Edward Bellamy Criticism - Essay

John Dewey (essay date 1934)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “A Great American Prophet,” in Common Sense Vol. III, No. 4, April, 1934, pp. 6-7.

[In the following essay, Dewey examines Bellamy's evocation of “the terrible gulf between what is possible and what is actual” with regard to human freedom and equality.]

In his Equality, Bellamy states, through the mouth of Dr. Leete as exponent, the device that marks off his picture of a social Utopia from all other literary Utopias. Explaining why men of our day do not see the meaning of facts that stare them constantly in the face, he says: “It was precisely because they stared you and your contemporaries so constantly in the face that you lost the faculty...

(The entire section is 1804 words.)

Thomas A. Sancton (essay date 1973)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Looking Inward: Edward Bellamy's Spiritual Crisis,” in American Quarterly, Vol. XXV, No. 5, December, 1973, pp. 538-57.

[In the essay that follows, Sancton examines Bellamy's religious and philosophical views as they are expressed in Looking Backward.]

It is a mistake to say of Edward Bellamy, as many have done, that he lived by the religious philosophy expressed in his essay, The Religion of Solidarity; that this was the definitive expression of his faith; and that his utopian novel Looking Backward was the logical working out of those beliefs in a social context. Such a generalization assumes that at the age of 24 Bellamy solved the eternal...

(The entire section is 9607 words.)

Michael Fellman (essay date 1973)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Evolution of Order: Edward Bellamy's Nationalist Utopia” in The Unbounded Frame: Freedom and Community in Nineteenth Century American Utopianism, Greenwood Press, 1973, pp. 104-23.

[In the following essay, Fellman argues that Bellamy's desire for social and economic renewal led him to a vision of authoritarian unity.]

With a tear for the dark past, turn we then to the dazzling future, and, veiling our eyes, press forward. The long and weary winter of the race is ended. Its summer has begun. Humanity has burst the chrysalis. The heavens are before it.

—Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward,...

(The entire section is 7351 words.)

Elisabeth Hansot (essay date 1974)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward and Equality” in Perfection and Progress: Two Modes of Utopian Thought, MIT Press, 1974, pp. 113-44.

[In the essay that follows, Hansot places Bellamy's fiction in the larger context of utopian thought from Plato to H. G. Wells, and argues that Bellamy imagines a fundamentally conservative ideal.]

Edward Bellamy wrote Looking Backward: 2000-1887 in 1884 and Equality in 1897. The latter was Bellamy's last book, part of which was written during illness.1Equality is a much longer and more detailed account of the utopia presented in Looking Backward, but, apart from the...

(The entire section is 13389 words.)

William Leach (essay date 1981)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Looking Forward Together: Feminists and Edward Bellamy,” in Democracy, Vol. 2, No. 1, January, 1981, pp. 120-34.

[In the following essay, Leach discusses the role of nineteenth-century feminists in the egalitarian Nationalist movement inspired by Bellamy's writings.]

Since the late nineteenth century a majority of American feminists have been drawn to the state to achieve greater equality. At the same time, however, by relying on the power of the state and especially on the power of the modern technocratic, welfare state, feminists have often found themselves supporting practices that threaten to subvert the democratic-egalitarian core of feminism. No...

(The entire section is 6522 words.)

Lee Cullen Khanna (essay date 1981)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “The Reader and Looking Backward,” in The Journal of General Education, Vol. XXXIII, No. 1, Spring, 1981, pp. 69-79.

[In the following essay, Khanna contends that the popularity of Looking Backward is founded on the text's sophisticated projection of an ideal reader, a process that mirrors the narrator's journey to a utopian society.]

Looking Backward, 2000-1887 (1888) is one of the classics of American fiction and was, in its own time, a best-seller. It sparked innumerable imitations in fiction (some 154 utopian novels were published between 1888 and 1900) and exerted an enormous influence on such disparate thinkers as John Dewey,...

(The entire section is 4979 words.)

Arthur Lipow (essay date 1982)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Organization for the Unorganizable: Looking Backward and the Crisis of the Middle Class,” in Authoritarian Socialism in America: Edward Bellamy and the Nationalist Movement, University of California Press, 1982, pp. 96-118.

[In the essay that follows, Lipow locates the popularity of Bellamy's anti-democratic ideas in more general political trends among the middle class of the late nineteenth-century, particularly in the desire for economic reform of “big capital.”]

The response to Looking Backward, Edward Bellamy testified, was “most general and enthusiastic” in the trans-Mississippi states, the newly admitted states, the territories...

(The entire section is 9528 words.)

Sylvia Strauss (essay date 1986)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Gender, Class, and Race in Utopia” in “Looking Backward,” 1988-1888: Essays on Edward Bellamy, edited by Daphne Patai, University of Massachusetts Press, 1988, pp. 68-90.

[In the following essay, Strauss claims that Bellamy's feminist leanings were limited by his nationalist and bourgeois presuppositions.]

In 1888, when Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward was published, the woman question was seen as the key to whether the progress of the nineteenth century could be sustained in the twentieth. The woman question preoccupied scientists, philosophers, essayists, novelists, and politicians. Women's voices were being heard on a scale heretofore...

(The entire section is 9844 words.)

Jeffrey A. Hammond (essay date 1990)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “‘Swept away by One Breath’: Selfhood and Kenosis in Edward Bellamy's ‘A Love Story Reversed’,” in Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Vol. 32, No. 2, Summer, 1990, pp. 329-44.

[In the essay that follows, Hammond studies Bellamy's redemptive vision of an “internalized utopia” that would free both men and women from the restrictions of social convention.]

Edward Bellamy, writing amid the political and economic corruption of the Gilded Age, forged in Looking Backward, 2000-1887 a prophecy with the “power to make the reader feel,” as his friend William Dean Howells claimed, a utopian society “like something he has known...

(The entire section is 7028 words.)

Wilfred M. McClay (essay date 1995)

(Nineteenth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: “Edward Bellamy and the Politics of Meaning,” in American Scholar, Vol. 64, No. 2, Spring, 1995, pp. 264-71.

[In the following essay, McClay discusses the significance of the Civil War as an impetus to Bellamy's authoritarian vision of a “great community.”]

Since time immemorial, college survey courses in American history have been packaged as two-semester sequences, breaking at the Civil War. Although academic inertia probably has much to do with this pattern, its intellectual justification remains sound. The Civil War represents the single most dramatic watershed in American history, one full of consequence for the nation's subsequent forms of...

(The entire section is 5827 words.)