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Bellamy, Edward

Entry updated 16 January 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1850-1898) US author and journalist, the latter from 1871, when he abandoned the practice of law before having properly begun it; no lawyers exist in the 2000 CE of his most famous work, the Utopia Looking Backward 2000-1887 (1888) and its sequel, Equality (1897), whose influence in the nineteenth century was enormous. His early works of fiction were Gothic; sentimental and labouredly influenced by Nathaniel Hawthorne, they are nevertheless strangely moving, though Miss Ludington's Sister: A Romance of Immortality (1884) fails to stand out from the host of psychic romances then popular. Other work of interest is assembled in The Blindman's World and Other Stories (coll 1898): The Blindman's World (November 1886 Atlantic Monthly; 2007 ebook), in which a dreaming observer visits Mars, where he learns that foreknowledge cannot change what one does; To Whom This May Come (February 1889 Harper's Monthly; 2007 ebook), a Lost World tale set in an Island in the Indian Ocean whose inhabitants, descended from exiled Persian mages, are Telepaths whose vocal organs have withered from disuse; and With the Eyes Shut (October 1889 Harper's Monthly; 2007 ebook), a spoof vision of the coming ubiquity of the phonograph. These tales and others were also assembled in Apparitions of Things to Come: Edward Bellamy's Tales of Mystery and Imagination (coll 1990). Of greater relevance is Dr Heidenhoff's Process (1880) which, although not sf, interestingly prefigures some of the tactics of Bellamy's masterpiece. The doctor's process claims to mechanically wipe out diseased memories (see Memory Edit) from those who wish for a new start, intriguing the protagonist's girl, who has been seduced by a rival, to wipe out her shame in this fashion. Unfortunately, in the last pages of the novel it is revealed that the doctor and his process are a dream of the protagonist, who awakens to find that his disgraced lover has committed Suicide.

The emotional exorbitance, Gothic extremity and depressive pessimism of this tale are transformed in Looking Backward into a vision of a utopian society whose equally exorbitant realization is achieved while the protagonist Julian West – whose confusion upon his arrival into the world of the future is one of the best things in this uneasy work of fiction – has been in hypnotized sleep (see Sleeper Awakes); in a telling reversal of the reductive strategy of the earlier tale, near the end of Looking Backward West dreams that he has returned to the Yahoo-infested 1887 (see Jonathan Swift), only to awaken, hugely relieved, back in the reality of 2000. The people of this new era are devoid of irrational passions and their highly communalized society reflects a reasonableness so radically opposed to common sense that one is tempted to posit an impulse of deep violence behind Bellamy's creation of such a world; at the very least, there is an intense longing for a world in which reasoned arguments change minds, a world so ineluctable that to disavow it is to reveal oneself to be mentally ill. Certain similarities in protagonists' names, in some of the action, and in the meliorist utopia of 2143, have suggested to Dominic Alessio – editor of the reassembled text of a New Zealand sf tale from 1881, The Great Romance: A Rediscovered Utopian Adventure (2008) as by "The Inhabitant" – that Bellamy may have been directly influenced by Part One of the novel. The suggestion, though intriguing, requires Bellamy's familiarity with an extremely obscure text published in rural New Zealand; Alessio does more safely suggest, along with others, that Bellamy may have been influenced by The Diothas (1883) by Ismar Thiusen, who was much interested in New Zealand, wrote about it extensively, and may have been familiar with The Great Romance.

Reactions to Looking Backward were strong and immediate. William Morris was so appalled by the bureaucratic and machine-like side of Bellamy's utopia that he was instantly driven to retort with News from Nowhere (1890), which described an ideal world of a very different sort, though no less dream-like. Bellamy's book was all the same extraordinarily influential, especially in the US, which points to the intellectual ferment at the end of the nineteenth century, partly caused by the closing of the last frontier, and by the scandals of robber-baron capitalism. Its presentation of a guild socialism with equal pay for all, and with the necessities of life guaranteed by the state, prefigures much twentieth-century social reform. It does, however, remain the case that most of the 200 or so utopian tracts and novels which soon appeared in response were negative in tone and substance. But Bellamy was a serious and coherent arguer for his utopian premises – promulgating the arguments of Looking Backward in several nonfiction pamphlets (not listed here) – and has been so understood by many thinkers and writers. Equality continues the arguments of Looking Backward, though almost totally without narrative content, and it is not now read as fiction; Bellamy is more important to the history of utopian thought than he is as an early writer of sf. His influence on the world of Genre SF, except on didactic writers like Hugo Gernsback, has been indirect and diffuse, though a more recent populist sf writer, Mack Reynolds, in Looking Backward, from the Year 2000 (1973) and other works, did explicitly reflect on his mentor. [JC]

see also: Arts; Automation; Economics; History of SF; Machines; Music; Near Future; Politics; Psychology; Suspended Animation; Technology.

Edward Bellamy

born Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts: 26 March 1850

died Boston, Massachusetts: 22 May 1898


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