Interrogating Utopia: On Colin MacInnes's Absolute Beginners

Andrew Hammond

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapterpeer-review


During the twentieth century, the dominant mode of British speculative writing passed from utopianism to dystopianism, as writers became increasingly pessimistic about the course of domestic and international history. An example is Colin MacInnes’s Absolute Beginners (1959). Set during the economic boom of the late 1950s, MacInnes charts the attempts by a young working-class narrator to construct London's thriving youth scene as a utopian idyll, severed from the shortcomings of mainstream culture. The novel's critique of the apoliticism and self-absorption of the youth, particularly their refusal to challenge the nationalist and racist discourses of the period, presents a scathing critique of utopian thought, aligning MacInnes to the New Left commentators of the decade (Richard Hoggart, Raymond Williams, Stuart Hall) who were equally sceptical of the ‘one-nation Toryism’ and American-style consumerism infecting 1950s British society.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWorlds Gone Wrong: Essays on Dystopian Fiction
EditorsJohn J. Han, C. Clark Triplett, Ashley G. Anthony
Place of PublicationJefferson
ISBN (Print)9781476671802
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jul 2018


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