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Bailey, J O

Entry updated 8 May 2023. Tagged: Author, Critic.

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(1903-1979) US scholar, professor of literature at the University of North Carolina, where his MA thesis was published as The Scientific Novel of H G Wells (1927) (see H G Wells). He is of sf interest primarily for Pilgrims through Space and Time: Trends and Patterns in Scientific and Utopian Fiction (1947), the first academic study of sf, which it analyses primarily on a thematic basis, and without ever using the term "science fiction", referring instead to "scientific fiction" and the Scientific Romance. Only a small amount of its subject matter is taken from SF Magazines, not surprising when one realizes that Bailey – primarily a Thomas Hardy and Edgar Allan Poe scholar – initially drafted the work from his unpublished 1934 doctoral dissertation, "Scientific Fiction in English, 1817-1914: A Study of Trends and Forms", which dealt mostly with Victorian sf and Proto SF. Its late publication may be laid down partly to Bailey's sense that he had an insufficient bibliographical grasp of his inchoate field of study to complete his book properly, a lack remedied when the bookseller Ben Abramson not only made his own bibliography available but – in the absence of any academic publisher who would consider sf worthy of serious study – also published Pilgrims with Argus Books, a speciality press he operated through his own shop: a quiet beginning for what became a great torrent of university-based sf scholarship (see SF in the Classroom). Bailey and Abramson's sense that the book was exploring new territory is conveyed clearly in the dust-jacket copy for the original edition [not reproduced in any reprint; see auxiliary image in Picture Gallery under links below].

Bailey was honoured by the Science Fiction Research Association's creation of the Pilgrim Award (given annually for contributions to sf scholarship), which was named after his book; in 1970, he was himself the first recipient. In 2019 the Pilgrim was stultifyingly renamed The SFRA Award for Lifetime Contributions to SF Scholarship, an exercise in bureaucratic intramuralism that manages to mention SF twice in nine words. Bailey edited the 1965 edition of the Hollow-Earth novel Symzonia (1820) by Adam Seaborn, which he – almost certainly in error – attributed to John Cleves Symmes. [PN/AR/JC]

see also: Critical and Historical Works About SF; Definitions of SF.

James Osler Bailey

born Raleigh, North Carolina: 12 August 1903

died Chapel Hill, North Carolina: 30 October 1979

works (highly selected)



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