Ceylon, The Likely Blueprint of Thomas More’s Utopia

Professor Laksiri Fernando


Thomas More’s Utopia published in 1516 was the first discourse on socialism in the modern era, based on a critique of emerging capitalism in England and the description of a well ordered and an egalitarian alternative society in an imaginary Island of Utopia. Utopia is an enigmatic treatise because of its futuristic vision, extremely witty literary style, combining fact and fiction, and numerous unanswered questions. Although written as a semi-fiction, mainly to avoid censorship, like in many other works of this genre, the connection between the description of the island and a travel narrative cannot be denied, and in fact admitted, although the island is not clearly identified, only leaving some clues.
This article argues, after examining the clues given and the circumstances under which it was conceived and written, that the likely ‘blueprint’ of Thomas More’s Utopia was Ceylon, either the information directly obtained from a Portuguese traveller, or more likely from a traveller’s monograph. This argument is substantiated based on, not only the carefully analysed similarities of the size, the capital city, the rivers, the most natural harbour (i.e. Trincomalee) and historical legend, but also the family institution, social customs, way of life and religious practices. The article also extrapolates, although not investigated in full for lack of space, that More’s imagination must have been triggered by the fact that Ceylon at that time was pre-capitalist or ‘Asiatic’ in a Marxian sense of the word and not commercialized. Perhaps this was one reason for the imbalance of More’s discourse, on the one hand socialist and on the other, totalitarian or Asiatic.