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March/April 2013
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Afternoons In Utopia, by Stephen Leacock (1932)

STEPHEN Leacock (1869-1944) was a living paradox. A humorist and satirist with a jolly style and a stinging wit, he took delight in skewering targets ranging from contemporary college life to the works of Jane Austen. But these entertainments, most of which are still relevant and funny, were only half his output. The other half was serious political polemics. A Briton by birth, he was raised and spent most of his life in Canada. He was both a small-c and capital-C Conservative, a full-out flag-waving British imperialist who advocated immigration to his adopted country provided only that the immigrants be of pure British stock.

One of his most notable books was titled Afternoons in Utopia (1932). The lead entry, "Utopias Old and New," includes an hilarious send-up of every imagined paradisiacal society from Plato's Republic to last month's issue of Flabbergasting Fables. Probably the most influential of all utopias was Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward: 2000-1887. It spawned endless sequels and rebuttals, of which I particularly recommend Mack Reynolds's Looking Backward from the Year 2000 (1974).

I wish I had room for some hilarious excerpts from Leacock's collection, but the bottom of the page is looming. You'll have to snag a copy of the Leacock book for yourself. Just keep an eye out for Dr. Oom, the sandal-wearing and berobed, bearded future sage speaking oddly pseudo-Biblical English—and his lissome, doe-eyed daughter. Leacock's humor is wonderful. In his own time he was hugely admired by Groucho Marx, Jack Benny, and Robert Benchley. Add to that list the undersigned!

—Richard A. Lupoff

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