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December 2008
 
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Anno Domini 2000; or, Woman's Destiny by Julius Vogel (1889)

NOW THAT the prospect of an American woman President in 2009 is impossible, it is worth considering that 120 years ago a utopian novel has that feat occur in 2000. Instead of Bush vs. Gore, a woman of thirty-five, Mrs. Washington-Lawrence, with a teenage daughter but no spouse, occupies the White House.

This interesting scenario appears in a novel by Sir Julius Vogel (1835-99). He was born in London, of Dutch Jewish origins, and emigrated to the Australian goldfields in 1852. There he became a lively journalist, then newspaper editor. When the gold and opportunity waned, he emigrated to New Zealand and entered politics. His highest office was Premier of the then British colony. In retirement in London, he wrote Anno Domini, and thus the sf awards in NZ are the Vogels.

In these days of simplistic, left vs. right politics, it is worth noting that Vogel supported both feminism and Imperialism, opposing Communism while advocating social welfare: "Aspiration is most numbed in those whose existence is walled round with constant privation." His utopian 2000 is a British empire run from Australia, with the heroine Hilda Fitzherbert, a female parliamentarian (NZ women achieved the vote in 1893). She marries the Emperor and women achieve full rights. And America willingly rejoins the Empire.

The novel ultimately reads as a didactic romance, and as if Anthony Trollope's political Palliser novels had been dropped into a paintpot of utopias, and came out impossibly rosy. Yet its predictions, of wind and wave power, social justice and women's rights, still shine a beacon of hope.

—Lucy Sussex

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