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Looking Backward

Edward Bellamy. Looking Backward, 2000-1887. Boston: Ticknor and Company, 1888.

 

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EDWARD BELLAMY (1850-1898)
Looking Backward

An American journalist influenced by Marxism and Fourierism, Edward Bellamy published the popular utopian novel Looking Backward in 1888. Its hero falls asleep in 1887 and wakes up in the year 2000 to find that America has evolved into an urban “engine” with the efficiency and spirit of a professional army. The book inspired an important political movement, the Nationalists.

In Looking Backward, the year 2000 is rich to the point of excess, cluttered with gadgets and consumer culture. Bellamy foresaw credit cards, shopping malls and even online shopping, in the form of the ordering and delivery of goods through a series of pneumatic tubes underground.

Bellamy rejected Fourier’s idea of complete self-fulfillment through work and returned to the sense of duty and the utilitarian principles of More’s Utopians: Bellamy’s American Utopia of the year 2000 reflects “the true self-interest of a rational unselfishness, and [appeals] to the social and generous instincts of men.”

Bellamy’s book became, after Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the best-selling novel of the nineteenth century, and the second novel in American literature to sell a million copies. The immediate impact of Looking Backward was such that for many people it proved that the industrial process can provide the model for the perfect society.

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