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The hygienic utopia in Jules Verne, Camille Flammarion, and William Morris

Manon Mathias analyses new attitudes towards disease and hygiene in the nineteenth century in the context of the unprecedented growth of cities in this period, which provoked a parallel rise in diseases from human excrement (such as typhus, typhoid fever, and cholera). This analysis is placed in the context of new scientific understandings of bacteria that began to develop in the late nineteenth century, as the realisation that germs spread through human contact led to an acute fear of dirt and an increased obsession with cleanliness. As human excrement came to dominate discussions of public health and disease, fictions of the period provoked and explored imaginative extensions of these concerns. Jules Verne’s Cinq cents millions de la Bégum (1880), Camille Flammarion’s Uranie (1889), and William Morris’s News from Nowhere (1890) each created compelling fantasies of alternative, faeces-free societies in which bodily waste and dirt have been eradicated. These somewhat anodyne and sterile hygienic utopias, however, also reveal the potential unintended consequences of extreme cleanliness. Implicated in the rational rejection of disease and infection, Mathias argues, is a rejection of human physicality, intimacy, and passion.

in Progress and pathology