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Famous American Authors 19th century

Edward Bellamy

Edward Bellamy, circa 1889

Born (Chicopee, Massachusetts
Occupation Author
Nationality American
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 and socialist, most famous for his utopian novel, , a Rip Van Winkle-like tale set in the distant future of the year 2000. Bellamy's vision of a harmonious future world inspired the formation of at least 165 "Nationalist Clubs" dedicated to the propagation of Bellamy's political ideas and working to make them a practical reality.

Early years[edit]

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 herself the daughter of a Baptist minister named Benjamin Putnam, a man 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 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.

Literary career[edit]

Bellamy's early novels, including Six to One (1878), (1880), and Miss Ludington's Sister (1885) were unremarkable works, making use of standard psychological plots.

He also wrote The Duke of Stockbridge; a romance of Shay's Rebellion (1900), and several short stories published in 1898.

A turn to utopian science fiction with 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 outside of by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

The Bellamyite movement[edit]

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, 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 attempting to deal with the ideal society of the post-revolutionary future in greater detail. The book saw print in 1897 and would prove to be Bellamy's final creation.

Death and legacy[edit]

Edward Bellamy died of tuberculosis in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts. He was 48 years old at the time of his death.

His lifelong home in Chicopee Falls, built by his father, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1971.

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