Utopian Society Thinkers Edward Bellamy Part 1

About the famous utopian thinker Edward Bellamy and history of his planned utopia Boston in the year 2000.


EDWARD BELLAMY (1850-1898)

A sensitive, reticent recluse, Edward Bellamy was pushed into the limelight after his book Looking Backward captured the popular imagination and became a blueprint for reform in the U.S. He had not written the book for that reason; in fact, he said, "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 midair far out of reach of the sordid and material world of the present, a cloud palace for humanity."

Bellamy was born the son of a Baptist minister in Chicopee Falls, Mass., where he lived for most of his life. As an adolescent, he was intrigued with war as a kind of giant chess game. He even tried to get into West Point, but was rejected for physical reasons. In later life, he was a pacifist.

A trip to Europe, where he visited city slums, awakened Bellamy to the awful conditions under which the poor lived. He was sensitized forever after that the plight of the oppressed.

Back in the U.S. he studied law and was admitted to the bar, but he never practiced, for somewhere along the line, he developed a contempt for the legal profession. (In one of his novels, a character says, "I calc-late ye could cut five tories out o' one lawyer an' make a dozen skunks aout o' what waz left over.")

Instead, Bellamy devoted most of his life to writing novels, short stories, and newspaper articles. His career was well launched when he published Looking Backward. In 1888, the year of its publication, the book sold 10,000 copies; by the early 1900s, over a million copies were in circulation. Written in a charming, imaginative style, Looking Backward describes a utopian, egalitarian Boston of the year 2000. It came out at a perfect time--the heyday of the robber barons--and, in its "principle of human brotherhood," it appealed to oppressed workers crushed under the capitalist heel. By 1890, more than 150 Nationalist Clubs, based on Bellamy's ideas, had formed. Two years later, they had blossomed into a Nationalist party, which united with the Populists in the presidential campaign; had economic conditions been better, this party might have won the election.

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