Authors: Edward Bellamy

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

American novelist and social reformer

March 26, 1850

Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts

May 22, 1898

Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts


Edward Bellamy (BEHL-ah-mee), the son of a New England Baptist minister, was born in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts, on March 26, 1850. He was largely self-educated. Although he attended Union College for only a year as a special student, Bellamy read widely in history, politics, economics, and literature. He also studied law and passed the bar exam, but he closed his law office after only one case and focused on journalism. He wrote editorials for the Springfield Union, helped establish the Daily News, and wrote book reviews for the New York Evening Post. He married Emma Sanderson in 1882; they had two children. {$I[AN]9810000256} {$I[A]Bellamy, Edward} {$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Bellamy, Edward} {$I[tim]1850;Bellamy, Edward}

Edward Bellamy.

By Philpott, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

While working as a newspaperman in Springfield, Bellamy began to write novels. His first work, Six to One, was light and romantic, but his second novel, Dr. Heidenhoff’s Process, a work dealing with sin and a sense of guilt, was impressive enough to have William Dean Howells hail Bellamy as the literary successor to Nathaniel Hawthorne. Bellamy did not find a wide public or general acclaim, however, until the publication of Looking Backward in January 1888.

Begun simply as a literary fantasy, Looking Backward presents a picture of a humane, scientific, and socialistic utopia in the year 2000. The book sold fewer than ten thousand copies its first year, but then it became enormously popular. People such as Cyrus Field Willard, a Boston newspaperman, formed clubs to promote Bellamy’s social ideas, clubs that soon joined in the “nationalist movement.” Before long, Bellamy became a leader in this movement, editing first the Nationalist, then the New Nation, and crusading for economic equality, human brotherhood, and the progressive nationalization of industry. Bellamy spoke and wrote frequently for his cause, at the same time working on Equality, a sequel to Looking Backward which developed more fully the socialistic institutions of the utopia. In the meantime, the movement was enormously popular, its ideas forming a large portion of the platform of the People’s Party in the 1892 election.

By the time of Bellamy’s death in Chicopee Falls in 1898, the nationalist movement as a political organization had disappeared, and the People’s Party had been absorbed by William Jennings Bryan and the free silver movement in 1896. Yet Bellamy’s utopian concepts, always tinged with fantasy and human values, maintained a romantic influence on young thinkers in both America and Europe. Numerous critics complained about his lack of originality, but his ideas formed the basis of the League for the Organization of Progress in Europe (a group which claimed Ramsay MacDonald, Aristide Briand, and Karl Renner as members). Americans as diverse as Thorstein Veblen, John Dewey, and A. A. Berle, Jr., acknowledged Bellamy’s influence, and in 1972 his house was declared a national monument by the National Park Service and restored to its original condition. It is as a humane and romantic utopian, campaigning for equality and social justice, rather than as a novelist or profound political thinker, that Bellamy is remembered and read today.

Author Works Long Fiction: Six to One: A Nantucket Idyl, 1878 Dr. Heidenhoff ’s Process, 1880 Miss Ludington’s Sister: A Romance of Immortality, 1884 Looking Backward: 2000–1887, 1888 Equality, 1897 The Duke of Stockbridge: A Romance of Shay’s Rebellion, 1900 Short Fiction: The Blindman’s World, and Other Stories, 1898 Bibliography Bowman, Sylvia E. Edward Bellamy. Boston: Twayne, 1986. Offers an interdisciplinary analysis of Bellamy’s intellectual development. Griffith, Nancy Snell. Edward Bellamy: A Bibliography. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1986. A useful bibliography up to 1986. Lipow, Arthur. Authoritarian Socialism in America: Edward Bellamy and the Nationalist Movement. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982. A helpful study on Bellamy. Patai, Daphne, ed. Looking Backward, 1988–1888: Essays on Edward Bellamy. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1988. Contains eight essays that assess Looking Backward in view of twentieth-century developments. Some contributors view Bellamy as a proponent of a dated, patriarchal world; others praise his integration of contradictory principles. Includes a useful annotated bibliography. Widdicombe, Toby, and Herman S. Preiser, eds. Revisiting the Legacy of Edward Bellamy (1850–1898), American Author and Social Reformer. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2002. This collection is subtitled Uncollected and Unpublished Writings, Scholarly Perspectives for a New Millennium.

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