Reconceptualizing Feminist Utopias: Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time and Margaret Drabble’s The Millstone
Theories of feminist utopia tend to focus on its presence within science/speculative fiction, upholding works like Marge Piercy’s 1976 novel Woman on the Edge of Time as exemplars of the genre. Literary critics typically designate this novel’s vision of the future, the community of Mattapoisett, as a source of radical, mobilizing inspiration for feminists. I will argue against this reading by attesting that Mattapoisett presents a regressive model of feminism in its failure to permit women the choice of (traditional) maternity and, moreover, does not sufficiently distance itself from that which is condemned in the novel’s dystopian present – the stripping of women’s reproductive agency. Mattapoisett thus fails to fulfill half of Sally Miller Gearhart’s essential criteria for the identification of feminist utopia. By contrast, I argue that Margaret Drabble’s 1965 novel, The Millstone, presents a radical vision of maternity, as divorced from patriarchy, that aligns with threads of the feminist movement yet to come at the time of its publication, and that this, under Gearhart’s framework, strongly suggests the presence of a feminist utopia. This is striking in that the novel is categorized as a work of realism, rather than science fiction. By revealing the vision of feminism within a speculative fiction novel to be retrograde in comparison with that of a realistic novel, I argue that feminism unyokes realism from the present, thus collapsing boundaries between genres, and making a case for the study of the feminist utopia in realms beyond science fiction.