the same spirit, these letters also include a specimen of the Utopian alphabet and its poetry. The letters also explain the lack of widespread travel to Utopia; during the first mention of the land, someone had coughed during announcement of the exact longitude and latitude. The first book tells of the traveller Raphael Hythlodaeus, to whom More is introduced in Antwerp, and it also explores the subject of how best to counsel a prince, a popular topic at the time.
Francis Bacon's New Atlantis was probably written in 1624, but was not published until 1627, a year after the author's death. Like the work of his contemporaries, Campanella and Andreae, Bacon's book shows the influence of More in certain broad aspects. It purports to relate the discovery by an exploring expedition in the Pacific Ocean of an island where the natives have developed a society offering much to admire. The goal of the common good is sought through learning and justice. The principal attention of the account is focused on an elaborate academy of science. Bacon has incorporated in this society the basic ideas that he developed more elaborately in his longer philosophical and scholarly treatises; namely, that the advancement of human welfare can best be achieved through the systematic exploration of nature. His famous "scientific method" is founded on painstaking observation of natural phenomena and constructing, through inductive reasoning, a body of knowledge based on those observations. He urges experimentation to improve general knowledge and to develop inventions for human comfort and pleasure. The central institute in the capital of New Atlantis, called Solomon's House, is a huge academy which foreshadows the later creation of scientific laboratories and academies, such as the English Royal Society.
Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels. In this work of 1726, which was an immediate bestseller, Lemuel Gulliver actually visits four different fantasy worlds, but the one that’s especially interesting here is the world of the Houyhnhnms, horses endowed with reason and speech, and a world in which humans are yobbish Yahoos flinging their muck around. Gulliver interprets the Houyhnhnms’ society as a utopian world, though whether Swift is inviting us to agree, or to distance ourselves from Gulliver, remains a contentious point.
Denis Diderot's Supplement to Bougainville's "Voyage" (1772) is a prime example of the eighteenth-century vogue of primitivism which was spurred by Rousseau's thesis of the "noble savage" and which generated such novels as St. Pierre's Paul and Virginia and Chateaubriand's Atala. Diderot's book makes a case for the simple, natural ways of a South Sea Island culture as reported by Bougainville, a French explorer. The central portion of the story presents an imaginary dialogue between a French chaplain and a native of Tahiti (Orou) in which a comparison is made between the customs and institutions of Europe and those of Tahiti. The way of life of the islanders is eloquently defended, and that of the Europeans discredited. According to the Tahitian, man's natural instincts, which are equated with the laws of nature, are interpreted as justifying complete freedom in sexual relations. Their observance of community property is defended as minimizing personal conflicts and legal entanglements and promoting a general concern for the welfare of the community as a whole.
Peter Ackroyd is the author of this 400 pages book making it much shorter than the definite biography of Sir Thomas by Richard Marius. Ackroyd portrays More warts and all giving a balanced view of the controversial man's life and times. More and his contemporaries are often quoted using the English of the period. This may prove annoying to many readers who prefer to read about him in a standard English format. This is a fine biography by one of England's best biographers.
Education is regarded as important and is continued to age 21 for all citizens. During their years of schooling, the pupils are introduced to many trades, professions, and arts in order to discover where their talents and interests lie, to enable them to choose the vocation that will bring them the greatest satisfaction in their adult years. At age 21, everyone enters the work force, "the industrial army," where he or she will serve up to the age of 45. Women and men are treated equally with respect to education, career in the work force, compensation. There is some distinction made regarding the occupations of men and women, and there are provisions for pregnancy. 

The name Raphael, though, may have been chosen by More to remind his readers of the archangel Raphael who is mentioned in the Book of Tobit (3:17; 5:4, 16; 6:11, 14, 16, 18; also in chs. 7, 8, 9, 11, 12). In that book the angel guides Tobias and later cures his father of his blindness. While Hythlodaeus may suggest his words are not to be trusted, Raphael meaning (in Hebrew) "God has healed" suggests that Raphael may be opening the eyes of the reader to what is true. The suggestion that More may have agreed with the views of Raphael is given weight by the way he dressed; with "his cloak... hanging carelessly about him"; a style which Roger Ascham reports that More himself was wont to adopt. Furthermore, more recent criticism has questioned the reliability of both Gile's annotations and the character of "More" in the text itself. Claims that the book only subverts Utopia and Hythlodaeus are possibly oversimplistic.
×