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Looking Backward | Study Guide

Edward Bellamy

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Looking Backward | Chapter 23 | Summary



Julian West and Edith Leete sit listening to music via telephone that evening. Between performances, Julian asks Edith if he can ask her a "rather indiscreet" question. When she agrees, he asks her about the few sentences he overheard as he was awakening from his trance, wondering if it had been a dream. He now recognizes the voices he heard to be hers and those of her parents. Edith appears to be embarrassed, and he surmises it was not a dream. He asks Edith what it was she made her father promise not to tell him. She does not answer, and he teases her about how unfair it seems that she will not tell him because the secret concerns him. She demurs, and after another period of listening to music, she makes Julian promise not to ask her again. She says she may tell him some time, though. He finds her blushes and confusion attractive. That night he lies awake, pondering the mystery, his dreams taking on a pleasant "roseate tinge" as he thinks of Edith.


The author spices up the novel with some mild romance and mystery in Chapter 23. After many pages of rather dry explanations of the mechanisms and policies of the new social order, Edward Bellamy gives Julian West's and Edith Leete's relationship more attention here. They began, as far as readers know, as strangers. Then they become friends rather quickly when she saves him from insanity. They bond over music and the visit to Julian's chamber. Now Julian asks Edith what turns out to be a personal question, if her blushes are any indication. Readers have long been aware that Edith's beauty and feminine perfection have won Julian's admiration. Now he seems to be falling in love with her, and even thinks of her as he falls asleep. The mystery that has been subtly foreshadowed earlier in the novel comes to the forefront. Readers, along with Julian, wonder what Edith could possibly have wanted to keep from him before they had even met, and why she now refuses to answer his direct question. The author creates some suspense in Edith's claim that she may tell Julian the answer to the mystery at some point.

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