Study Guide: Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy - BookNotes|
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LOOKING BACKWARD: ONLINE PLOT NOTES / BOOK REPORT
In the twentieth century, if a person has a serious opinion, it is published in a book or pamphlet. There are newspapers, however, which are paid for by subscriptions. People who take the paper pay for its publication and choose its editor. After Julian West has learned how the contributors to the papers are paid, and how the subscribers exert their influence on the editor, he exclaims over the fact that no one in this society seems to be able to get out of work. Doctor Leete agrees, but he adds that if a man wants to stop working at the age of thirty-three, he can take a reduction in maintenance.
That night, Edith Leete brings him a copy of her favorite writer, Berrian.
Julian West reads it far into the night. He finds it fascinating, not
only for its literary merit, but for its subject matter. He contrasts
it to the novels of his own time. The novels of earlier centuries hinged
on conflict that was almost always class based. For instance, the difficulties
of lovers from different economic classes was commonly featured. Berrian’s
novel, Penthesilia, gives Julian West a clear view of the vast
changes in this new society.
Chapter XV is the author’s chance to critique the financial reward for
writers (or lack thereof) and the popular press of his time. He paints
a world in which only the truly great writers are to be highly compensated.
However, he maintains his focus on the economic basis of the culture industry.
For Bellamy, since the nineteenth-century newspapers are run primarily
for profit, it is a misnomer to call them part of a “free” press. Secondly,
since most of the people are uneducated, the lofty goal of expressing
popular ideas in a paper is actually not so admirable: popular ideas are
full of ignorance and prejudice.
The next morning, when Julian West leaves his room, Edith Leete comes out of the dining room to check on him. He realizes she has been getting up very early every morning to make sure he does not leave the house because she fears that he will have another crisis. He is very touched by her concern and calls her an angel. He asks her if she knows who her nineteenth-century ancestors were. She says she does, but then she is too absorbed in arranging the flowers to tell him their names.
Doctor Leete comes in, and Julian West takes up the question of what
he should do to enter the system of this new society. Doctor Leete tells
him that he is quite happy to have him as a guest for a long time since
he is so interesting. He adds that when the time comes, Julian West might
like to take up a lectureship at one of the universities teaching nineteenth-century
history. Julian West is greatly relieved at this news.
This chapter raises the question about the identity of the Leetes’ ancestors.
Since Edith Leete is such an attentive and responsive person, her ignoring
Julian West’s question indicates that she has some information which she
feels may be too disturbing for him. The exchange with Edith Leete also
brings the novelistic element of the love story to the foreground for
a moment. It is clear that Edith Leete and Julian West would make a good
match. It is odd, however, that a man who was only a week ago thinking
of marrying one Edith would so quickly forget her for a second Edith.
The narrator has so far implied that it is only the shock of the new environment
that has caused Julian West not to grieve over the loss of his fiancée.
In any case, Julian West seems to be settling in very well. He is even
considering how he will support himself in the new society.
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. 09 May 2017