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Mizora: A World of Women
Mary E. Bradley Lane
Bison Books/University of Nebraska Press, 147 pages

Mizora: A World of Women
Mary E. Bradley Lane
Very little is known at all about the author. Mizora, the first novel depicting an all-female utopia appeared anonymously in the Cincinnati Commercial in the winter of 1880-1881. However, when Murat Halstead, the newspaper's editor and publicist, encouraged the author to immediately publish her novel in book form she declined. The novel was eventually published in book form by G.W. Dillingham in 1890, with copyright registered to Mary E. Bradley. A 1975 Gregg Press reprint lists the author as Mary E. Bradley Lane, but without any source for the presumed married name.

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A review by Georges T. Dodds

Mizora: A World of Women is, by most accounts, the first feminist utopia to propose an exclusively female society. Though it reads easily, as with most utopias it is long on the exposition of the apparent superiorities of the utopian society and short on any sort of plot.

Vera Zarovitch, an outspoken Russian noblewoman, is exiled to Siberia, from whence she escapes north by ship. She reaches the inner world of Mizora through an opening in the pole, where an enlightened female society exists in perfect harmony. They are blessed with advanced technologies which permit leisure for continuous education, genetic manipulation of crops and the chemical manufacture of "pure" foodstuffs. But eventually, Vera becomes homesick and returns to the outer world.

In 1880, the idea of a hollow earth accessible from a hole at the north pole was not so crazy sounding as it might seem. Even today a number of proponents of Hollow Earth theories exist as some of the links demonstrate (see sidebar on the left). Inspired by a 1692 essay by Edmund Halley (of comet fame) Captain John Cleves Symmes, an American hero of the War of 1812, first proposed in 1818 his theory of an inner world. Faced with the ridicule of his peers he became obsessed with proving his theory and petitioned Congress in 1822 and 1823 to finance an expedition. His theories were encapsulated in two books: Symmes' Theory of Concentric Spheres (1826) by James McBride, Symmes' number one follower, and The Symmes' Theory of Concentric Spheres (1878), by his son Americus Symmes. In 1869, Cyrus Reed Teed, based upon a midnight revelation in Utica, NY, published a small pamphlet: The Illumination of Koresh: Marvelous Experience of the Great Alchemist at Utica, NY, and in 1870, under the pseudonym of "Koresh" published his The Cellular Cosmogony. According to Teed's view, we were already living inside a hollow sphere. Both A. Symmes' and Teed's books were published in the decade preceding Mizora's publication and were likely of some influence on the novel's setting.

I had a great deal of difficulty buying the universal education tied into perfect societal harmony (i.e., complete lack of jealousy, violence, ambition, controversy, or dissension) that existed in Mizora. In some ways it resembles very much the Confucian attitude that if all are well educated, and leaders set a good example, the society will run itself. However, Lane's portrayal of the Mizoran society's development as largely a result of advancements in science is fairly remarkable. While it ignores any possible detrimental consequences of scientific discoveries, and the issue of unisexual mammalian reproduction is basically ignored, the existence of video-phones, carbon dioxide enrichment of greenhouse crops, and the understanding of food preparation as a form of experimental chemistry are remarkable.

In its focus on science, Mizora has some interesting similarities with Margaret Newcastle's The Description of a New World, called The Blazing World (1666, reprinted 1668, see links above). Both novels are set in an alternate world reached over an open Polar sea: Mizora, inside the Earth, the Blazing World on another planet sitting atop ours, like an adjacent bead on a necklace. Lane presents the results of scientific discovery in the context of their power to improve society, whereas Newcastle uses the many animal-resembling inhabitants of her world to discuss and compare all sorts of scientific theories from molecular structure to the nature of light and other physical phenomenon.

Both books can certainly be termed as feminist. Lane's Mizora shows women to be intelligent, cooperative and capable of peaceful productive higher civilization. However, its feminism is in no way strident; men are more ignored and forgotten than hated, and its surface-world female heroine appears largely taken aback by her civilization's barbarity. Margaret Newcastle's heroine, an extremely thinly veiled self-portrait, is a strident feminist (and an even more strident egotist). The people of The Blazing World must recognize her vast superiority over them, appointing her Empress, showering her in precious jewels and fawning adulation. Her science is always right; theirs discussed merely as a counter-point to her own brilliant theories.

While nothing is apparently known of Mrs. Lane's life or background, Margaret Newcastle was certainly a very competent Natural Philosopher in her time, earning entry into the British Royal Philosophical Society (though as a woman she could not attend their meetings). This "soft" vs. strident approach in feminist lost race novels is also found when one compares Inez Haynes Gillmore's Angel Island (1914) to Charlotte Perkins Gilman's well-known Herland (1915). In Gillmore's work winged women literally have their wings clipped by men shipwrecked on their island, but adapt; in Gilman's work the male explorers who discover Herland are presented as a mentally inferior form of humanity, and the women are fiercely independent.

For you real he-men out there, if you really want to see how, in literature contemporary to Lane's Mizora, a man can make the birthrate of a lost race of Amazons skyrocket, read Frank Cowan's Revi-Lona: A Romance of Love in a Marvelous Land (c. 1885). The Antarctic female society of Revi-Lona, portrayed by Cowan in a hideously melodramatic and tortured English, is in many ways remarkably similar to Lane's society, particularly in that while peaceful and communistic, one gets a sense that without dissent or strife, it is somewhat soulless. While the shipwrecked sailor brings disease, alcohol and ecological disaster to Revi-Lona, he also makes the society more vibrant and expands their horizons.

However, for women, Mizora will certainly be an interesting look into the mind of an obviously intelligent Victorian woman, and for those other men an interesting cultural and literary landmark of women's literature that at least isn't stridently anti-male.

Copyright © 2000 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association.

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