The Limits of Spatialized Form: Visibility and Obscurity in Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward

By Williams, Nicholas M. | Utopian Studies, Spring 1999 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Limits of Spatialized Form: Visibility and Obscurity in Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward


Williams, Nicholas M., Utopian Studies


NEAR THE MIDDLE of his utopian romance Looking Backward, after his hero Julian West has already been briefed on the startling advantages of the production and distribution systems of Boston in the year 2000, Edward Bellamy includes a dream of West's which stands out oddly against its surroundings:

   I dreamed that I sat on the throne of the Abencerrages in the banqueting
   hall of the Alhambra, feasting my lords and generals, who next day were to
   follow the crescent against the Christian dogs of Spain. The air, cooled by
   the spray of fountains, was heavy with the scent of flowers. A band of
   Nautch girls, round-limbed and luscious-lipped, danced with voluptuous
   grace to the music of brazen and stringed instruments. Looking up to the
   latticed galleries, one caught a gleam now and then from the eye of some
   beauty of the royal harem, looking down upon the assembled flower of
   Moorish chivalry. Louder and louder clashed the cymbals, wilder and wilder
   grew the strain, till the blood of the desert race could no longer resist
   the martial delirium, and the swart nobles leaped to their feet; a thousand
   scimitars were bared, and the cry, "Allah il Allah!" shook the hall and
   awoke me, to find it broad daylight, and the room tingling with the
   electric music of the "Turkish Reveille." (183-4)

In one sense, of course, such an episode would seem perfectly at home in a book which continually plays with figures of sleep and awakening, as in the central utopian conceit by which West falls asleep in 1887 to awake in 2000, or, perhaps even more strikingly, in the last chapter's ambiguous dreamed return to the hellish 19th century, also concluded by a salubrious awakening.(1) But if the "Alhambra" dream can be entered in the list of West's other dreams, it is unusual to the extent that it is the only dream in the novel which announces itself as such, both in the narrator's opening statement and in its reliance on the traditional stuff of dreams--eros, power, and the exotic. A rationalist might, indeed, see the images of the dream merely as the undigested remnants of the real utopian world around West. From this point of view, the cooling fountain of the dream is a transfiguration of the "magnificent fountain [...] cooling the atmosphere to a delicious freshness with its spray" (157) which had so impressed West during his tour, earlier that day, of the city's centralized shopping emporium. Similarly, the "round-limbed and luscious-lipped" nautch girls are a dream reworking of West's companion on the shopping expedition, Edith Leete, whom he had described on first meeting as "the most beautiful girl I had ever seen" (118). And, of course, the central image for the transparent relation between dream and reality in the passage is contained in West's waking to find his Eastern idyll echoed and predetermined by the music issuing from Bellamy's prescient version of the clock radio.

But if the fingerprints of reality are clearly discernible on West's dream, there are also elements of it which are distinct from the Boston of 2000 and which represent an entirely different register of reference from the structural descriptions of Dr. Leete which occupy most of the book. With the exception of a brief discussion of "the more backward races" (Leete's phrase) immediately following and seemingly inspired by West's recounting of his dream and the character of Sawyer, West's 19th-century servant, the dream contains the novel's only attempt to imagine a racial or religious Other, here directly impersonated by West's dream self.(2) In addition, the dream seems an outlet for emotions which have no place in the "Religion of Solidarity" that serves as the ideological underpinning of the transformed Boston: the "martial delirium," powered as it is by an overdrawn religion of aggression, directed against "the Christian dogs of Spain," seems as out of step as Julian's dream assumption of despotic power at a moment when all hierarchy has been superseded in the equality of the new society.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Limits of Spatialized Form: Visibility and Obscurity in Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.