Edward Bellamy was an American author and socialist, most famous for his utopian novel, Looking Backward, 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 over 160 "Nationalist Clubs" dedicated to the propagation of Bellamy's political ideas and working to make them a practical reality.
He was born in Chicopee Falls, Mass., on Mar. 26, 1850, and spent the major part of his life there. Following his education in Chicopee Falls, he spent a year at Union College and, at 18, traveled in Europe where, as he wrote later, "my eyes were first fully opened to the extent and consequences of ‘man's#man's inhumanity to man.'"
Bellamy's early novels, including Six to One (1877), Dr. Heidenhoff's Process (1880), and Miss Ludington's Sister (1884) were unremarkable works, making use of standard psychological plots. A turn to utopian science fiction with Looking Backward, 2000-1887, 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 Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Although Bellamy 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 himself came to actively participate in the political movement which emerged around his book, particularly after 1891 when he founded his own magazine, The New Nation, 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, Bellamy abandoned politics for a return to literature. He set to work on a sequel to Looking Backward entitled Equality, attempting to deal with the ideal society of the post-revolutionary future in greater detail. The book saw print in 1898 and would prove to be Bellamy's final creation.