Literature: Looking Backward

Written by Edward Bellamy in 1888, Looking Backward: 2000-1887 was one of the first real Utopia novels in America.

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.


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.
  • Token Romance
  • Twenty Minutes into the Future
  • Utopia
  • The Verse: Bellamy wrote a sequel, Equality, and various other authors of the time wrote spin-offs. News From Nowhere by William Morris was a direct response to Looking Backward, as Morris found it too stiflingly industrial and favored a rural, agrarian setting instead.
  • Zeerust: In 2000, information is carried through a nationwide series of pneumatic tubes.