The Ethics of Romance: Edward Bellamy and American Historical Fiction

Wang Tiao


The author examines The Duke of Stockbridge: A Romance of Shays’ Rebellion (1879), a historical novel written by Edward Bellamy (1850–1898) in order to examine the ethics of Romance in the treatment of historical fiction. Edward Bellamy, most famous for his socialist novel, Looking Backwards (1888), himself looks backwards to examine the popular rebellion during the early post-revolutionary American democracy before the US Constitution was established. The striking feature of this novel is the way that it superimposes the romance genre onto political and historical events. Using the ethical criticism of J. Hillis Miller, Martha Nussbaum, Alasdair MacIntyre, and others, the paper examines the romance genre in relation to virtue ethics to analyze the ethical impulse in Bellamy’s historical novel. To what degree does romance – a literary genre that combines stock characters and stereotypical action – open itself up to analysis in terms of the “virtue ethics” of Nussbaum, MacIntyre, and others? To what degree does an analysis of Bellamy’s novel in these terms allow us to understand what I call the “rhetorical ethics” of a critic like Miller? An examination of the Genteel Literary Tradition prevalent at the time of Bellamy’s novel – as it manifests itself in language and historical representation – allows us to see more closely the relations among rhetoric, character and ethics in the historical novel.


ethics; historical novel; Edward Bellamy; The Duke of Stockbridge

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ISSN 1406-0701 (print)
ISSN 2228-4729 (online)