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Edward Bellamy: Biography & Quotes

Instructor: Ivy Roberts

Ivy Roberts is an adjunct instructor in English, film/media studies and interdisciplinary studies.

Learn about the life and works of American author and political theorist Edward Bellamy. Explore some of his thoughts about political reform and explore his contribution to political allegory and early science fiction.

An American Idealist

If you are a fan of science fiction novels like Nineteen Eighty-Four, Brave New World, or Fahrenheit 451, you might be interested to know that these authors probably found inspiration in their nineteenth-century precursors. Among the many nineteenth-century science fiction authors, Edward Bellamy stands out in particular for his politically and socially informed narratives. Albert Robida, Samuel Butler, William Morris and others formed the science fiction genre around a tradition of Utopian speculative fiction, a kind of storytelling that projects an ideal vision of society into the future or other fantastic place to convey to readers how the real world might be changed for the better.

Bellamy was born and raised in western Massachusetts in a devoutly Baptist family. He studied law and was admitted to the bar association before turning to journalism and eventually becoming a novelist. He is best remembered as the author of several novels: Looking Backward: 2000-1887 (1887) and its sequel, Equality (1897). An idealistic dreamer, he believed that the world could be a better place if people worked together toward a common goal.

The Magnificent Moustache of Edward Bellamy, Photograph taken in 1889
Bellamy

The legacy of Edward Bellamy (1850-1898), nineteenth-century american author and political thinker, lives on today in the inspiration his work provides for socially-conscious science fiction and speculative storytelling.

Looking Backward

Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward follows protagonist Julian West, who falls asleep in 1887 and wakes up in a future Boston in the year 2000. Bellamy wrote, ''with a tear for the dark past, turn we then to the dazzling future, and, veiling our eyes, press forward. The long and weary winter of the race is ended. Its summer has begun. Humanity has burst the chrysalis. The heavens are before it.'' The Rip Van Winkle tale, a story in which the main character wakes from a long slumber to visit the future, was a popular storytelling device in nineteenth-century speculative science fiction. It allowed the writer to establish a sense of distance between what the reader might expect, and what the author wanted to convey, especially as it concerned a Utopian or idealistic moral of social reform.

In the classic tale by Washington Irving, Rip van Winkle falls asleep under a tree
rip van winkle

Bellamy admitted that he had not sought to convey an explicit morality tale of social reform. He wanted to offer an impression of how some of the issues facing American society might be fixed in the future. In the first issue of the magazine The Nationalist, Bellamy wrote, ''the story is a romance of the ideal nation... it was a romance of an ideal world.'' Exploring the world of the future, he discovers how society has reorganized around a progressive Socialist policy. In contrast to a proposal such as one might read in a political treatise, Looking Backward presents the world of the future which embraced socialism.

The breakout sensation he found with Looking Backward, his first novel, made him an instant star and launched both his literary and his political career. He would have been a one-hit wonder had he not published Equality, a sequel, just a year before he succumbed to tuberculosis.

Nationalism

Bellamy advocated a political philosophy he called Nationalism, a short-lived American social reform movement that sought to reorganize labor, wealth and education. Not to be confused with National Socialism (aka Nazism), Bellamy's Nationalism was a kind of Socialism, '''a political and economic philosophy in which government and industry are mutually owned and operated by the people'''. Socialism takes many different forms, such as universal healthcare, socialized welfare services like food stamps and worker-owned businesses. Ultimately, the goal of socialism is to provide the structure to support a productive and healthy society.

During the Gilded Age in America, a period characterized by wealth and excess alongside political and economic corruption, Bellamy's Nationalism attracted people who were hungry for justice. Bellamite Nationalist clubs, groups of readers, fans and progressive activists who were inspired by Looking Backward, popped up in cities across the country. Members believed American society would benefit from the diversification of wealth and the democratization of industry.

Bellamy wrote, ''As men grow more civilized, and the subdivision of occupations and services is carried out, a complex mutual dependence becomes the universal rule. Every man, however solitary may seem his occupation, is a member of a vast industrial partnership, as large as the nation, as large as humanity. The necessity of mutual dependence should imply the duty and guarantee of mutual support...''

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