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Free Study Guide-Looking Backward: 2000 - 1887 by Edward Bellamy-Summary
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FREE BOOK ANALYSIS FOR LOOKING BACKWARD: 2000 - 1887

CHAPTER XV

Summary

The characters next visit the library of a social club. It is very comfortable and books are easily accessible. Julian West contrasts this scene to the libraries of the nineteenth century, when books were closely guarded and borrowing was difficult. Mrs. Leete and Edith Leete tell Julian West of the joy he will have in reading the twentieth-century writers. The subject brings up more economic questions, this time about how writers are paid. Doctor Leete explains that anyone who writes a book must pay for the cost of its printing out of his own credit. Then, if the book is accepted by the public, the writer is compensated. If the book is liked well enough, the writer could receive enough credit to take time off from the industrial army in order to write. Depending on how well his books sell, the writer could possibly write full time for many years. Because everyone is so well educated, the public is qualified to judge whether a writer is producing good literature. And since there is no favoritism at play, every writer has the same chance.

Julian West asks about the other arts. Doctor Leete explains that all the arts operate on similar lines, except that people vote on accepting statues and paintings for public buildings. There are also literary, artistic, and scientific institutes that support creative thinkers. These carry even more prestige than the presidency.

Next, Julian West inquires about newspapers and periodicals. He assumes that these must be published by the state and therefore are subject to censorship. Julian West expresses the commonly held belief that the newspaper presses were “free” in the nineteenth century, since they were not owned by the government. Doctor Leete notes, however, that the newspapers of the nineteenth century were not “the best vehicle for social criticism” because they were used as a money-making business and served only secondarily as a mouthpiece for the people. He adds that from what he has seen of nineteenth-century newspapers, their journalism was not that impressive. They usually made “crude and flippant” judgments that were also deeply colored by prejudice. If they expressed the public opinion of the time, they likewise give a poor impression of popular intelligence in the nineteenth century.

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.

Notes

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.

CHAPTER XVI

Summary

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.

Notes

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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