Literature / Looking Backward

Written by Edward Bellamy in 1888, Looking Backward: 2000-1887 was one of the first real Utopia novels in America. The author's brother Francis Bellamy wrote the Pledge of Allegiance. He also had the same political views (an interesting fact not mentioned in most histories).

The novel is about Julian West, a Fish Out of Temporal Water, who falls asleep in the year 1887 and wakes up in the year 2000, having slept for 113 years, three months and 11 days (a clever palindrome, 113311). When he awakes, he finds his country has undergone a (supposedly) bloodless socialist revolution. He proceeds to get lectured on how everything works for a majority of the book by the condescending Dr. Leete, who apparently doesn't do anything else. These lectures comprise entire chapters and discuss things like education, jobs, shopping and such in the year 2000, and how obviously better this utopia is than backward 1887.

Oh, and there's a cheap love story, as Leete's daughter is named Edith, as was Julian's former fiancée. Instant romance, just add water.

Whether it is actually a novel is debatable, as the elements that typically make up a story are underrepresented (aside from pure chapters of exposition). With no real conflict, Looking Backward actually comes off more as a socialist treatise with plot tacked on in order to make it sell more copies.

Available online at Project Gutenberg. A sequel, Equality was published in 1897, fleshing out Bellamy's socialist utopia further with more chapter-length lectures on various subjects. Also available online.


Tropes:

  • All Just a Dream: Subverted by the ending. West thinks this is what happened when he returns to 1887, but it turns out the return itself, and not the rest of the novel, was a dream.
  • Author Tract
  • Fish Out of Temporal Water
  • Follow the Leader: One of the first 19th Century utopian science-fiction novels. It inspired not only copycat novels and spinoffs, but also a slew of Take That response novels by writers doubting the economics and politics of Bellamy's future. News From Nowhere by William Morris was a response from a fellow socialist, as Morris found it too stiflingly industrial and favored a rural, agrarian setting instead.
  • Token Romance
  • Twenty Minutes into the Future
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: Averted. In contrast to most socialist ideologies (Marxism most particularly), Bellamy's socialism was explicitly Christian based on his interpretation of the Bible, which his fictional society reflects. Bellamy and his brother were actually both Baptists ministers.
  • Utopia
  • The Verse: The world is further explored with the sequel, Equality, and various other authors of the time wrote spin-offs.
  • Zeerust: In 2000, information is carried through a nationwide series of pneumatic tubes. "Radiotelephone" is used to broadcast music.