Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Edward Bellamy and Socialist Science Fiction

Article in The Literary World 1889

Join my Facebook Group

That Mr. Edward Bellamy had something to say when he wrote Looking Backward we cannot doubt, for he has said a good deal in it, and has, in fact, overweighted his story with the abundance of description of the "nationalized" order of things prevailing in the year 2000 A. D). But to some readers of the book it is very plain that Mr. Bellamy does not know what he pretends to expound, and we think that his recent frank exposition of the way in which he came to write the novel (in the Nationalist for May) will serve to increase the number of these unbelievers. His first notion was of a simple "fairy tale of social felicity," it seems, and one feature of this tale was a grand parade of an industrial "army." Following nothing more substantial than the military metaphor, he "stumbled over the destined corner-stone of the new social order," and recast the whole romance under the one ruling conception of future industry organized on the model of the great armies of Europe. A curious light is thus shed by Mr. Bellamy himself upon his notions of the needful preparation for writing philanthropic fiction. We are nevertheless somewhat surprised that a writer who recasts a fairy tale, in obedience to a metaphor, into a description of a new order of society, should yet expect that new order to become "an exceedingly old story" by the year 2000 A. D. We can recall few instances of prophecy less grounded in painstaking investigation of the present facts of the industrial order, and dispassionate study of the last century of social evolution. A large section of human nature, and precisely that section in which most human activities originate — its self-regarding instincts, which are just as much an integral part of man as his social propensities — will be well-nigh completely subdued, we are assured, in a hundred years! Socialism will be all in all; individualism will have no place of respect or honor. Looking Backward is a book wrought out by a practiced master of literary effect, and with its generous intentions we all sympathize, but its success must be counted by Mrs. Oliphant as one of the exceptions to her rule that the novelist should know what he pretends to expound. A romance of the future cannot be exempted from the need of a solid basis in knowledge of the existing order. Because Mr. Bellamy's book does not comply with this condition of solid literary performance, we are forced to believe that its place is not for many years, and that the man of the year 2000 A. D. will consider its wide sale one of the curiously interesting but transitory phenomena of the last quarter of the nineteenth century. If we are not much mistaken, it is in this way that philanthropic fiction should not be written in order to help in real and lasting reform.

Editor: Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy 1917 (the story of Julian West, a young American who, towards the end of the 19th century, falls into a deep, hypnosis-induced sleep and wakes up 113 years later. He finds himself in the same location but in a totally changed [Socialistic] world)

In 1897 Bellamy wrote a sequel, _Equality_, dealing with women's rights, education and many other issues. Bellamy wrote the sequel to elaborate and clarify many of the ideas merely touched upon in _Looking Backward_.

The success of Looking Backward provoked a spate of sequels, parodies, satires, and skeptical dystopian responses. A partial list includes:
Looking Further Forward: An Answer to "Looking Backward" by Edward Bellamy (1890), by Richard C. Michaelis

Looking Further Backward (1890), by Arthur Dudley Vinton

Speaking of Ellen (1890), by Linn Boyd Porter

Looking Beyond (1891), by Ludwig A. Geissler

Mr. East's Experiences in Mr. Bellamy's World (1891), by Conrad Wilbrandt

Looking Within: The Misleading Tendencies of "Looking Backward" Made Manifest (1893), by J. W. Roberts

Young West: A Sequel to Edward Bellamy's Celebrated Novel "Looking Backward" (1894), by Solomon Schindler

Looking Forward (1906), by Harry W. Hillman.

The result was a "battle of the books" that lasted through the rest of the 19th century and into the 20th. The back-and-forth nature of the debate is illustrated by the subtitle of Geissler's 1891 Looking Beyond, which is "A Sequel to 'Looking Backward' by Edward Bellamy and an Answer to 'Looking Forward' by Richard Michaelis".
William Morris's 1890 utopia News from Nowhere was partly written in reaction to Bellamy's utopia, which Morris did not find congenial.

See also The Socialist Science Fiction for download here

No comments:

Post a Comment