Looking Backward | Study Guide

Edward Bellamy

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Looking Backward | Chapter 27 | Summary

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Summary

The sermon makes Julian West realize that the Leetes and others in the 20th century must view him as "a representative of an abhorred past epoch," and see "a vast moral gap" between them. The realization depresses him. He also realizes that he is feeling down because Edith Leete, whom he has fallen in love with, must also see him this way. He walks to his old bedchamber, and Edith follows him, concerned that he is depressed. He tells her that the sermon made him realize "how great the gulf between" them must be. She tells him to disregard Mr. Barton because the pastor doesn't know him, and she assures him that they think of him very differently. Her "bosom heaved with strong emotion" as he catches her hands and admires her beauty. He tells her he is in love with her, and she asks if he is blind to her own feelings. He is overwhelmed with happiness, and they kiss. She breaks away, wondering what he must think of her to fall in love with someone she has just met. She says he "must not touch" her again until he knows who she really is and why she hasn't fallen for him as quickly as it may seem.

Edith brings Julian to her mother, whispers in her ear, and runs away. Mrs. Leete then explains to Julian that Edith's great-grandmother was none other than Edith Bartlett. Taking an interest in the relative for whom she had been named, Edith had studied her great-grandmother's photograph and read her letters from Julian. Edith had been so impressed with the sentiments in the letters that she pledged "she would never marry until she found a lover like Julian West." When the chamber was discovered, Edith recognized her great-grandmother in the locket around Julian's neck and deduced his identity. Mrs. Leete hopes this explanation will prove that her daughter's love is not precipitous. Julian believes it a "double miracle" that his love "had been reembodied" and "the two Ediths were blended" into one. Edith makes Julian promise not to "love me too much for myself ... [or] I shall be very jealous for her ... [lest] you forget her." Dr. Leete agrees to Julian's plans to propose to Edith, whom he knows has felt "consecrated" to "redeem her great-grandmother's pledge" ever since she saw the locket around Julian's neck. Julian realizes that this is the answer to the mystery of what Edith made her father promise not to tell him: her real identity.

Analysis

The author brings the romance of the novel to its climax in Chapter 27 when Julian West and Edith Leete confess their love for one another and when the mystery of Edith's true identity is revealed. Julian's growing affection for Edith comes to fruition when she once again rescues him from despair. In this instance, Julian is crushed to think Edith pities him for being part of a generation so morally inferior to her own. Edith assures Julian that she doesn't pity him at all but has very different feelings for him. The "bosom heaving" description is quite typical for the Victorian period and truly marks this aspect of the novel as a romance. Julian now has the courage to declare his love, and Edith wonders that he could be blind to her true feelings for him. Rather "Victorian," too, is Edith's concern that Julian not think her a girl who falls for someone in just a week. She is so worried about what Julian must think of her in this regard that she leaves it to her mother to explain what Edith had been keeping secret. She is actually the great-granddaughter of his previous fiancée, Edith Bartlett. Far from falling in love with a stranger after only a few days, Edith has actually been intimately connected with Julian's character through his love letters to her ancestor. She had even formed an attachment to Julian, declaring she would never love a man less than his equal. In the revelation of her identity, Julian unites the two Ediths in his mind and heart, bringing the novel to its peak. All the suspense, foreshadowing, and action has led to this moment. Dr. Leete takes their marriage as almost a foregone conclusion. It is the natural, if predictable, climax to the novel.

Modern readers may find Edith's reaction to Julian's love a bit strange, but the technique allows the author to tie the story up neatly. Far from jealousy or even repulsion, she approves his view of her as Edith Bartlett "reembodied." She wants him to continue to love them both. It's a little weird, perhaps even a bit creepy, that he unifies the two Ediths in his mind. Readers should note, however, that it is an expedient way to tie the story lines together. Rather than deal with unresolved feelings of love or guilt about Edith Bartlett and any obstacle they might cause to his union with Edith Leete, the unification of the two into one object for his love is pragmatic. It means he doesn't have to choose between them, nor does Edith Leete have any reason to feel disloyalty. The author has fulfilled his promise to deliver the explanation of the nation in the form of a romance, with the two main elements of the story connected.

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