In 1888, a utopian novel arrived on the scene that, for almost two decades, heavily influenced nearly every area of public life. It spurred the creation of a political party that furnished the first socialist to run for national office. Several hundred clubs formed around the idea of promoting the ideas in the book. And it doesn’t once mention Mormons, which is not surprising. So, in doing research on this book, the last thing I expected was to find a “defense” of Mormonism coming from a New York Lawyer.
Edward Bellamy’s utopian novel Looking Backward is considered to be the third best-selling novel of the nineteenth century (after Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Ben-Hur). In addition to creating the Nationalist political party and spurring the formation of hundreds of “Bellamy clubs,” it also spurred an outpouring of utopian fiction never before (or since) seen. In the decades following Looking Backward’s publication, utopian novels (especially unofficial sequels to Bellamy’s book) appeared by the hundreds.
So far, in my dissertation research, none of these novels have even hinted at Mormonism in the slightest. These novels touch on several other issues of the time – temperance, education, women’s rights, socialism – but Mormons aren’t an issue. And then, this week I read A Leap into the Future, or How Things Will Be: A Romance of the Year 2000 by Donald McMartin, “Member of the Fulton County (N.Y.) Bar” (according to the cover). As one of the many, many sequels to Looking Backward, it’s rather unremarkable. It has the same main character, and mostly consists of an attempt to further defend Bellamy’s socialist utopia through additional lectures and episodes from the main characters of the previous work. The one main difference is that McMartin shows more awareness of a wider range of issues than Bellamy did. Bellamy stuck mostly to “the labor question” and Looking Backward focused on how the “industrial army” of the future had eliminated inequality and provided a secure living for all. McMartin, on the other hand, explores several other issues, one of them being “the Mormon question.”
Near the end of Looking Backward, Bellamy has his protagonist (Julian West) wake up in the nineteenth century to discover that his visit to the future was a dream. Wandering around in a daze, he attempts to preach reform and socialism, but is rebuffed by his fellow citizens. Suddenly, he awakens again to discover his return trip to the past was the dream and that he truly is in utopia. In A Leap into the Future, McMartin has West return to the nineteenth century in a dream as well. While observing the past, West rebuffs the advances of a prostitute. This prostitute refuses to leave, however, and instead engages West in a conversation over the evils of nineteenth century society. This is where Mormons suddenly appear. The prostitute asks West about a political rally that had been held earlier in the day: “Did you hear that one who was so down on the Mormons?” and West replied, “No; I don’t recollect any thing of that kind.” The lady then gives him a lecture that functions as a sort of defense of Mormonism:
“Well, there was one; and he is the worst man in the city; a worse than Mormon. But what I was going to say is, the real question is, not whether Mormonism will destroy civilization by increasing the number of men having more than one wife; for the tendency isn’t that way. The question is, will bachelors destroy it through having no wives, but one or no wife, is what should come before the country as a serious question. You have no idea of the utter loneliness of the good and virtuous but poor woman in this city. They live lives of constant temptations; struggle on with the utmost heroism, year after year, and with no sign of getting their natural rewards for it; for husbands are not forthcoming.”
I don’t really have any profound thoughts on the quote. I do think, given some recent discussions on the internet, that this quote shows there is nothing new under the sun. Also, given the recent unpleasantness in Texas, this quote doesn’t seem over a hundred years old anymore.