Edward Bellamy, circa 1889
|Born||March 26, 1850|
|Died||May 22, 1898 (aged 48)|
|Spouse||Emma Augusta Sanderson|
(m. 1882-1898; his death)
|Children||Paul (b. 1884)|
Marion (b. 1886)
Edward Bellamy (March 26, 1850 - May 22, 1898) was an American author, journalist, and political activist most famous for his utopian novel, Looking Backward. Bellamy's vision of a harmonious future world inspired the formation of numerous "Nationalist Clubs" dedicated to the propagation of Bellamy's political ideas.
After working as a journalist and writing several unremarkable novels, Bellamy published Looking Backward in 1888. Looking Backward was one of the most commercially successful books published in the United States in the 19th century, and it especially appealed to a generation of intellectuals alienated from the dark side of Gilded Age. In the early 1890s, Bellamy established a newspaper known as The New Nation and began to promote united action between the various Nationalist Clubs and the emerging Populist Party. He published Equality, a sequel to Looking Backward, in 1897, and died the following year.
Edward Bellamy was born in Chicopee, Massachusetts. His father was Rufus King Bellamy (1816-1886), a Baptist minister and a descendant of Joseph Bellamy. His mother, Maria Louisa Putnam Bellamy, was a Calvinist. She was the daughter of a Baptist minister named Benjamin Putnam, who was forced to withdraw from the ministry in Salem, Massachusetts, following objections to his becoming a Freemason.
Bellamy attended public school at Chicopee Falls before leaving for Union College of Schenectady, New York, where he studied for just two semesters. Upon leaving school, Bellamy made his way to Europe for a year, spending extensive time in Germany. Bellamy briefly studied law but abandoned that field without ever having practiced as a lawyer, instead entering the world of journalism. In this capacity Bellamy briefly served on the staff of the New York Post before returning to his native Massachusetts to take a position at the Springfield Union.
At the age of 25, Bellamy developed tuberculosis, the disease that would ultimately kill him. He suffered with its effects throughout his adult life. In an effort to regain his health, Bellamy spent a year in the Hawaiian Islands (1877 to 1878). Returning to the United States, Bellamy decided to abandon the daily grind of journalism in favor of literary work, which put fewer demands upon his time and his health.
Bellamy married Emma Augusta Sanderson in 1882. The couple had two children.
A turn to utopian science fiction with Looking Backward, 2000-1887, published in January 1888, captured the public imagination and catapulted Bellamy to literary fame. The publisher of the book could scarcely keep up with demand. Within a year the book had sold some 200,000 copies and by the end of the 19th century it had sold more copies than any other book published in America up to that time except for Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe and Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace. The book gained an extensive readership in Great Britain, as well, with more than 235,000 copies sold there between its first release in 1890 and 1935.
In Looking Backward, a non-violent revolution had transformed the American economy and thereby society; private property had been abolished in favor of state ownership of capital and the elimination of social classes and the ills of society that he thought inevitably followed from them. In the new world of the year 2000, there was no longer war, poverty, crime, prostitution, corruption, money, or taxes. Neither did there exist such occupations seen by Bellamy as of dubious worth to society, such as politicians, lawyers, merchants, or soldiers. Instead, Bellamy's utopian society of the future was based upon the voluntary employment of all citizens between the ages of 21 and 45, after which time all would retire. Work was simple, aided by machine production, working hours short and vacation time long. The new economic basis of society effectively remade human nature itself in Bellamy's idyllic vision, with greed, maliciousness, untruthfulness, and insanity all relegated to the past.
Although Bellamy retrospectively claimed he did not write Looking Backward as a blueprint for political action, but rather sought to write "a literary fantasy, a fairy tale of social felicity", the book inspired legions of inspired readers to establish so-called Nationalist Clubs, beginning in Boston late in 1888. Bellamy's vision of a country relieved of its social ills through abandonment of the principle of competition and establishment of state ownership of industry proved an appealing panacea to a generation of intellectuals alienated from the dark side of Gilded Age America. By 1891 it was reported that no fewer than 162 Nationalist Clubs were in existence.
Bellamy's use of the term "Nationalism" rather than "socialism" as a descriptor of his governmental vision was calculated, as he did not want to limit either sales of his novel or the potential influence of its political ideas. In an 1888 letter to literary critic William Dean Howells, Bellamy wrote:
Every sensible man will admit there is a big deal in a name, especially in making first impressions. In the radicalness of the opinions I have expressed, I may seem to out-socialize the socialists, yet the word socialist is one I never could well stomach. In the first place it is a foreign word in itself, and equally foreign in all its suggestions. It smells to the average American of petroleum, suggests the red flag, and with all manner of sexual novelties, and an abusive tone about God and religion, which in this country we at least treat with respect. ...[W]hatever German and French reformers may choose to call themselves, socialist is not a good name for a party to succeed with in America. No such party can or ought to succeed that is not wholly and enthusiastically American and patriotic in spirit and suggestions".
Bellamy himself came to actively participate in the political movement which emerged around his book, particularly after 1891 when he founded his own magazine, The New Nation, and began to promote united action between the various Nationalist Clubs and the emerging People's Party. For the next three and a half years, Bellamy gave his all to politics, publishing his magazine, working to influence the platform of the People's Party, and publicizing the Nationalist movement in the popular press. This phase of Bellamy's life came to an end in 1894, when The New Nation was forced to suspend publication owing to financial difficulties.
With the key activists of the Nationalist Clubs largely absorbed into the apparatus of the People's Party (although a Nationalist Party did run candidates for office in Wisconsin as late as 1896), Bellamy abandoned politics for a return to literature. He set to work on a sequel to Looking Backward titled Equality, attempting to deal with the ideal society of the post-revolutionary future in greater detail. In this final work, Bellamy turned his mind's eye to the question of feminism, dealing with the taboo subject of female reproductive rights in a future, post-revolutionary America. Other subjects overlooked in Looking Backward, such as animal rights and wilderness preservation, were dealt with in a similar context. The book saw print in 1897 and would prove to be Bellamy's final creation.
Several short stories of Bellamy's were published in 1898, and The Duke of Stockbridge; a Romance of Shays' Rebellion was published in 1900.
Edward Bellamy died of tuberculosis in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts. He was 48 years old at the time of his death.