Wednesday, January 7, 2009

SF authors born 1844-53: 1850

1. Edward Bellamy
2. Guy de Maupassant


Edward Bellamy (1850-1898)

Edward Bellamy was an American author and socialist, most famous for his utopian novel, Looking Backward, set in the year 2000. Edward Bellamy was born in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts. His father was Rufus King Bellamy, a Baptist minister and a descendant of Joseph Bellamy (an American Congregationalist pastor and a leading preacher, author, educator and theologian in New England in the second half of the Eighteenth century). He studied law, but left the practice and worked briefly in the newspaper industry in New York and in Springfield, Massachusetts. He left journalism and devoted himself to literature, writing both short stories and novels. He was the cousin of Francis Bellamy, most famous for creating the Pledge of Allegiance.

His books include Dr. Heidenhoff's Process (1880), Miss Ludington's Sister (1884), The Duke of Stockbridge (1900), and the utopian novels Looking Backward: 2000–1887 (1888), and its sequel, Equality (1897).

According to Erich Fromm, Looking Backward is "one of the most remarkable books ever published in America." It was the third largest bestseller of its time, after Uncle Tom's Cabin and Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. In the book Looking Backward an upper class man from 1887 awakens in 2000 from a hypnotic trance to find himself in a socialist utopia. It influenced a large number of intellectuals, and appears by title in many of the major Marxist writings of the day. "It is one of the few books ever published that created almost immediately on its appearance a political mass movement." Several "Bellamy Clubs" sprang up all over the United States for discussing and propagating the book's ideas. This political movement came to be known as Nationalism. His novel also inspired several utopian communities.

Bellamy owes many aspects of his philosophy to a previous reformer and author, Laurence Gronlund, who published his treatise The Cooperative Commonwealth: An Exposition of Modern Socialism in 1884. A short story, "The Parable of the Water-Tank," from the book Equality, published in 1897, was popular with a number of early American socialists. Less successful than its prequel, Equality continues the story of Julian West as he adjusts to life in the future. Several hundred additional utopian novels were published in the US from 1889 to 1900, due in part to the book's popularity.


* Looking Backward (Ticknor, Boston, 1888). A magically preserved survivor of the 19th century converses with dwellers in the communistic utopia of the year 2000.

The book tells the story of Julian West, a young American who, towards the end of the 19th century, falls into a deep, hypnosis-induced sleep and wakes up more than a century later. He finds himself in the same location (Boston, Massachusetts) but in a totally changed world: It is the year 2000 and, while he was sleeping, the U.S.A. has been transformed into a socialist utopia. This book outlines Bellamy's complex thoughts about improving the future.

The young man readily finds a guide, Doctor Leete, who shows him around and explains all the advances of this new age, including drastically reduced working hours for people performing menial jobs and almost instantaneous delivery of goods from stores to homes. Everyone retires with full benefits at age 45. The productive capacity of America is commonly owned, and the goods of society are equally distributed to its citizens. A considerable portion of the book is dialogue between Leete and West wherein West expresses his confusion about an issue and Leete explains it.

Although Bellamy's novel did not discuss technology in detail, commentators frequently compare Looking Backward with actual social and technological developments. For example, Julian West is taken to a store which (with its descriptions of cutting out the middleman to cut down on waste in a similar way to the consumers' cooperatives of his own day based on the Rochdale Principles of 1844) somewhat resembles a modern warehouse club. He additionally introduces the concept of credit cards in chapters 9, 10, 11, 13, 25, and 26 (though their description more closely resembles modern day debit cards). Bellamy also predicts classical music and sermons being available in the home through cable "telephone."

Though Bellamy tended to stress the independence of his work, Looking Backward shares relationships and resemblances with several earlier works — most notably, the anonymous The Great Romance (1881), John Macnie's The Diothas (1883), Lawrence Gronlund's The Cooperative Commonwealth (1884), and August Bebel's Woman in the Past, Present, and Future (1886). Critic R. L. Shurter has gone as far as to argue that "Looking Backward is actually a fictionalized version of The Cooperative Commonwealth and little more."

The success of Looking Backward provoked a spate of sequels, parodies, satires, and skeptical dystopian responses. A partial list includes:

* Looking Further Forward: An Answer to "Looking Backward" by Edward Bellamy (1890), by Richard C. Michaelis
* Looking Backward and What I Saw (1890), by W. W. Satterlee
* Looking Further Backward (1890), by Arthur Dudley Vinton
* Speaking of Ellen (1890), by Linn Boyd Porter
* Looking Beyond (1891), by Ludwig A. Geissler
* Mr. East's Experiences in Mr. Bellamy's World (1891), by Conrad Wilbrandt
* Looking Within: The Misleading Tendencies of "Looking Backward" Made Manifest (1893), by J. W. Roberts
* Young West: A Sequel to Edward Bellamy's Celebrated Novel "Looking Backward" (1894), by Solomon Schindler
* Looking Forward (1906), by Harry W. Hillman.

The result was a "battle of the books" that lasted through the rest of the nineteenth century and into the twentieth. William Morris's 1890 utopia News from Nowhere was partly written in reaction to Bellamy's utopia, which Morris did not find congenial.

Beyond the purely literary sphere, Bellamy's descriptions of utopian urban planning had a practical influence on Ebenezer Howard's founding of the garden city movement in England, and on the design of the Bradbury Building in Los Angeles.

During the Great Strikes of 1877, Eugene V. Debs opposed the strikes and argued that there was no essential necessity for the conflict between capital and labor. However, Debs was influenced by Bellamy's book to turn to a more socialist direction. He soon helped to form the American Railway Union. With supporters from the Knights of Labor and from the immediate vicinity of Chicago, workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company went on strike in June 1894. This came to be known as the Pullman Strike.



Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893)

A popular 19th-century French writer considered one of the fathers of the modern short story.


* "Le Horla" (1887, translated into English, 1890.) An inspiration for Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos. The narrator, an independently wealthy gentleman, waves at a Brazilian steamer on the Seine. He (and some of his servants) are afflicted with feelings of malaise, culminating in sleeplessness, nightmares, and general inanition. There are discussions about the unseen world and a striking example of post-hypnotic suggestion. The narrator concludes that the human will is not integral, but may easily be shattered or manipulated by outside forces. The sense of an invisible being grows, and the narrator observes that something is drinking the water and milk from his bedside table while he sleeps. Gradually the invisible being seizes the narrator's will, controlling his actions and preventing him from leaving his house. Learning that in Brazil there is a plague of disorders like his, the narrator draws the conclusion that the being came to him from the Brazilian ship on the Seine. He speculates that the invisible beings are not an incubus (i.e., which would make this a Fantasy tale) but a new race of creatures destined to supplant man on earth. The narrator burns down his house, but gets the uncanny feeling that the horla is still with him... and the only way out is suicide. NB: The term "horla," which echoes "hors la," is usually taken to mean something "outside" in the sense of being beyond our senses.

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