Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Mizora: A Prophecy by Mary E. Bradley Lane

She blinded me with science
Mizora: A Prophecy is a feminist utopian novel by Mary E. Bradley Lane. Little is known about the author, though a brief preface states that Lane kept the writing of the novel a secret from her husband. Somehow it made it into the pages of the Cincinnati Commercial, where it received its first publication in serial form, under a pseudonym, from 1880 to 1881. Mizora was first published as a book in 1890.

The narrator, Vera Zarovitch, is a Russian aristocrat who, for speaking out against her own nation’s oppressive regime, is sentenced to Siberia. She escapes from this fate, only to be separated from her husband and daughter and lost in the Arctic. Her boat descends into a whirlpool, and she ends up in the mysterious land of Mizora, which is populated only by members of the female sex. The Mizorans are all beautiful blonde specimens of physical and mental perfection. Their civilization is much more scientifically advanced than our own, and through science they have achieved a society free of crime, poverty, and disease.

In addition to being a utopia, Mizora also falls into the category of Hollow Earth literature, along with science fiction works by Edgar Allen Poe, Jules Verne, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Little attention is given to the fact that Mizora is underground, however. The Mizorans cannot see the sun, moon, or stars, but they do have clouds and rain. Light is provided by some sort of electrical phenomenon generated from an inconspicuous source. Another example of the Mizorans’ technological mastery is a “reflecting apparatus” that works like a videophone and can be used to simulcast events and presentations to a wider audience. The Mizorans are very advanced in chemistry, and are able to create food, including meat, from its molecular components, kind of like the food replicator from Star Trek: The Next Generation. By creating perfectly healthy food and environmental conditions, the Mizorans are able to ensure themselves perfect health and an extended life span, which in turn yields superb intellectual development. And, of course, they’ve found a way to reproduce without men.

For much of its length, Mizora feels like more of a fantasy wish list than a utopia. The land is full of good things, but there’s little logical explanation of how they came about. In that sense, as well as in literary quality, it is inferior to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1915 feminist utopian novel Herland. Sure, all things being possible, who wouldn’t opt for free education and financial security for all, but how? Perhaps the lack of defense spending might account for that, since Mizora apparently has no military. Lane too often uses vague references to science as a panacea for all ills and thus is less clear than Gilman in how the development of her utopian society was actually shaped by femininity. To its credit, Mizora doesn’t sound quite as fascistic as Herland, but both utopias rely on eugenics and the forced sterilization of criminals. At one point in Mizora, the Preceptress of the National College, “the leading scientist in the country,” drops one big racist bombshell. The fact that the Mizorans are all blonde and fair-skinned is no mere coincidence.

Mizora is quite critical of religion and perhaps succeeds more as a freethought utopia than a feminist utopia. Unlike many utopias, the book is not much of a political treatise. The Mizoran government is barely mentioned, but it comes across as vaguely libertarian. Lane gets points for originality, feminism, pacifism, and religious skepticism, but the racism and eugenics really taint the reading experience.
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