Consciously or unconsciously, biographers bring their own perspectives to their work. Some writers set out to tell an untold story, focus on an important figure in a field or era that particularly interests them, or examine a life through a more objective lens. For others, it’s more personal, choosing to tell the story of a friend or family member so that others can get to know them as they do. Edward Bellamy’s life story has been told in several biographies—some of which were published, and some of which were not. Each written from a different perspective, they are all valuable in different ways. Read on to learn what makes four of the biographies in the Bellamy House’s collections unique.
Mason Green was an author and journalist whose unpublished biography of Edward Bellamy dates from the early 1900s. Green knew him and his work well: managing editor of Bellamy’s weekly newspaper, The New Nation, in the 1890s he was involved in efforts to promote Bellamy’s ideas on a national level. The two remained friends even after Bellamy’s health led him to scale back his activities, putting Green in a unique position to tell his life’s story. Unfortunately, his telling of this story didn’t turn out as planned. In 1906, while he was working on the manuscript, Green’s Vermont home burned down, taking many original materials—such as Bellamy’s childhood diaries and documents relating to his trip to Europe—with it. Some sections of the manuscript survived because they were in his office at the time, and he filled in the rest from memory. As a result, parts of his narrative are demonstrably inaccurate. However, he discusses the social and political conditions of the time in a way that other biographies do not.1
Bellamy’s first published biographer, Arthur Morgan, may not have had access to as much primary source material as Green did, but what he lacked in available documentation he made up for by working with those who knew his subject. For example, Emma Bellamy and her children gave Morgan access to the manuscript materials they still had, collected and shared information from Bellamy’s acquaintances, and reviewed a draft of the manuscript for Edward Bellamy. In his acknowledgments, Morgan also shares that Cyrus Field Willard, one of the organizers of the First Nationalist Club in Boston, provided information about the Nationalist movement and gave his feedback on a portion of the book.2
Sylvia Bowman is the author of what may be the most comprehensive book on Bellamy and his writings. Part biography, part analysis of the ideas presented in his work, her 1958 book, The Year 2000, relied on many of the same sources that Arthur Morgan used. However, Bowman’s research differed in that she methodically tracked down and read as many of Bellamy’s published writings as possible. She also read some unpublished manuscripts and journals that Morgan had not. Although fewer people who knew Bellamy were still living when she was writing her book, she was still able to interview his wife and two children—the people who knew him best. Bowman later went on to publish a book about the influence of Bellamy’s work around the world, titled Edward Bellamy Abroad.3
Marion Bellamy Earnshaw
While Green, Morgan, and Bowman all worked with the Bellamy family in the course of their research, no writer was closer to their subject than Edward’s daughter, Marion. Her manuscripts, which were never published, are part memoir, part biography; only twelve years old when her father died, her writing combines anecdotes from her childhood with information gleaned from the adults who knew him. Interestingly, it’s somewhat difficult to determine the accuracy of what she presents. While much of the basic biographical information matches what appears in Bowman and Morgan’s books, it’s unclear exactly when Earnshaw began writing and how much of what she included may have been based on memories—both hers and other people’s—that were multiple decades old. A reader may also question how balanced and objective her writing is, knowing that she spent her adult life promoting her father’s legacy. However, as a portrait of Bellamy as a person, Earnshaw’s work stands out among other biographies.
- Sylvia Bowman, The Year 2000 (New York: Bookman Associates, 1958) 130-131, 136, 140; Arthur E. Morgan, Edward Bellamy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1944) 30, 44, 71.
- Morgan, 441.
- Bowman, 10-13.