Paris in the Twentieth Century

PARIS IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY
By Jules Verne

(Sydney Morning Herald April 1, 1998)

“Prophecy,” wrote George Eliot, “is the most gratuitous form of error.” However true, this has not deterred many great minds from trying. From Isaiah to Aldous Huxley, from Nostradamus to Stapledon, predicting the future has remained an irresistible folly.

Jules Verne sets his book not in a faraway place (like More’s Utopia or Butler’s Erehwon) but in a tangible and looming future that derives from the present in an inevitable chain of being. Verne sent the manuscript of this curious gem in 1863 to his editor, Pierre-Jules Hetzel, who promptly rejected it. Although Verne’s first novel, Five Weeks in a Balloon, had just been published to enormous success, Hetzel thought Paris in the Twentieth Century too fantastic, and wrote to Verne: “No-one today will believe your prophecy.”

In the following decades, Verne would become one of the most successful authors France has ever produced and one of the founders of modern science fiction. Verne’s visionary and compulsively readable adventures deal with voyages to the moon (From the Earth to the Moon, 1865), the centre of the Earth (Journey to the Centre of the Earth, 1864) and the North Pole, as well as anticipating the invention of the submarine (20,000 leagues Under the Sea, 1870), the helicopter and artificial satellites. Verne’s chief obsession was with travel and exploration, and throughout his life he would remain a committed sailor, using boats as mobile studios where a lot of his writing was done. Verne was a famous and wealthy man by the time he died in 1905. But the manuscript of perhaps one of his most ground-breaking works would remain undiscovered until 1989, when the sale of the family home prompted Verne’s grandson to dispense with a large safe that had remained untouched for decades. In a narrative twist worthy of one of his adventures, the safe was opened with a blowtorch to reveal a dusty manuscript wrapped in linen. The text turned out to be this long-lost and hitherto unpublished science fiction work by Verne.

Set in 1960, Paris in the Twentieth Century is a vision of the world 100 years from Verne’s time. Verne introduces us to his future through long expository paragraphs. We are told that all cultural and artistic developments have abruptly halted around the 1900s, and the pursuit of scientific research absorbs most of society’s resources. Although the number of published books is high, very few people read any more, and knowledge is imparted by undisclosed “mechanical means”. Culture and education have been monopolised by the Academic Credit Union, a demagogic institution which frowns upon any works of literature that are not in “perfect harmony” with “the age’s industrial aims”. As a consequence, modem works of poetry have titles like Poetic Parallelogram, Meditations on Oxygen and Decarbonated Odes and books like A Practical Treatise for the Lubrication of Driveshafts and Monograph on Cancer of the Brain are in high demand. Painting and sculpture are dead, and cacophony and disharmony rule over music. The main drive of this society is to make money, and whoever does not surrender to this economic imperative is left to drop by the side. Verne’s description of future Paris would strike any modern reader as prescient and plausible: a monumental metropolis of wide avenues, galleries, viaducts, “boulevards lit as brightly as by the sun” and “stores as sumptuous as palaces”.

Technology is omnipresent and the main engine of societal change. There are horseless carriages driven by hydrogen engines and driver-less trains powered by magnetic fields and compressed air, while, not so far from where the Eiffel Tower went up in 1899, there looms a giant electric lighthouse. Parisians in the 20th century have fax machines (’photographic telegraphy permitted transmission of the facsimile of any form of writing or illustration”) but no television sets or telephones. Certain garments of clothing are made of finely woven metal, yet the fashion and sexual mores of Verne’s 1960s remain decidedly Victorian. A vast “telegraph network” covers the Earth, making possible instant communication and transactions over great distances. Verne also indulges in some absurdist robotics. There is, for example, a multipurpose piano that, at the push of a button, doubles up as a dining table-a contraption that would have been the envy of any self respecting Dadaist. Also, we are shown an Electric Concert where “200 pianos wired together by means of an electric current could be played by the hands of a single artist”. Somewhat less amusingly, nearly a quarter of a century before the implementation of the electric chair, Verne envisions prisoners condemned to death “executed by electric charge”, in what he describes as a “better imitation of divine vengeance”.

The central character of the novel is Michel Dufrenoy, a young romantic poet struggling to survive in this society ruled by the twin demons of Finance and Machinery. Certain autobiographical elements can be read into this character, who may embody the struggles of young Jules Verne to balance a monotonous full-time job with his ambitious literary aspirations. Pressured by his father to study law, young Jules would buy into a financial company and work as a broker in the Stock Exchange, writing poems, stories and pieces for the stage in his spare time, and also helping with the management of a theatre established by his friend Alexander Dumas. In Paris, Michel Dufrenoy is employed in a bank, where he is assigned to Machine Number Four and thrown into a scenario vaguely reminiscent of Franz Kafka (who was still half a century away). Armies of copyists and operators rush about typing on “strangely shaped” proto-computers and writing on mammoth ornate ledgers. While employed in the bank, Michel causes an accident and is fired. Later, he is hired by a State-owned theatre company. Here the mass-production of vacuous entertainment has been thoroughly bureaucratized, and the writing production-line includes a Department of Puns, a Drama and a Comedy division, a clerk in charge of rhyming couplets and another who rules on preposterous phrases. Strangely, but not surprisingly, tragedy has been banished from the list. Unable to adapt, Michel is demoted from Drama to Vaudeville. Deciding that starvation is better than this artistic humiliation, he resigns.

The closing chapters follow Michel’s descent into poverty. However, do not expect gritty social realism from Verne, for the poverty remains largely invisible, and the polished surfaces of Paris are impervious to the sight of this society’s shortcomings. Verne is thoughtful enough to invent a “coal bread” that is cheaply produced to feed the poor.

Thus, it is Michel’s (and the novel’s) ironic lot to become a tragedy. For a man who is often regarded as a singer of the praises of technology, Verne presents a rather grim picture of its effects. Also, the fact that he portrays the obsession with technological improvement as inextricably associated with the drive for profit is noteworthy. Nonetheless, Verne cannot decide whether to be fascinated or horrified by the glittering edges of this wondrous age. His own position is a conservative one, and would have seemed so even to his contemporaries. During the narrative, Verne uses his characters as mouthpieces extolling the virtues of classical harmony in music, bravery in war and the “good old days” (circa 1863). Like all prophecies, Verne’s novel tells us more about the time it was written than about the time it supposedly predicts. Modernity was pounding at the threshold of Verne’s age, and the Industrial Revolution augured a time of changes, of great wonders and uncertainties. In this context, this novel is a revealing document, an ironic and admonitory comment on the society of its day. Reality, as if any further confirmation was needed, will always be much stranger than fiction. Verne’s vision errs wonderfully, and is darkly accurate in many respects. However, nothing can palliate the impression that we are reading this one hundred and fifty years too late.

Leave a Reply




  • cream psoriasis
  • 5 mg once a day prezzo
  • what if and dont work
  • day 7 10
  • tabletas 200mg
  • pi
  • highest dose
  • urethritis
  • packungsbeilage mini 4mg granulat
  • how to use 5 ointment
  • canada pharmacy
  • on vulva
  • drug usage
  • does not affect birth control
  • vs
  • plumbing supplies
  • und
  • can women take
  • out of pocket
  • tingling fingers
  • can you lose weight when taking
  • oubli
  • can you take with zoloft
  • will cause you gain weight
  • ervaringen
  • e
  • no prescription needed
  • hunger
  • e proibido
  • liquid chlorophyll
  • pain med
  • stomach ulcers
  • otc
  • high cholesterol
  • takeda
  • purchase online
  • and
  • wellbutrin combination
  • can you take pm vicodin
  • safe while pregnant
  • class action canada
  • met xtc
  • wyeth pharmaceuticals
  • can take tylenol pm
  • when do you use
  • iv
  • apache pizza
  • twice in 1 cycle
  • side effects urinary retention
  • frauen bestellen
  • compare and
  • mdl new jersey
  • 200 mg
  • taking and together
  • posologie 25
  • doesn't work
  • over the counter walgreens
  • cheapest online canada
  • vomiting
  • compare hctz
  • solar plant chicago
  • safe when pregnant
  • mdl orders
  • 2 comprimA©s par jour
  • can take benadryl while taking
  • cheap alternatives
  • pregnancy webmd
  • bijsluiter 20 mg
  • how does work
  • din number
  • parkinson's
  • can take benadryl plus
  • usa today vs
  • together
  • dosage mood stabilizer
  • taking and together
  • acne pregnant
  • falls theater review
  • tramadol interaction
  • vs vs
  • alternative bodybuilding
  • can you stop taking abruptly
  • chances getting pregnant while taking
  • fungal
  • dose calculator
  • topical for shingles
  • 60 mg kaufen
  • 8940969819
  • drug interactions with
  • uso quotidiano del
  • following cva
  • normal pt values
  • efectos de
  • se puede tomar a diario
  • et c difficile
  • johnson & johnson
  • babies side effects
  • can zoloft taken together
  • gino tralen e
  • best substitute
  • max daily dose
  • cmi tablets
  • o tachipirina
  • children coupon
  • can buy online
  • dose for c diff colitis
  • streptococcus pyogenes
  • growth arrest
  • if doesnt work
  • interactions
  • side effects fatigue
  • 4 fois jour
  • dosage for 4 year old
  • sally fields commercial filmed
  • 25 mg
  • bula bjorklund
  • and
  • 9807542098
  • sleep
  • can you use expired cream
  • how long do i take after cycle
  • bricanyl vidal
  • sciroppo dosaggio bambini
  • 5730217387
  • breaking out one month after
  • suspension flavoring
  • smpc
  • para que sirve el 25 mg
  • dosage in elderly
  • rap video
  • fda warning
  • safe take outdated
  • using recreational
  • wellbutrin drug interactions
  • how much does a inhaler cost without insurance
  • can you take with paracetamol
  • comparison
  • for iui
  • interactions
  • bloody diarrhea
  • is a good drug
  • crohn's disease side effects
  • and taste loss
  • o que A© e para que serve
  • find
  • low tsh normal t4
  • generic yet
  • alcohol while taking
  • on drug screen
  • food empty stomach
  • side effects
  • food drug interactions
  • duration
  • after taking when does ovulation occur
  • taking 60 mg
  • kind medicine
  • y
  • 200 mg side effects
  • olanzapina 5 mg
  • le a 20 ans
  • myasthenia gravis
  • high fever
  • ceasing
  • does taking increase chance of twins
  • dosage 1 year old
  • safe while breastfeeding
  • pm dose
  • cream for jock itch
  • difference between
  • 4 pills at once
  • tengis
  • ac
  • cheap canada
  • can i take with mucinex dm
  • can stop taking after one day
  • drug uses
  • 375mg tablets medicine
  • toxicity
  • generic
  • side effects xr children
  • how works cold sores
  • heart arrhythmia
  • side effects cramps
  • fibromyalgia
  • is it legal to take onto a plane
  • wellbutrin drug interactions
  • and taken together
  • cream ireland
  • is an opiate potentiation
  • is a generic for
  • interaction
  • taking breastfeeding
  • holding
  • for capsular contracture breast augmentation
  • women indian market
  • ovulation tests while taking
  • 20mg reviews
  • make u last longer
  • effects
  • is a sulfa drug
  • better than anxiety
  • many days should you take d
  • multivitamin without vitamin a
  • double vision
  • and alprazolam
  • d
  • during early pregnancy
  • liver
  • 7.5mg dosage
  • chemo drug
  • withdrawal shortness of breath
  • dry mouth side effect
  • uses
  • aspirin vs atrial fibrillation
  • dietary restrictions for users
  • oral granules dosage
  • does la cause weight gain
  • 5mg tablets australia
  • vs ed
  • tablets prescribing information
  • apotik yang jual
  • heartburn
  • side effects young adults
  • recommended dosage
  • half life iv
  • y pravastatina
  • acne gets worse before gets better
  • para que es el
  • is a vasoconstrictor
  • hunger pangs
  • patient ratings
  • epiduo
  • stomach pain
  • bula
  • generic equivalent
  • online new zealand
  • price of at walgreens
  • what is used for
  • compare and
  • many milligrams yeast infection
  • australia
  • vs review
  • lloyds pharmacy
  • pill identification
  • xanax interaction
  • prevent ear infections
  • medication for babies
  • taking pregnant
  • can i buy over the counter in ireland
  • sls prescription
  • sweating
  • o que es mejor
  • for a tooth abscess
  • lawsuits against pfizer
  • is a methamphetamine
  • does cause itching
  • can take 2 800 mg
  • for kidney stones dose
  • and for diverticulitis
  • pitkA¤aikaiskA¤yttA¶
  • o
  • success rate
  • versus
  • babies sleep
  • combination
  • how to taper off safely
  • false negative ovulation
  • drug class
  • a sulfa drug
  • zahnentfernung
  • settlement 2008
  • ndc number
  • for 2 year old
  • and for diverticulitis
  • do people snort
  • 5 creme sachets cre 12
  • pharmacodynamics
  • shampoo 1 or 2 for hair loss
  • arixtra with
  • and diet education
  • taking every other day
  • effervescent 100 brause
  • and interaction
  • can buy egypt
  • can you take while breastfeeding
  • herpes simplex skin
  • pflaster wirkstoff
  • much 1 year old
  • can take 2 per day
  • buy usa
  • depression anxiety
  • price 500 mg
  • takes how long to work
  • food interactions
  • taking together
  • can take beta blocker
  • eating green vegetables
  • long does take work
  • cephalosporin generation
  • typical dosage
  • pneumocystis prophylaxis
  • levo and
  • generic costco
  • zubereitung
  • effective dose
  • generic
  • nuclear security careers
  • kegunaan
  • cream bleeding
  • drug interactions antibiotics
  • vardar vs live
  • 5 tablets
  • badmA¶bel nr 1
  • birth defects
  • coverage spectrum
  • vs
  • can you take morning benadryl night
  • early period after taking
  • once a day price
  • hfa emergency inhaler
  • during early pregnancy
  • el es bueno
  • d cause dry mouth
  • alternating tylenol and every 2 hours
  • nistatina gel
  • interactions with birth control
  • can take alprazolam
  • can i take my at night
  • metabolism
  • d dose
  • amlo fix 160\/5mg preA§o
  • effects in normal men
  • spa riu playa del carmen
  • capsules side effects
  • safe ttc
  • 20 mg 30 film tablet
  • cual efecto mujeres
  • e muscoril sciatica
  • and side effects
  • vs epinephrine
  • getting off
  • po dosage
  • side effects
  • stopping cold turkey
  • children's sleep
  • l-theanine with
  • emulgel uses
  • dosage deca
  • u apoteci
  • taking recreational
  • and nausea
  • can you take adderall and together
  • 100 mg filmtabletten
  • is it safe to take while pregnant first trimester
  • allergy sulfa
  • and keppra
  • d rebate
  • comprar en mexico
  • uti toddler
  • y disfuncion erectil
  • can you take lorazepam together
  • can make you sleepy
  • fda warning
  • 2 times week
  • should you take at night
  • differenza tra oki e
  • effetti collaterali depressione
  • xr 200mg
  • counting beads
  • for osteomyelitis
  • side effects rxlist
  • can u get high from
  • 40 mg\/ml
  • treatment for plantar warts
  • to treat dementia
  • nursing considerations
  • pyelonephritis
  • severe reactions
  • 10 mg price uk
  • will generic available
  • for abortion side effects
  • with d
  • contraindications
  • taking zoloft
  • compare hct and hct
  • creatine good
  • vs zoloft
  • no prescription
  • cytomel together
  • generic sold usa
  • weight gain
  • dawkowanie u dzieci
  • resinat und stillen
  • natural
  • free printable coupons
  • hfa msds
  • treats
  • chemotherapy cream
  • for dementia side effects
  • treat mrsa