Ivy Roberts has taught undergraduate-level film studies for over 9 years. She has a PhD in Media, Art and Text from Virginia Commonwealth University and a BA in film production from Marlboro College. She also has a certificate in teaching online from UMGC and non-profit marketing and fundraising from UC Davis.
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 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.
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.
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.
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...''
Nonetheless, some of the views conveyed in his novels were deeply rooted in an antiquated nineteenth-century America. For example, Bellamy dramatized the relationship between West and Sawyer, his African American house servant. ''One servant, a faithful colored man by the name of Sawyer, lived with me and attended to my few wants.'' A general tone of repressed racism persists throughout the novels, which contrasts with the overwhelmingly progressive tone of social reform. Bellamy's agenda of social reform only seemed to apply to white classes. His neglect of issues concerning race represents a backward-looking view that today creates dissonance with his otherwise progressive views.
Additionally, Bellamy advocated for women's rights in the novel at the same time as he promoted a conservative view of the woman's role in society. For example, in Equality, Julian's female companion explains to him that she still wears the traditional nineteenth-century full-length skirts, rather than the more modern pant, so as not to alarm him or make him feel uncomfortable. Her attitude suggests an inability on Bellamy's part to imagine the role of women outside the functions of domestic life and aesthetic beauty.
Bellamy's Nationalism resembled Populism, a late nineteenth-century political movement that focused on the virtues and interests of the common man rather than the interests of the upper class that thrived in a capitalist society. Interestingly, while Bellamy's Looking Backward promoted his Nationalist agenda, L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz presented Americans with the Populist worldview. Unlike Bellamy's practical utilitarian tale, Baum colored his fantastic allegory with fairy tale characters who stood, some more transparently than others, as allegorical figures.
Edward Bellamy was a nineteenth-century American author and political thinker who laid the foundation for the literary genre of science fiction. He is best remembered for his runaway hit, Looking Backward: 2000-1887, a Rip van Winkle-type speculative fiction novel ''set in the future in order to show how society might turn out for the better.''' In the novel, Bellamy presented his Nationalist agenda, a form of Socialism, which advocated equal rights and labor reform for the good of the people. The short-lived movement was later supplanted by Populism, a political movement based on a set of similar goals and ideals.
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