Wright, Austin Tappan

Tagged: Author

(1883-1931) US corporation lawyer, academic and author; member of an intensely literary family of which figures of interest include his mother, the novelist Mary Tappan Wright (1851-1916), and his grandson, Tappan King [see also The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. His first publication of genre interest was "1915?" for The Atlantic Monthly in 1915, which depicts an unnamed (but clearly American) City under the occupation of a ruthless foreign power (see Future War, Invasion); as a Satire on business-as-usual mentality, which sees this brutal occupation as a marketing opportunity, the tale directly prefigures some of the underlying arguments of Wright's masterwork. For much of his adult life, Wright had spent most of his leisure time composing numerous manuscripts about an enormous imaginary Island, the Karain Continent, whose main centre of civilization, Islandia, is a land describable as a Utopia, though it is in fact too densely imagined and free of cognitive shaping to fit happily into that prescriptive category. Unlike J R R Tolkien, however, whose The Lord of the Rings (1954-1955 3vols) originated in similar private activities, and with whom Wright is always (correctly) likened – or his near contemporary, Wallace Stevens (1879-1955), whose inner life was similarly disjunct from his professional career in the insurance industry – Wright died (in a car crash) before putting his work into publishable form.

His widow, and subsequently his daughter Sylvia Wright with the help of Mark Saxton (whom see for continuations), eventually condensed the central 2300 page typescript into a novel-length epic: but even after much cutting Islandia (1942), accompanied on first publication by An Introduction to Islandia (1942 chap) by Basil Davenport, remains an enormous text only superficially devoted to following the travels of a visitor to the utopian culture of Islandia, a great Island conceived as being located near the Antarctic and relating complexly to the contemporary world (Islandia is in no real sense a Lost World). The heart of the book lies in its extremely elaborate picture of an invented alternative society and its inhabitants, who are drawn with haunting richness. The central pulse of Islandian culture, which is difficult to anatomize, seems to express a profound dialogic balance between family and land; Islandians tend to moderation, women are normally as self-sufficient as men (see Women in SF), with both Sexes similarly tied to the tactile meaning of things; the culture as a whole is calmly but scathingly dismissive of the distorted, business-orientated modernity of the "civilized" world. As in the case of Tolkien, the published tale is the tip of the iceberg: various texts detailing the geography, history, language, customs and myths of the imagined world await publication. [JC]

Austin Tappan Wright

born Hanover, New Hampshire: 20 August 1883

died Santa Fe, New Mexico: 18 September 1931

works

  • Islandia (New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1942) [Islandia: hb/]

links

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