Critics & Crusaders: A Century of American Protest

By Charles A. Madison | Go to book overview

EDWARD BELLAMY


SOCIAL PLANNER

EXPLAINING THE GENESIS of his extraordinary novel in the first issue of The Nationalist ( May 1889), Edward Bellamy remarked: "In undertaking to write Looking Backward I had, at the outset, no idea of attempting a serious contribution to the movement of social reform. The idea was of a mere literary fantasy, a fairy tale of social felicity. There was no thought of contriving a house which practical men might live in, but merely of hanging in mid-air, far out of reach of the sordid and material world of the present, a cloud palace for an ideal humanity." Bellamy's critics took him at his word. They assumed that he had merely stumbled on his plan of economic equality in his effort to write a romance of social fantasy. Even so friendly an admirer as William Dean Howells, who placed Bellamy's fiction alongside that of Hawthorne, was of the opinion that Looking Backward was pretty much of an accident. Following the author's modest self-appraisal, he paraphrased him as follows: "He had come to think of our hopeless conditions suddenly, one day, in looking at his own children, and reflecting that he could not place them beyond the chance of want by any industry or forecast of providence; and that the status meant the same impossibility for others which it meant for him."

Yet the facts of Bellamy's life argue against this assumption. He had his roots in the melioristic environment of New England, having been born in 1850 in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, where his father served for many years as the minister of the Baptist Church.

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