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Looking Backward | Study Guide

Edward Bellamy

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Looking Backward | Chapter 15 | Summary



In the library in the public dining building, Mrs. Leete remarks that Julian West is very fortunate to have the entire last century's worth of literature to explore. Dr. Leete claims that the revolution served as a "stimulus" to authors, inventors, artists, and creative individuals of all kinds. Julian asks how publishing works in the year 2000, and Dr. Leete explains that authors must cover the initial printing costs with their own credits, which are replaced through something like a royalty, a rate which authors set themselves. Newspapers are similarly set up, although supported by a group of people who also elect the editor, so while the nation published them, in a sense they do not control the content. Creative workers are released from other duties so long as their royalties cover their time away from regular posts. The highest honor for a writer or other artist is a red ribbon awarded by the nation and worn by only a set number at a time.

Edith Leete gives Julian a favorite book to read if he has trouble sleeping. He stays up all night reading the romance, titled Penthesilia. What strikes him most is the absence of the common struggles—like differences in class, manners, education, and financial anxieties—found in the romances he has read before. In their place he finds "love galore, but love unfettered by artificial barriers ... owning no other law but that of the heart."


Dr. Leete explains to Julian West how creative work thrives in a socialist setting, using the common objection and response format readers have come to expect from the two. Julian begins by asking how publishing works, and Dr. Leete says books are published by the nations. Julian objects that this must mean the nation has to publish anything submitted to it. Dr. Leete responds it does not because the initial cost of publication must be taken from the credits of the authors themselves. A royalty set by the author is then credited back to him as the book is sold. Julian objects that the nation cannot possibly publish newspapers in the same way, and Dr. Leete responds by explaining the way newspapers are formed and supported, disallowing the nation from influencing the viewpoints expressed therein. Readers have come to expect this interaction between the two men. Julian continues to serve as the voice of readers, anticipating their objections to the new system. Dr. Leete serves as the ambassador and interpreter of the nation, explaining how the new entity is the perfect system in all instances.

The romance Julian reads, which Edith gives him, lays the groundwork for the romance in the novel itself. The title of the book is a form of the name of an Amazonian queen defeated during the Trojan War, an ancient time as dissimilar from the 20th century as Julian's day. The book is a romance, although different from any Julian has read before. It doesn't have any of the normal complications of a familiar romance. There are no star-crossed lovers from warring families or handsome lovers who happen to come from the wrong side of the tracks. In a society without class or money to complicate relationships, Julian says the book is just about love, free from all those struggles. Readers may guess Edith gives Julian this novel as a hint about her feelings for him.

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