This archive-page is dedicated to the author of Islandia, Austin Tappan Wright. It is not being updated.
Austin Tappan Wright was born on 20 August, 1883 in Hanover, New
Hampshire to John Henry Wright (Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and
Sciences at Harvard University) and Mary Tappan Wright (a novelist). He
was educated at Harvard College (1905), and Harvard Law School (1908),
where he edited the Harvard Law Review and graduated cum laude.
He married Margaret Garrad Stone and had four children, William Austin,
Sylvia, Phyllis, Benjamin Tappan. After serving in the Boston law firm
of Louis Brandeis, Wright took faculty positions at the University of
California law school at Berkeley (1916-1924) and the University of
Pennsylvania law school (1924-1931). He died on 18 September, 1931 in a
From his early childhood, Wright spent much of his private time
developing an imaginary realm called Islandia, a community on a small
subcontinent in the South Pacific. As he advanced in his career as a
legal philosopher and teacher, Wright amassed thousands of pages
detailing the geography, language, religion, history, and even the
peerage of his own private utopia. After his death, Wright's widow
taught herself to type and organized a two-thousand page novel from his
papers. Her daughter edited the typescript to just over a thousand
pages and persuaded Farrar & Rinehart to publish Islandia in 1942, eleven years after Wright's death. The book sold approximately 30,000 copies.
In the novel, a pre-industrial civilization confronts early
twentieth century colonialism in a struggle to reconcile their happily
unadorned culture with the excesses of modern technology. The
protagonist, John Lang, attempts to mediate this culture clash as a
United States consul - but gradually comes to appreciate Islandian
life. Eventually, he brings his New England bride to the Island and
rejects American culture altogether. Despite some elements of Islandia
which contain a distressingly racist tinge, the novel's progressive
attitude towards the state of women in Wright's time (and our own) made
this novel a classic in utopian literature.
These are selected quotations from articles that address Wright or Islandia.
In selecting alphabetical order for these excerpts, I've employed no
overarching strategy to organize these ideas. They were simply useful
in preparation for a small biographical essay I've written on the
subject, located in the American National Biography,
vol. 24, pp. 3-4: Oxford University Press. By all means, use these for
your own research. However, I strongly suggest that you track down the
original full text sources to ensure that your citations are in proper
Bacon, Leonard. (1942). Introduction. Islandia. New York: Farrar & Rinehart.
"[I]n spite of my affection for him and what I supposed
to be my knowledge of him I hadn't the faintest inkling that he had
left something behind him outside of his professional publications" (p.
Cousins, Norman. (1942, April 11). The anniversary of 'Islandia.' The Saturday Review, p. 7.
[Writing 25 years in the future] "There was no literary Shangri-la
here, no paradise of the imagination, only an entirely eredible
creation -- an Islandia which, whether as nation or as people, had its
faults and its problems, its promise and its strengths. This, of
course, is just what Austin Tappan Wright wanted to do, for he did not
create Islandia as escape, any more than an artist creates a new design
as escape. Austin Wright wanted Islandia to sound real and convincing,
and this book is a monument to the success of that ambition. Islandia,
like life, was real; Islandia was earnest" (p. 7).
Flieger, Verlyn. (1983). Wright's Islandia: Utopia and its problems. In M. Barr & N.D. Smith (Eds.).,Women and utopia: Critical Interpretations. (pp. 96-107). Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
"His vision is not an extreme one, and is predicated on his perception
of clear differences between the sexes -- differences which define, but
do not hamper roles. Still, his sympathy for women and his insight into
their problems make him unusual not just in his own time, but in any
time" (p. 97).
Jacobs, Naomi. (1995). Islandia: Plotting utopian desire. Utopian Studies, 6, 75-89.
"Far from a political radical -- his unpublished poetry
is critical of socialism as well as of American boosterism -- Wright
himself was prosperous and privileged enough to live quite comfortably
within the world whose inadequacies he lamented" (p. 86).
"What is notable, and absorbing, in Wright's handling of the
conventional associations between utopian world and utopian woman, is
his work's insistent tone of frustration, its prolonged deferral of
satisfaction -- and its ultimate, explicit rejection of the equation of
utopian longing with sexual desire" (p. 81).
Little, Robert. (1942, May 18). Daydream. Time Magazine, p. 86.
"The product of modern time, Islandia is vivid chiefly
with the desire for complete escape from the actual world. It tries to
make that escape so detailed, so palpable, that it will outrealize
reality. It also tries to anatomize (and to dream solutions for) those
pressures which have made escape so desirable" (p. 86).
Lloyd, William. H. (1931). Austin Tappan Wright. University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 80, 1-4.
"If anything he took too little interest in the prosaic
but unavoidable details of administration. For faculty and committee
meetings he had no linking and attended in a spirit of resignation,
although if a problem arose involving serious consequences, he would
give it his best thought" (p. 3)
"The home was the center of his life and his intimate friends
formed an outer circle; publicity he did not seek; indeed it may be
doubted if he possessed, or if he had possessed would have practiced,
the histrionic arts necessary to catch the public eye. But if fate had
spared him, one feels certain that the charm and force of his
personality in the maturity of middle age would have left a deep
impression in circles where intelligence is valued" (p. 4).
McMurray, Orrin K. (1931). Austin Tappan Wright (1883-1931). California Law Review, 20, 60-61.
[Of his years at Cambridge] "young Austin knew many of the great
scholars of those days. Ames, Wambaugh and others of the law faculty
were not only his teachers but his friends. Indeed, Ames appeared in a
police court in Boston for Wright and a fellow student who had been
arrested for trespass on the railroad tracks of the New Haven &
Hartford or Boston & Maine Railroad, and not only secured their
discharge, but if memory serves me correctly, got compensation for
wrongful arrest" (p. 60).
Oliver, Kenneth. (1955). The spectator's appraisal: Islandia revisited. The Pacific Spectator, 9, 178-182.
I think we can say that no other author of a utopian
novel has known the land of his creation as intimately as Austin Wright
knew Islandia. Plato descended from the stratosphere of abstract
philosophy to his Republic. He did not intimately associate with its
inhabitants under the conditions of life which he had created. Other
utopian authors conceived fantasy-worlds where one or another great
principle -- economic, political, scientific, etc. -- arose to
dominance out of nothing, as it were, and waved a magic wand that
suddenly gave perfection to eagerly awaiting man. Lewis Carroll, who did
achieve intimacy with his dream world, did not give it the full depths
of import which derive from the perfect interweaving of the real and
the imaginary in a total panorama of life" (p. 179).
Powell, Lawrence C. (1957). 'All that is poetic in life': Austin Wright's Islandia. Wilson Library Quarterly, 31, 701-705.
"[T]he result [of Islandia] is a critique of our industrial
civilization, Puritan morality, and business ethics, from all of which
the author was a refugee, creating in Islandia a way of life dearer to
his heart than that to which he was born" (p. 701).
"He was a kind of Renaissance man, akin to Leonardo in the
diversity of his interests. He even learned enough engineering to lay
out a railroad curve. His dearest pastimes were sailing and mountain
climbing -- two important things to note when we come to read the
novel, for his Islandians are both saline and alpine" (p. 702).
"Although utopian -- that is, about a way of life more ideally
perfect than the one into which the author was born -- Wright's
Islandia was not a wholly imaginary world. In fact, its landscape is
pure New England, of the White Mountains, and the Main and Cape Cod
marshes. Its architecture is Oxonian. Its women are physically the
women Wright knew or dreamed of knowing" (p. 702).
"Islandia is a document of the artist's victory over himself and life.
Writing it was Austin Wright's way of keeping his sanity in an
obviously mad world of cutthroat competition, cancerous
industrialization, sexual frustration, and worse" (p. 704).
Searles, Baird. (1991). Wright, Austin Tappan. In N. Watson & P.E. Schllinger (Eds.).,Twentieth Century Science-Fiction Writers, 3rd ed. (pp. 888-889). Chicago: St. James Press.
"There are [in Islandia] discernible elements of Japan,
Madagascar, Indonesia, and India, but the sum total is curiously more
Western than Eastern, more homely than exotic" (p. 888).
Staff. (1958, August 23). Vanished. The New Yorker, pp. 18-19.
"[A]s he moved ever higher in a legal and professional
career [Wright] delved ever deeper into his make-believe land"
beginning his "methodical" development of Islandia at Harvard
University and completing the manuscript around 1930.
"The Wrights' sailboat was called Aspara -- the Islandian word for
'seagull.' Wright did not talk much about Islandia outside the family"
Strauss, Harold. (1942, April 12). A novel that casts a spell. The New York Times Book Review, pp. 1, 22.
"We have already banished a good many of the horrors of
which he complains and on the other side of the ledger Wright falls
into the city dweller's miscalculation of the amount of leisure that an
agricultural people may have. The cards are stacked against the
American way of life by the very origin of the book as a
dream-compensation for personal lacks" (p. 22).
Wright, Austin T. (1915). 1915?. Atlantic Monthly, 115, 453-463.
1915 is a short story that traces the conversion of a
small town businessman from passive bystander to imminent patriot in
the face of foreign invasion.
"Once more in the street, he looked up at the sky. Overhead was the
familiar, smoke-tinged blue, but in the motionless facades of the
buildings, in the many curtained shops, in the emptiness of the
streets, and in the furtive silence of the few passers was something
chilling and sinister. Before the big guns of the invaders' battleships
in the harbor below, what houses of cards all these apparently
substantial structures! He knew that, in many of the trades which they
housed, the margin of profit -- gained with infinite care and worry --
was figured so closely that without the usual pressure of daily
business one would follow another in a widening circle of disaster, no
less ruinous than destruction from bombardment. Against this moral ruin
he must fight with other sane-minded men, and he, an intermediary
between business and the public in his occupation, was above all able
to act effectively. He must not let languor overcome him" (p. 460).