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Facing FactsRealism in American Thought and Culture, 1850–1920$
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David E. Shi

Print publication date: 1996

Print ISBN-13: 9780195106534

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195106534.001.0001

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Realism and the Social Question

Realism and the Social Question

(p.181) 9 Realism and the Social Question
Facing Facts

David E. Shi

Oxford University Press

Signs of social strain pervaded at the end of the 19th century. Popular theories of racial superiority and fears of foreign radicalism and social degeneration gave rise to a virulent strain of Anglo-Saxon nativism. Perhaps at no time before or since have class tensions been as bitter as they were during the last quarter of the 19th century. The Massachusetts reformer Lydia Maria Child noticed with alarm the strong demarcation of classes in the country. For others, however, utopianism provided an enticing new vehicle for social satire intended to reform present ills. By far the most popular of these utopian novels was Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward. An agent of reform, Walter Harte, a Boston social activist, charged that Looking Backward and the spate of look-alike utopian novels it inspired more apathy than indignation. Harte stressed that American reformers did not have the luxury of imagining millennial utopias.

Keywords:   nativism, class tensions, Lydia Maria Child, utopianism, Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward, reform, Walter Harte

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