Science Fiction Studies

#79 = Volume 26, Part 3 = November 1999

Philippe Willems

A Stereoscopic Vision of the Future: Albert Robida's Twentieth Century

The discovery and publication of Jules Verne’s Paris au XXe siècle in 1994 generated much interest in the media and among scholars of early sf.1 As Piero Gondolo della Riva admits in his preface to this previously unpublished novel, however, its significance resides more in the new light it sheds on the debate about Verne’s optimism concerning scientific progress than in its intrinsic literary qualities (22-23). Despite its wealth of—sometimes humorous, but most often bleak—extrapolations about daily life in the year 1960, it is a rather poorly written work and probably deserves Hetzel’s editorial rebuff of “You have undertaken an impossible task and, like your predecessors in such matters, you have not been able to pull it off well” (15). Indeed, the attention it attracted upon publication was more due to the name of its author than to its actual substance as a futuristic dystopia. But there is one, unjustly forgotten, French novelist from this period whose visions of the twentieth century are more elaborate, convincing, and realistically crafted than those found in Paris au XXe siècle: Albert Robida.

Among early writers of conjectural novels, French author and artist Albert Robida (1848-1926) has generally been considered of secondary importance by sf historians. Darko Suvin, for example, ranks Robida as merely one writer among “a whole school of Verneans” (Metamorphoses 162); although the Clute/Nicholls Encyclopedia of Science Fiction hails Robida as an important early sf illustrator, his narratives are panned as “undistinguished” and “undermined by his ability to imagine the future except in terms of more and more gadgetry” (1014); and Everett F. Bleiler ignores Robida’s work entirely in his massive Science-Fiction: The Early Years (1990). I would contend, however, that Robida’s fictional speculations are among the best of this period. They have more “substance”—i.e., they contain more contextual elements giving dimension to and fleshing out his portrayals of the future—than any other sf of his era. Very popular in France during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Robida was acutely aware of the intricacies of conjecture as he extrapolated potential futures from the social trends of his time. His detailed focus on society at large reveals a strong link with the genre of literary utopias. But the originality of his narratives—their realistic portrayal of daily life, their satiric humor, their technological inventiveness—sharply distinguishes him from other early sf writers influenced by the utopian model. The most significant of Robida’s sf works in this vein are a trilogy of novels depicting various facets of life in the then-distant 1950s: Le Vingtième Siècle (The Twentieth Century, 1883), La Guerre au vingtième siècle (War in the Twentieth Century, 1887), and La Vie électrique (The Electric Life, 1890).

In this essay, I will analyze the link between Robida’s unique narrative strategies and his skill in endowing his potential society of the future with verisimilitude. Robida’s vision of France in the 1950s is striking in its overall organic coherence. Multiple factors generate the realism in the Twentieth Century trilogy: its historical dimension, the depth of Robida’s cultural and societal insight, the network of different narrative voices used, and the multi-media aspect of these illustrated novels. All these traits contribute to making Robida a highly original and important figure in the history of sf.

Albert Robida was a prolific and versatile artist and writer whose career, from 1869 to 1925, bridged two distinct eras in France: an earlier Saint-Simonian positivism and a subsequent widespread suspicion of progress. He produced a variety of works: several anticipation novels, works on the evolution of costume and architecture—books in which he displays his magnificent skills as an academic artist—and novels and short stories for young readers. Co-creator and chief editor of the satirical magazine La Caricature, he also provided regular contributions to a myriad of late nineteenth-century periodicals,2 and regularly illustrated novels for a number of other writers.3 He also produced advertisements, postcards, shadow-theater shows for the Chat Noir and designed the “Medieval Paris” display for the 1900 Exposition Universelle.

This diversity, however, is more formal than thematic: one can identify a thread of recurrent themes and favored narrative treatments within his apparently heterogeneous production. First of all, humor is nearly omnipresent, as is a concern for visual impressions. One can also distinguish his strong interest in many facets of human activity and especially how social identities are expressed in such areas as costume, urban life and architecture, and education. Finally, a passion for science and a fascination with history and war permeate his works.

Robida’s sf novels are most often defined in relation to the works of Jules Verne, by whom, as mentioned, they are said to have been largely overshadowed. In reality, however, the two novelists occupy very distinct territories with a limited area of intersection. The link between Verne and Robida is double-edged, in some ways justified, and yet in others resting on a misperception. First, there is some real kinship between the two writers. Indeed, Verne must be credited for inspiring Robida’s first novel, a parody of the celebrated Voyages extraordinaires. Initially published in separate installments in periodicals, it bears the hyperbolic and tongue-in-cheek title Voyages très extraordinaires de Saturnin Farandoul dans les 5 ou 6 parties du monde et dans tous les pays connus et même inconnus de Monsieur Jules Verne (The Very Extraordinary Voyages of Saturnin Farandoul in the 5 or 6 Parts of the World and in All the Known and Even Unknown Countries of Mr. Jules Verne, 1879).4 But if multiple adventures around the world represent no novelty within this now well-established narrative paradigm, the frame Robida gives Saturnin Farandoul’s exploits is nevertheless unique. Through his satire, Robida takes on a reader’s—or, rather, a consumer’s—perspective in the way he apprehends all Verne’s works in the Hetzel collection. He revisits the whole corpus as one block of potentially synchronous fictional events in which all of Verne’s characters coexist. Thus, throughout his adventures, Robida’s hero Farandoul interacts with Captains Nemo and Hatteras, Phileas Fogg, Michel Strogoff, and Hector Servadac, among others. Robida incorporates Verne’s universe into his fiction as one global entity, as if to underscore symbolically the coherence of Verne’s work as an encyclopedic endeavor.

Robida did indeed sharpen his quill in Verne’s shadow. His first novel, however, is only one in a series of more than seventy diverse books. Albert Robida rapidly found his own path, and the majority of his works do not display any common trait with Verne other than a pronounced technological fetishism. It is highly ironic that both authors’ reputations crystallized around erroneous notions: this single instance of parody served to pigeonhole Robida as a Verne clone, as a relatively small number of Verne’s novels devoted to sf themes defined him to posterity only as the “Father of Science Fiction.”

The characteristics that set Robida apart from Verne and other scientific novelists are perhaps best illustrated by an analogy with an apparatus contemporary to him, the stereoscope. Like Robida’s oeuvre, this contraption enjoyed wide public popularity in the late 1800s only to fade into obsolescence and oblivion after the first third of the twentieth century.

Stereoscopic Visions. The stereoscope is an optical device that provides a three-dimensional vision of photographs taken with a stereoscopic camera. The process consists of taking a double photograph with a two-lens camera, the distance between the lenses being roughly similar to that between the human eyes. Each lens cap-tures the same view from a slightly different angle. The stereoscope lenses then fuse the pair of developed prints together to give the viewer an impression of depth. Stereoscopic photography was born in the late 1830s in England and developed alongside standard photographic processes such as the daguerreotype and the talbotype. It was presented to the general public at the 1851 London International Exhibition and henceforth commercialized. Its popularity quickly grew in Western Europe and the United States, and the stereoscope remained a staple of parlor entertainment for decades. Indeed, it became the nineteenth-century public’s most favored form of photography.5

From the beginning of its commercialization in the 1850s, stereophotography caught the general public’s imagination by the extra dimension it offered in comparison with flat, purely two-dimensional photography. Photography had been able to bring people into contact with faraway lands and people; it helped them to witness events beyond the realm of their existence; and it allowed them to peek into other people’s private lives. Stereophotography surpassed that phenomenon by offering—albeit by an optical trick—an apparent dimension of depth, significantly enhancing the realism of the viewing experience.

Stereoscopic photography is not only an optical wonder still in use today for scientific applications in fields such as geology, but also constitutes a matchless window onto the past for the historian. Stereophotographers recorded virtually every landscape and facet of human activity on the planet through a period spanning the early 1850s to the 1930s. Most stereoscopic photographs were purposefully didactic in nature. Texts printed on the back often provided geographical, sociological, cultural, or economic data, in a more or less digested form, depending on the target audience. Their astounding diversity and their mass production make them a visual encyclopedia of the nineteenth century. In the United States, they were on the shelves of every school library. I am proposing an analogy between Robida’s snapshots of a potential future and the stereophotographic process because of this element of extradimensionality. The added depth and substance produced in both this optical process and its literary counterpart created very similar effects.

In Robida’s case, this illusion of depth and substance is accomplished by the author’s continual use of what might be called hermeneutic heterogeneity: the unexpected intrusion, with no particular influence on the plot itself, of a variety of mundane events into the middle-class lives of the protagonists. These diverse glimpses into aspects of their contemporary world, while irrelevant to the story-line, are highly important because each one—in pointilliste fashion—adds to the cumulative effect. Each serves to flesh out and contextualize the reality of this future society and to suggest, by showing instead of telling, the impact of technology and “Progress” on these individuals’ lives.

Until the twentieth century and with few exceptions, the imaginary societies of most utopian and sf novelists were “flat.” Most merely described a social system with its physical and legal organization: a view of a society as seen by the philosopher, the urban planner, or the legislator. Others used the futuristic setting simply as an exotic background for deploying a conventional plot or for recycling familiar scenarios. In contrast, Robida’s modus operandi is very different: rather than considering his model from above, he draws the reader into exploring it from within. In his conjectural novels, the daily life of the future civilization described is the main character and occupies center stage. The plot becomes a mere pretext, or rather a thread around which a guided tour of the novelist’s potential world unfolds, layer by layer. The real text is woven by the interplay of the many events portrayed that often possess no other common characteristic than synchronicity. Although this proliferation of denotative signs and contextual paradigms conforms to the nineteenth century’s approach to realism from Balzac onward, Robida’s system is quite distinct. His multiple effets de réel do not claim empirical precision, scientific accuracy, or even psychological profundity. Indeed, his personal taste drew him away from literary naturalism, a movement in full swing at the time he wrote his novels.6 Still, as an evocative portrayal of futuristic ontology, his Vingtième siècle trilogy displays a multitude of familiar aspects of what daily life would be like in the twentieth century.

Progress and Technology. Le Vingtième siècle and La Vie électrique offer a panorama of daily life in the years 1952 and 1953, respectively. In Le Vingtième siècle, Hélène Colobry, a recent graduate, is in search of a profession. Her successive attempts at careers such as law, politics, journalism, and finance provide French readers of 1883 both with a glimpse of their society’s institutions seventy years later and with an amusing portrait of how gender roles will have evolved. La Vie électrique revolves around a young couple, Georges Lorris and Estelle Lacombe. They want to get married despite the disapproval of Georges’ father, a famous scientist who is opposed to the union for genetic reasons. This novel examines not only the institution of the “modern” marriage—for example, post-nuptial honeymoons have been replaced by pre-nuptial voyages de fiançailles to determine the potential compatibility of the young couple—but also the role and impact of science on this society of the future. La Guerre au vingtième siècle is a shorter narrative depicting Fabius Molinas’ fighting in a conflict in 1945; it develops the concept of future warfare.7 The first and last novels in the series, Le Vingtième siècle and La Vie électrique, take place primarily in France; La Guerre au vingtième siècle includes adventures at various points around the globe.

This future world is defined by its devotion to “Progress.” In a pure positivist spirit, the narrator praises scientists who have ushered in an era of universal prosperity and optimism, thanks mainly to technological developments made possible by the mastery of electric energy. Scientists build artificial continents, control the weather, and move planets around. People live at a hectic pace in huge cities that have grown vertically and now reach to the clouds; aérocars, aérocabs, and aéronefs-omnibus assure convenient and reliable mass transit.

Unfettered capitalism reigns and commercial advertising is omnipresent, even in the air, whether on top of skyscrapers or on flying vehicles. Industrial food is produced and delivered to subscribers. A telecommunications network can instantaneously link any correspondents anywhere on the globe.8 Women have access to all professions; they take an active part in political life, smoke in public, and wear pants or miniskirts. National parks have been created all over the world to combat the threat of pollution,9 and bacteriological and chemical weapons are increasingly becoming part of every nation’s arsenal.

In much the same way as the television and the computer dominate the technological landscape of our mid- and late-twentieth century, Robida’s futuristic world revolves around the téléphonoscope. This device, a staple of virtually every home and office, offers instantaneous audiovisual telecommunications for private users as well as news delivery, a “home-shopping network,” and even an HBO-like entertainment service:

The device consists in a simple crystal sheet, flush with the wall or set up as a mirror above a fireplace. No need for the theater lover to leave his home: he simply sits in front of the screen, chooses his theater, establishes the communication, and the show begins at once.

With the telephonoscope—the word says it all—one can both see and hear. Dialog and music are transmitted through a simple telephone, but along with it the very stage and its lighting, its backgrounds and actors. They all appear with the sharpness of direct vision on the large crystal screen; thus, one virtually attends the performance, sights and sounds alike. The illusion is complete, absolute, as if one were sitting in the front row (Vingtième 56).

Of course, in Robida’s fictional world, as in today’s real one, such electricity-based digital technology occasionally produces unforseeable glitches—as in the following description of a temporary breakdown of this information highway because of an unexpected and particularly severe lightning storm:

On Georges Lorris’ telephonoscope screen, as on all the télés in the area, thousands of confused images and sounds zapped through homes with a rumbling like the roar of a new and ferocious species of storm. One can easily imagine this deafening blare: it was very noise of life itself from a 1600 square-league region, sounds collected everywhere by all the receivers, condensed into one composite noise, and then rebroadcast en bloc through each device with a frightful intensity! (Electrique 16-17)

Among Robida’s many other electronic technological predictions are Philoxène Lorris’ Grand Dictionnaire mécanico-photographique and phonoclicotèque (closely matching today’s cd-rom equipment) and his clever device to screen visitors: a “recording phonograph with a photographic lens”—a mixture of our answering machine and outdoor video system.

Robida’s predictive genius, however, does not constitute the main focus of my interest. What really distinguishes Robida from other nineteenth-century writers of conjectural fiction is the depth of his portrayal of the future, the real-life dimension he injects into it. Robida’s approach to technology, for example, stands halfway between Jules Verne’s detailed mechanical explanations and H.G. Wells’s psychological realism. As with Verne, his use of the above-mentioned téléphonoscope and its variants is symptomatic of a certain shared technological fetishism. Robida delights in furnishing his future with hardware. As in Verne’s novels, the realms of telecommunication and transportation, two main sources of technological impact on everyday life, tend to occupy center stage. A myriad of other futuristic inventions such as téléphonographes, tubes (high-speed trains), aéro-omnibus, aéroflèches, aéro-paquebots, and other technological extrapolations thrive in Robida’s universe. But, in contrast to Verne, exactly how they work is never fully explained. No precise description is ever offered, other than the particular device’s relation to electrical current. This is to say that Robida privileges the cultural manifestations of such technological progress over its definition. Whereas technology acquires as much relevance as characters in Verne’s Voyages extraordinaires, it only represents a symptom of ultra-modernity in Le Vingtième. Unlike Verne’s machines, the ones developed by Robida do not perform, they signify. Their usefulness consists in providing a societal “frame” for an in-depth examination of social mores, customs, attitudes, and daily experiences of the fictional characters who inhabit this world. Far from being isolated, technologically-based fantasies, these machines belong to a coherent cultural network. This aspect of Robida’s sf aligns it much closer to the works of Wells. Like Wells’s twenty-second-century London in When the Sleeper Wakes (1899) or The Shape of Things to Come (1933), Robida’s fictive projections highlight the many sociological aspects of what the future may hold: its political and social institutions, its environmental concerns, its trends, fashions, and leisure activities.

Future Feminism. Robida’s emphasis on the sociocultural is reflected, for example, in the social status of women in his future world. One of the most important and original aspects of Robida’s novels is their feminist dimension; indeed, while the main protagonist of Le Vingtième siècle is society as a whole, its narrative is built around the daily experiences of a young woman. Robida’s foregrounding of a female character in the text is quite rare in early sf.

In Robida’s future, human progress is explicitly and repeatedly associated with feminine emancipation. In his 1950s, contrary to the 1880s, women have access to all professions and in many cases are recognized as superior to their male colleagues. In Le Vingtième siècle, Hélène Colobry tries her hand at several careers: lawyer, politician,10 journalist, and financier—all key positions reserved exclusively for men in Robida’s own society. Naturally, these new liberties have a price. If women of the future have acquired the right to participate in all formerly male-only domains—including being members of the Académie Française—they must also assume certain traditionally male responsibilities. They are now expected to pursue a career. As Hélène’s father informs her:

“All careers are now open to female activity: commerce, finance, administration, law, medicine.... Women have conquered all their rights and have forced open all doors.... My own daughters, raised by a practical father, won’t spend their lives on social frivolities....
By necessity, you must work.... The practical education that I have arranged for you to have been given opens up a host of career possibilities. Do you want to try finance, become a banker? a stock broker? I can help get you started by arranging a position for you at the stock exchange....”
“I hate numbers,” groaned Hélène.
“A bad sign! Well, would you prefer law? You would need only to continue your law studies and, in two years, you could be a lawyer....”
“I told you that I had never been able to get better than just a passing grade in my three years of law school.”
“Unfortunate! ... How about becoming a doctor? I could provide you with everything during your studies. By working hard, you could become a doctor in five or six years! A fine career for a woman. And, with my connections, I’d quickly be able to get you one of the best clienteles of Paris....”
“I’m not really interested in it,” replied Hélène. “And for the sake of the patients, I’d prefer something else.”
“Blast! And how about business?”
“I have no taste whatsoever for business.”
“Civil service then? You have no ambition ... that would be perfect for you....”
Hélène did not answer.
“That doesn’t suit you either? So you have no interests at all? ... For your own good, I must shake you out of your inertia. I give you one week to think about it and to decide definitively on your career, whichever!” (Vingtième 19-20)

As this new modern twist on a typical father-daughter dialogue suggests (and one which, when read from the viewpoint of the late twentieth century, seems very familiar indeed), Robida’s treatment of future feminism is primarily sociological/experiential rather than ideological/philosophical. It shows rather than tells how this new social mandate would affect a young woman and her family as she attempts to decide what to do with her adult life. Using a narrative strategy reminiscent of (or prefiguring) most later sf, Robida’s approach is thus oblique by nature: his portrait of the future is constructed inductively, from the specific to the general. Realistic details about the effects and implications of this new social order on the daily lives of his fictional protagonists speak volumes about the “brave new world” they inhabit.

But Robida’s brand of future feminism is also the continual source of many entre nous jokes between the author and his implied readers. At times bur-lesque and almost always tongue-in-cheek, the omnipresent humor that permeates Robida’s texts usually derives from the incongruity of juxtaposing nineteenth-century bourgeois values onto an extrapolated social frame. Such comic moments are especially striking when the author speaks of the projected role of women. If daily life in this high-tech and “enlightened” future is very different, Robida often seems to imply, basic human nature is not and “women will always be women,” regardless of time, milieu, or social mandates.

In Robida’s futuristic world, the role of the “New woman” has been absurdly masculinized, as such neologistic names as Barnabette, Nicolasse, or Maximilienne tend to suggest—names that

may be lacking in elegance and sweetness, but, as everyone knows, advocates of woman’s emancipation and of her partaking in all political and social rights, as well as in all their corresponding duties, have adopted the custom of giving the children of that emancipated gender names of harsh character or of forbidding euphony.... the role reserved for women being a serious one, the names must also be serious. (Vingtième 4-5).

Young women dress in short skirts and trousers (“the long skirts of our grandmothers were too inconvenient for climbing into aérostats and, furthermore, most forward-thinking women considered them symbols of their former slavery” [42]). They go out without chaperones, they have the vote, they serve in the military, and they fight duels over questions of personal honor.11 In Le Vingtième siècle, for example, Hélène is required to publicly cross swords with a female celebrity offended by Hélène’s gossip column in the newspaper. The ensuing spectacle—a theatrical “duel to the death” between the portly middle-aged matron bent on vengeance and young, polite Hélène who “deplores such deadly consequences of the masculinization of women” (245)—nevertheless has a happy ending: a spectator, seated in his hovering aérocab, inadvertently drops an umbrella into the mêlée and

Hélène’s sword, piercing through the umbrella, grazed her adversary’s bosom, fortunately armoured by a rigid corset. On Mme. de Saint-Panachard’s chest were a few droplets of blood, not from the sword thrust but from a slightly bloodied nose caused by the falling umbrella.
As Hélène approached the victim, the latter nobly extended her hand to her.
“Honor has been satisfied!” the master of arms said solemnly.
“And a reconciliation banquet prepared,” added the editor-in-chief. “Quickly!” he whispered to Hélène’s second, “A little article on this duel for our next issue ... no need to mention the umbrella.” (248-49)

Similarly, if women excel in law careers, they do so not because of their intellectual prowess, but because of their unparalleled—and supposedly innate—ability to move jurors emotionally.

Male lawyers are in the minority. They plead only civil cases, and even then, mostly in cases that involve numbers or dull points of jurisprudence.… Great causes are exclusively reserved for female lawyers. Crimes of jealousy, always somewhat poetic, lend themselves wonderfully to their eloquence.… one should hear [Hélène’s] emotional tones and see the art with which she takes advantage of her touching looks and of the tears with which she bathes the pathetic parts of her defense speech. (100)

Robida’s descriptions of such gender equality in the 1950s, therefore, are not without fundamental contradictions. While the narrative constantly praises women’s merits and emphasizes how their emancipation is de rigueur in a truly modern society, the episodes demonstrating this principle often tend to convey the very bias they seek to condemn. Consider, for example, such well-meaning statements as the following: “The backward philosophers of previous centuries who professed such ridiculous ideas about women’s social role would have no doubt recoiled in horror at this [idea]; but twentieth-century thinkers are pleased to see women, behind for so long on the road of progress, now taking an interest in serious and practical matters” (286). Positing women’s absence from power structures as a question of personal choice implies a serious ideological blind spot concerning the forces at play in society at large.

Nonetheless, it is important to note that Robida’s own unconscious and patriarchial biases brought more verisimilitude to this dimension of his future world—for French readers of the 1880s—than any politically correct conjecture (from today’s viewpoint) could possibly have done. Indeed, if Robida’s social extrapolations occasionally seem rife with anachronisms, we must not add our own when reading him; we must view them as historical markers reflecting the prevailing sociocultural attitudes of the age. With all its imperfections and wry chauvinistic humor, Robida’s treatment of female emancipation in Le Vingtième siècle remains overall more plausible and realistic—i.e., shows more “depth”—than almost any other sf work prior to him.

Heterogeneity. Le Vingtième Siècle presents itself as a panegyric to scientific progress, touting the latter’s innumerable benefits, from physical comfort to social harmony, in most parts of the globe. In the purest positivist spirit—soon to find itself under attack in the late 1890s—Robida’s narrator constantly praises scientists, the propagators of this new universal order. The tone is extremely assertive, as the frequency of exclamation marks throughout the text confirms. The world of the 1950s is bursting with optimism and prosperity, thanks to the mastery of electrical energy. La Vie électrique, however, written eight years after Vingtième, presents a much more nuanced portrait of such a future; it complements but also counterbalances the former’s unbridled optimism, and it introduces a strong measure of ambiguity into the fictional society portrayed.

For example, in its mention of the new “emancipated” status of women, La Vie électrique reiterates what was said earlier in Le Vingtième siècle, but adds a new twist. This new equality for women is not only the result of society’s progress toward social justice and individual rights; it is also the necessary byproduct of future economics:

Women now were the equal of men—having received the same education and the right to vote, possessing the same political and social rights for more than thirty years—and all careers that were previously closed to them were now open.... In this time of industrialism and electricalism, when life has become so costly, both men and women are feverishly busy with their work. The woman who doesn’t find suitable employment in her husband’s occupation must create another to supplement his: she opens a store, founds a newspaper or a bank....
So what becomes of family life and children in this whirlwind of careerism? Household concerns are considerably lightened by the food companies that provide meals to all households by subscription. As for the rest, housekeepers—women with less formal education or with less ambition—are hired to take care of the home. Children, who can be a heavy burden on such busy people, are sent to school at a very young age and their parents need only pay each semester’s tuition bills, already quite a chore. (Electrique 166-67)

Robida’s future world echoes with a diversity of voices. These voices coexist and sometimes clash with each other, at all narrative levels. In both novels, for instance, the narrator’s discourse is often contradicted by that of the protagonists, and is at times ambiguously tempered by itself. While this extradiegetic voice continually boasts of the benefits to humankind brought about by technological progress, some of the fictional characters denounce its negative consequences. Robida’s conjectural works constantly oscillate between these two poles. For example, La Vie électrique opens with the following lyrical praise of la fée électricité:

It is the definitive mastery of Electricity, of the world’s mysterious driving force, that has allowed humankind to alter what seemed immutable, to disturb an ancient order, to take over Creation, to modify what was thought to be eternally beyond the reach of the human hand! … She now serves Man, formerly terrified before the signs of Her unfathomable power; humble and tamed, she now does what he wills; it is She who works and toils for him. (3)

This self-congratulatory appraisal of “Man”’s victory over nature, however, is later attenuated by a sobering assessment of modern life in a discussion among Philoxène Lorris, the engineer Sulfatin, and the Minister of Public Health. Sulfatin is a genius, a perfect man, himself the product of science, having been a laboratory-perfected test-tube baby. His sharp intelligence envisions a bleak future for humankind:

“Alas! Sirs,” said Philox Lorris, “modern science is somewhat responsible for the poor state of public health. A fast life, wired up, frightfully busy and nervous—life in the electrical age, we must recognize, has overtaxed the human race and brought about a kind of universal degeneration.”
“Cerebral overexcitement!” said the Minister.
“No more muscles,” added Sulfatin scornfully. “The brain, being the only organ at work, absorbs the vital lifeforce to the detriment of the rest of the body, which in turn atrophies and degenerates. The man of the future, if we do not intervene, will end up as an enormous brain within a skull like a dome mounted on most fragile limbs!” (143-44)

In the twentieth century, despite its technological and social progress, humanity must pay a heavy price for its comfort and its mastery over nature. The state of the world depicted here is the direct consequence of unchecked nineteenth-century industrialism: new diseases have appeared—created by human hands for the sake of bacteriological warfare—and pollution threatens the health of the planet’s inhabitants.12 Robida’s descriptions frequently echo the cautionary tone of today’s ecological discourse, warning against

industrial diseases striking men working in dangerous industries and spreading around factories to pervade the swarming human anthills increasingly crowded in our poor cramped world.… Our atmosphere is dirty and polluted; we must rise up to great heights in our aircrafts to find cleaner air.... Our rivers carry a virtual broth of dangerous bacilli; pathogenic fermentations infest our streams ... fish have all but disappeared from them. (144-46)

Hence, Robida projects the creation of national parks throughout Europe, from which scientific innovations are banned and where hyperanxious city-dwellers go to reestablish contact with nature and to refresh themselves. Symbolic as it is, a hint of the dangers associated with technological progress is present from the outset of the novel. The opening chapter of La Vie électrique begins with a description of a widespread and particularly ferocious electrical storm, and it concludes with the mention of “insulating slippers,” worn inside one’s home in order to avoid the detrimental effect of shocks due to the omnipresent electrical current. Scientific progress may have made life easier, but it threatens people in their own homes.

Another example of ambiguity emerges from the evocation of one of Robida’s favorite subjects: war. In his protagonists’ discussions of future forms of warfare, ambivalence is shown at the semantic level with a variety of such black-humorous and oxymoronic terms as “la guerre médicale” (medical war) or “le Corps Médical Offensif” (the Medical Assault Corps), who are responsible for the production of poison gases and toxic “miasmas” for use as bacteriological weapons. In La Vie électrique a revealing exchange takes place during a meeting between several self-interested politicians and the world-famous engineer Philox Lorris. In this scene, Lorris allays their concern that the progress of science poses a threat to the safety of nations around the world. Scientists, Lorris assures them, are “philanthropic” and their work serves to diminish the barbarity and destructive effects of war: chemical agents can paralyze or neutralize entire armies before they have a chance to mutilate each other. But Lorris’ apparent altruism is quickly negated by its obvious debt to Social Darwinism and the coldness of its ultimate design:

Science, by dint of perfecting warfare, has rendered it humanitarian, I am standing by my word! Instead of men in the prime of their strength and health, lying by the hundreds in a bloody pulp, biological warfare [Medical Assault Corps warfare] will lay out only the valetudinarians, the weak, the infirm organisms unable to stand the putrid fumes! Thus, by eliminating the feeble and the sickly, war will eventually benefit the race.... I dare say that a nation defeated on the battlefield will find itself purified in recompense! Am I not right to call this future form of war beneficial and humanitarian? (152)

This last question is, of course, highly rhetorical and brimming with irony. But consider how the ambivalence of tone is generated in this scene. Characters first negatively connoted (greedy politicians) utter a statement of positive humanistic value (concern about humankind’s welfare), which is then countered by an apparently equally positive view (science is benevolent) by the “hero,” which is then negated by the inhumanity of his final conclusion (elimination of the weak). The ambiguity is fourfold, produced by the opposition of two discourses that are themselves undercut by either the assumed character of the speakers or by an obvious internal contradiction in the argument itself. This ambiguity will not be resolved at the narrative level: nothing in the remainder of the novel will corroborate either party’s point of view. The essential question of whether technological progress is ultimately beneficial or harmful is left open. In this way, Robida endows his future world with both dimension and texture, refusing both reductive generalizations and simplistic closure. Multiple levels of discourse, conflicting opinions, and a host of disparate observations all coexist, like the different strata constituting the depth of field in a stereoview.

A Chronicler of History. Indeed, Robida is concerned with time as a whole, not just with one specific point. He situates his novels within a continuum—portraying that future’s past and its own potential future—instead of within an isolated and static slice of time set apart from the rest of history. The state of evolution he evokes is not finite, and the awareness of continuity is omnipresent. Hence the progressive improvement of the téléphonographe into the téléphonoscope is predicted, and that of the plastic arts: “After the painters of old—the timid artistic attempts by Raphael, Titian, Rubens, David, Delacroix, Carolus Duran and the other primitives—we then had photo-painting, which already represented immense progress. And today’s photo-painters will be surpassed by tomorrow’s photo-picto-technicians. Thus art always goes forward” (Electrique 132).

The fictional characters in Robida’s works often seem overwhelmed by this temporal flux and are not always able to conceptualize it.13 One scene depicts so-called “historical reconstructions”—like the one Robida produced for the 1900 Expo—that are full of comical anachronisms. This inaccuracy is explained by the loss of almost all archives during the “Eighth French Revolution.” Thus, twentieth-century historians are perpetually trying to discern fact from legend in a continuous battle of scholarly disagreement. One theory, for example, posits that Louis XIV never reigned, victim of a conspiracy orchestrated by Mazarin and his successors, and that the legend that grew around the nonexistent monarch was widely popularized by Voltaire in his Siècle de Louis XIV (Vingtième 192). Fortunately, as an academician affirms while lamenting the destruction of all reliable sources of historical data, “We need not fear any similar accidents any more … and future generations will find carefully classified documents about our times,” before concluding, in a magnificent victory for ambiguity, “indeed, they always contradict each other, as most documents do, but that’s our descendants’ business” (192). This localization of the fiction within a continuum—not just an atemporal, unidimensional, futuristic setting—contributes greatly to the overall verisimilitude of Robida’s mid-twentieth-century society.

In fact, Robida’s sf, with its emphasis on daily life and the anecdotal, presents itself as a kind of chronicle of future times. This aspect of his novels reveals an abiding interest that was at the heart of his various professional endeavors. Robida was interested in behaviors. His work as editor of the satirical weekly La Caricature was that of a chronicler, recording and commenting on current cultural or political events: international expositions, divorce reform, or the suffragette movement.14 History was Robida’s central concern, with the peculiarity that, unlike most historiophiles, he looked as much toward the future as toward the past. He was fascinated with the process of evolution, whether or not that process had already taken place. It is important to note that Robida also wrote history and travel books.15 Their seriousness and scholarship contrast greatly with the imagination and humor he displayed in his caricatures and fictional works.

His history books also focus on the human rather than the event. They revolve around expressions of cultural identity such as architecture, costume, and city planning. These books are unique for the quantity, beauty and the precision of their illustrations, executed by the author, of course. His historical style recalls that of Michelet, with whom he shares a passion for chronicles. Minute and thorough research characterizes these works, merging document, aesthetic sense, and realism. One might say that futuristic fiction and history are two sides of the same coin. They proceed in inverse directions in their relation to the sign. One involves reference, the other projection. Romantic history, in its drive to capture the past in its “lived” qualities, also involves a dose of imagination. The Michelet-ian “view from within, not from above,” matches Robida’s approach in portraying his twentieth century. His realism carries over to evocations of vanished sights as, for example, in the following paragraph which synthesizes scattered historical data:

Carolingian Paris, stretched over the right bank in front of the old Lutèce island, barely encroaching the left bank, between the river and the abbeys, must have displayed, behind hastily-erected ramparts riddled with the wounds of previous wars, elite burghers’ and merchants’ homes, adorned with a coarse art still searching for its identity in reminiscence of Roman times, and facades resting on archways sheltering passers-by and street peddlers from rain and snow. Then, in the center, especially in places where the city huddled up against the bridges leading to the old town, wooden houses, pressed and piled up on each other with their upper floors corbelled over large beams, overhang streets and alleys. (Paris de siècle en siècle 4)

This visualization requires the same work of projection as that involved in describing the future Paris of 1953:

Over behind the foundries, the tall chimneys, and the electric-plant domes of the Tuileries Great Industrial Museum, in the center of Lutèce’s cradle, floating between the two arms of the Seine—of the old Lutèce, grown and transformed, stretched, enlarged, bursting, and hypertrophied—stand the towers of Notre Dame, the old cathedral, topped with a transparent iron frame, a simple aerial carcass of ogival style, like the church, supporting, 80 meters above the towers platform, a second rig holding the central office of omnibus-aircrafts, a police station, a restaurant, and a religious music concert hall. Saint-Jacques Tower appears nearby, also topped, 50 meters above the ground, with an immense electric dial and a second platform about which aerocabs from a different station flutter at various heights. (Electrique 127)

This realism is evident in the omnipresent pencil drawings in Robida’s books of nonfiction; they strike the reader by their exquisite beauty, their extreme precision, their relief, and the overall natural substance granted to them by clair-obscur and light effects. Streets, buildings, motifs, and ornaments alternate in focus, supported by scenes from daily life placing each item in its most significant historical context. Some, since demolished, survive only in Robida’s books. Indeed, these images pulse with liveliness; they perform as snapshots and bring the old Paris back to life, just as the Twentieth Century illustrations envision the feverish buzz in the twentieth-century capital. Passion radiates through the considerable amount of work and research, both documentational and in the field, involved in the sketches’ preparation. The visual dimension of Robida’s works makes him a unique figure among sf writers. His talents as an artist diverted him from a career as a notary and launched him into the publishing world. Drawing, whether supported by or itself supporting the written text, remained his privileged mode of expression.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words. The pictorial aspect of Robida’s novels is unprecedented in early science fiction. Although the practice of including plates in books is as old as books themselves, it is far less common for a writer to provide his own illustrations. Moreover, Robida’s artwork constitutes an integral part of his narration; it occupies more than a third of the total printed surface in each book and is as significant as the written text itself. Often, Robida’s drawings do not duplicate information present in the written text, as is conventional, but rather amplify particular points and present, parallel to the text itself, related aspects of the situations portrayed. The illustrations thus elaborate on these textual descriptions hypertextually, supplying peripheral information like a traffic-jammed aerial street, a (pathologically flawed) historical reconstruction, or allegorical representations of war, education, progress, or social order. Most plates, such as “Modes parisiennes en septembre 1952 (Parisian fashions in September 1952)” (Vingtième 22) or “Quelques échantillons de la flotte aérienne (A few examples of the airfleet)” (Electrique 96), provide a clearer and more direct grasp of Robida’s vision than a purely narrative treatment would allow. They contribute to fleshing out and giving coherence to his universe, without overloading the narrative with secondary details.

The image can also function as part of the text’s hermeneutic structure. La Guerre is shorter than the two other novels, and its visual dimension is more extensive. In it, proportions between written text and image are reversed, and words make up only one-fourth to half of a given page. Besides the usual peripheral information—characters’ physical appearances, uniforms, machines, aerial views, or the effects of chemical weapons—pictures also carry the written narrative. This particular text/image interaction enhances the reader’s experience of the text, as it creates bold narrative effects. For instance, one scene describes the enemy army in disarray. A puzzling statement follows: “All is over: only a few blockhouses were able to escape and to find refuge in a forest where the aircraft could not reach them” (11, emphasis mine). The reference to “escaping blockhouses” appears nonsensical until the reader’s eye is caught by the nearby image, showing these behemoth vehicles: blockhouses on wheels featuring a turret and a gigantic cannon, a cross between a tank and a fortified bunker. Such polyvalent interaction between text and image generates a higher level of involvement between reader and story. And the multiplication of narrative angles provides the story with another level of dimensionality.

This pictorial aspect of Robida’s sf novels adds an appropriate visual element to the stereoscope analogy proposed earlier in this essay. Through the proliferation of simultaneous narrative angles, he offers the conceptual equivalent of a stereoscopic view to his readers. Just as stereophotography exemplified technological achievement in its day, the lifelike dimension of Robida’s futuristic universe was unequaled by any other anticipation novelist of his time.

But they both provide only an illusion. Obviously, stereoscopic photography is not physically tridimensional. It only consists of paired two-dimensional photographs that generate a set of stimuli processed by the brain to create the illusion of 3-D. Although depth of field is created for the viewer and a general impression of physical substance achieved, each plane in that field remains flat because of the medium’s limitations. Similarly, Robida’s twentieth century, however coherent and plausible it might appear, does not correspond to historical fact. Just as the flatness of each visual layer reveals the artifice in a stereoview, a number of discordant details in Robida’s narratives reveal the nineteenth-century man behind the twentieth-century narrator and characters.

Quaint Futures. I am compelled here to express my personal fascination for this aspect of Robida’s early science fiction. I am captivated by the experience of oddness generated by the mixture of familiar and unfamiliar, the curious blend of nineteenth-century preoccupations juxtaposed onto an extrapolated futuristic setting, and the occasional anachronisms in the narratives that add to their quaintness. Such a margin of error constitutes a space rich in coded historical and sociological information, as it reveals the writer’s limitations in coherently conceptualizing a future world. When science fiction or utopian authors reach their speculative limits, a reflex of the mind occurs whereby they fall back on familiar reference material and unveil a cognitive posture proper to their own geographical and historical situation.
Such a case of cognitive dissonance appears in a scene in which Sulfatin falls in love with a famous tragedian, when he sees her on the téléphonoscope:

One evening, falling asleep in front of his “télé,” Sulfatin saw her debut as the great Hugo’s Doña Sol, and it was love at first sight, as if he had been struck by lightning, for, forgetting that he was watching a téléphonoscope broadcast, Sulfatin, suddenly carried away by an idea, rushed toward the actress and smashed into the télé screen. (Vingtième 92)

Although the author intends a comic effect here, it betrays Robida’s complete lack of experience with a device such as the one he envisions. No television viewer—not even the most absent-minded person on the planet—would, to such an extent, forget the difference between a broadcast and a person physically present. Interestingly, the naïveté—for a twentieth-century reader—of the attitude depicted in this scene reverses a nineteenth-century European topos confronting the scientist and the savage. Journals and magazines of the era published numerous anthropological reports describing the first encounters of populations considered primitive with “modern” technology. They delighted audiences in describing the natives’ inappropriate responses to alien contraptions such as the phonograph or the camera, and reinforced a sense of superiority in the least technologically-educated French reader. Unknowingly, Robida puts his contemporaries in the same spot—confirming the relativity of cultural values at a time when the first audiences of the Lumière film Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat (Arrival of a train into the La Ciotat station, 1896) screamed in fright and ducked into their seats.

Another amusing yet revealing anachronism of this variety is Robida’s description in La Guerre au vingtième siècle of a special squad of military mesmerists, called in to hypnotize and immobilize a battery of attacking enemy soldiers:

Placed at its [the French military’s] disposition by the Ministry of Science, these mediums who, according to the scientists, were the strongest hypnotists of Paris, slowly marched toward the enemy lines while releasing torrents of fluid with their energetic gestures. A minute of terrible anxiousness! Would the enemy sentries fire upon them or, rather, subjugated by the fluid, would they allow the mediums to pass?
A profound silence continues to prevail, the mediums still advance, and pass through the enemy lines.... [Soon] the stronghold’s entire garrison is lying on the ground, in a rigid magnetic sleep.
The [French] general, alerted by telephone, brings forward his troops and quickly occupies the conquered fortifications without firing a shot. (Guerre 23)

Such extrapolative “slip-ups” are common in early sf. And they do tend to short-circuit momentarily the modern reader’s “suspension of disbelief” and involvement in the fictional text. Yet they reveal the novelist’s desire to play the syllogistic science fiction game fully, and their quaintness only adds flavor and charm to this technology-dominated literary genre—much like a minor physical flaw can enhance, rather than detract from, the beauty of a face. The pleasure experienced in reading early sf does not originate in a search for a mirror image of one’s own times. Rather, it proceeds from the exploration of that rich conceptual space that merges “what is” with “what could have been.”

A Unique Figure in Early SF. Although Jules Verne, in establishing the scientific novel as a genre, opened the way to a whole generation of conjectural writers, he and Wells do not alone define early science fiction. Many French nineteenth-century novelists offered views of the future or technological fantasies. Emile Souvestre, Camille Flammarion, Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, and Paul Adam, for instance, wrote several such narratives. They remain tied, however, to either a strictly utopian mode or a narrow technological focus, and never approach the lifelike realism of Robida’s futuristic works. Along with J.-H. Rosny Aîné16 in Belgium, Albert Robida embodies the most accomplished expression of proto-sf written in French. Theirs is a science fiction still very much anchored within old-world rhetoric, yet announcing developments to come. Save for Verne, none of the above-mentioned French writers equals Robida’s cultural impact or originality. His relevance to the development of sf in France is pervasive, and in a curious example of reverse influence, Robida’s satirical visions of the future even inspired a short story signed by Verne (but written by Verne’s son Michel) called In the Year 2889 (1889).17

The pictorial-narrative approach adopted by Robida remains current one hundred years later. Although now extinct as a literary variant, it stands midway between the novel and the bande dessinée, an essential form of late twentieth-century popular French culture. Today, this strategy of multiple narrative levels and hypertext linking finds an echo in multimedia fictional works whose numbers have grown daily since the advent of digital technology. Robida’s decentralization of narrative voice and subversion of hierarchy in a wealth of realistic anecdotal detail falls more generally within the domain of the postmodern artefact. The real inventor of the twentieth century—not Jules Verne, but Albert Robida—was ahead of his time in more ways than one.

But however much Robida may have been turned toward the future, he remained a citizen of the nineteenth century. His twentieth-century trilogy echoes the scientific spirit that framed most nineteenth-century Western endeavors. Up to the last decade of that century, positivism made itself the voice of trust in scientific progress and optimism about the future. The optimism faded as historical events unfolded into the cold reality of a new century. Although he kept producing humorous visions of an always-closer future,18 Robida himself did not long stay immune to the pessimism that permeated some of his contemporaries’ works. In 1925, one year before his death, he admitted in an interview that he was living uneasily in the century that had constituted his main focus for decades. He was still bearing the emotional scars of two of his sons’ deaths during World War I, a conflict whose scale of devastation had been greater and more hideous than he could ever have predicted. Even life during peacetime had not been able to appease the old man’s anxiety, and the very phenomena he had taken delight in staging for the public in the 1880s were now for him a source of continual dread:

I loathe … today’s hectic life; I have always been haunted by it.… Some dreadful intuition pushed me to write Le XXe Siècle in 1882.… I curse the trucks that drive by my house and make my windows shake. I dread Paris’ intersections, whirling with roaring automobiles, streetcars, and monstrous buses, so much that I venture there only when absolutely necessary. It is with anguish that I go down the underground tunnels through which they launch electrical cars loaded with human flesh. All this perpetual, artificial speed overwhelms me, makes my head spin, and muddles my brain. (Furetières ii)

Paradoxically, two and a half decades into “his” twentieth century, Albert Robida had gradually withdrawn from the modern world he had anticipated so vividly in his novels. But his legacy as one of the most talented writers and artists of early futuristic fiction lives on. And his unique brand of humorous, idiosyncratic, and “stereoscopic” science fiction is finally beginning to attract the scholarly attention it truly deserves.19

SF Short Stories and Novels by Albert Robida

(Years are those of the first published edition. Parentheses indicate dates of pre-publication in periodicals.)

1883 (1882)                     Le Vingtième Siècle
1887 (1869-1883)                La Guerre au vingtième siècle
1890                           Le Vingtième Siècle. La Vie électrique
1892                           Un Voyage de fiançailles au vingtième siècle
                                    (Chap. VI and VII, revisited of La Vie électrique)
1892 (1890)                     Jadis chez aujourd’hui
                               La Locomotion future (Illustrations by Robida, text by Octave Uzanne)
1902 (1901)                     L’Horloge des siècles
1908                          La Guerre infernale (Illustrations by Robida, text by Pierre Giffard)
(1908)                         L’Automobile en 1950—L’Aviation en 1950
(1917)                        Un Potache en 1950
1919                          L’Ingénieur Von Satanas
(1919-20)                      En 1965
                              Un Chalet dans les airs

1. See Evans, “The ‘New’ Jules Verne.”

2. Some examples include the satirical Journal amusant, Polichinelle, Paris-comique, La Charge, La Vie parisienne, La Chronique illustrée, La Jeunesse amusante, Le Rire, Mon Journal and Les Annales, for which he produced illustrated stories about current events or future technology; the scientific La Nature, as well as La Science illustrée and La Lecture, where La Vie électrique was published in installments; Le Journal des voyages, for which he produced educational and humorous histoires en images; or Le Petit Français illustré, in which he participated, under the pseudonym of “Théodule Asenbrouck, de l’Académie des Sciences de Flyssemugue” in an exchange of fanciful, pseudo-scientific, letters with Christophe, the first French cartoonist as well as a popularizer of science. Christophe (a.k.a. Georges Colomb) was professor of natural sciences and botanist at the Sorbonne and the author of numerous textbooks. Their correspondence dealt with such matters as “the method of fixing and keeping fire and flames by freezing them in a special refrigerating device, and then cutting them up into twenty-five centimeters tablets […] now incombustible” (Versins 760). All translations from the French are mine unless otherwise noted.

3. More than 150 altogether, for contemporary authors as well as classics by Balzac, Dumas, Cyrano de Bergerac, or Perrault.

4. The subtitle of Verne’s Voyages Extraordinaires is “Voyages dans les mondes connus et inconnus” (Voyages in Known and Unknown Worlds).

5. Some, like Baudelaire, rejected photography as a soulless reproduction of nature. For the poet, stereoscopic photography was thus a “double sacrilege.” Nonetheless, his Salon de 1859 diatribe describes the strong fascination it exerted on the public: “thousands of avid eyes pored through the stereoscope lenses as through a skylight into the infinite” (318).

6. According to Philippe Brun, “Robida does not appreciate Naturalism much and makes no secret of it. For him, it only represents ‘a consequence of photography, truth without a choice’.… Rather, he favors the novel and theater of the Romantic period.… Robida’s aversions do not limit themselves only to Naturalism: he is not all that keen on Impressionist painting either. ‘He cannot draw,’ he exclaims about Cézanne. Impressionist painters will show more fondness toward him: Gauguin will prefer him over Forain, and Pissarro will admire his skill and his chic, boisterous style” (22).

7. Two different versions of this short story exist. This project started in 1869 as a collection of independent drawings. In 1883, Robida issued a first narrative linking his various concepts of future warfare, which he completely re-wrote and re-drew for book publication in 1887. The 1883 version describes military maneuvers in an impersonal, journalistic style, and takes place in 1975, whereas the later one centers around a specific character within a readjusted—and prophetic—time-frame.

8. Sometimes, conjectural accuracy manifests itself in small details. The téléphonographe, through which verbal telecommunications take place, is a hand-held unit in which the microphone and receiver are combined, an improvement on the original instrument that would not become commercially available until fifty years after the publication of Robida’s novel.

9. Robida did not invent national parks. The first, in Yellowstone, had been created in 1872. Throughout his novels, however, one can notice Robida’s sharpness of intuition about the importance of ecology in the twentieth century.

10. Politicière, one of Robida’s frequent neologisms.

11. This was a common occurrence in the second half of the nineteenth century. In a feedback effect, duels involving journalists attracted publicity, leading more offended individuals to publicize their discontent.

12. French scientific magazines of the 1890s, such as La Science illustrée—where scientific novels including La Vie électrique were published in installments—provide such valuable information for the cultural historian: “Although associations created in England to obtain the elimination of smog have remained quiet for some time, one should not think that opponents of coal-burning have given up the struggle. Industries are not their only target.… Years will be necessary to overcome long-standing ways and make city-dwellers understand that they have no right to poison one another with smoke.… A recent report [from the Manchester Naturalist Society subcommittee on air analysis] presented the result of its survey on the sulphurous acid and organic matter released daily within the city” (Delahaye 147).

13. Two French short narratives had previously satirized the inherent limits of archaeology by showing future scientists’ misinterpretations in analyzing the ruins of Paris: Archéopolis by A. Bonnardot (1859) and Les Ruines de Paris en 4875 by Auguste Franklin (1875).

14. He not only observes, but also influences events. In its initial stage, the métropolitain involved many overground passages. Robida produced a series of drawings showing the defaced capital that changed Parisian public opinion. Consequently, a Commission du Vieux Paris was created, and the number of such passages reduced (Brun 23).

15. Novelist Octave Uzanne described Robida’s first two illustrated travel books, Vieilles Villes d ‘Italie (1878) and Vieilles Villes de Suisse (1879), in the following terms: “These monographs … really stood out. Instead of the standard, ordinary sketches, instead of pretty pictures, more or less documented and heavy with academism, the illustrations in these books seemed to be overflowing with liveliness, excitement, talent, and imagination. They did not duplicate the conventions prevailing among illustrators” (Brun 20).

16. The pseudonym J.-H Rosny refers to more than one author. Originally used by Joseph-Henri Boëx from 1889 on, it becomes collective in its designation of the team formed by Boëx and his younger brother, Justin-François, in 1893. Their novels, the most famous of which remains Joseph-Henri’s 1909 La Guerre du feu, explore both future and past. After their literary separation in 1907, the elder brother took the name J.-H. Rosny Aîné, and the younger, J.-H. Rosny Jeune.

17. See Evans, “The ‘New’ Jules Verne,” and Compère. Scholars have established Robida as the main source of inspiration for this text: “Out of fairness, it is necessary to highlight, as Etienne Cluzel established, all that the text’s ‘inventions’ owe to Albert Robida’s book, Le Vingtième Siècle, published in 1883: ‘In particular, one finds in this volume: omnibus-aircrafts, continental, intercontinental, and even transatlantic transportation by pneumatic tubes, factories that deliver food at home, the home-theater through telephonograph and telephonoscope, and lastly, the telephonographic and telephonoscopic daily news bulletin’ (Compère 45). One should keep in mind, however, that the technology presented in most of late nineteenth-century speculative fiction belongs to a stock of trend projections, mainly regarding telecommunications and transport, shared by all. Even projection of advertisements onto clouds, for instance, had already been mentioned by Villiers de l’Isle-Adam in his 1887 story "L’Affichage céleste" (Sky Advertising).

18. Le Tour du monde à 80 à l’heure (Around the World at 80 KPH, 1907), L’Automobilisme en 1950 (Car Touring in 1950, 1917) and L’Aviation en 1950 (Aviation in 1950, 1917), Un Potache en 1950 (A Schoolboy in 1950, 1919-20), En 1965 (In 1965, 1925), Un Chalet dans les airs (A Chalet in the Sky, 1925, taking place in the twenty-second century); but also more pessimistic works such as La Guerre infernale (The Infernal War, 1908, text written by Pierre Giffard, a war correspondent in the Russo-Japanese War), Le Vautour de Prusse (The Vulture of Prussia, ca. 1919) and L’Ingénieur Von Satanas (The Engineer Von Satanas, 1919), both vehement indictments of war and directly inspired by World War I.

19. Among others, see the lengthy discussions of Robida in Paul Alkon’s Science Fiction Before 1900: Imagination Discovers Technology as well as in Arthur B. Evans’ articles “Science Fiction vs. Scientific Fiction in France: From Jules Verne to J.-H. Rosny Aîné” and “Functions of Science in French Fiction.” See also Marc Angenot’s seminal book review “Albert Robida’s Twentieth Century.” And note especially I.F. Clarke’s more recent and award-winning article “Future-War Fiction: The First Main Phase, 1871-1900,” wherein he describes Robida as “the Lone Ranger in the French guerres imaginaires: one of the very few ... who found it possible to be funny about ‘the next great war’” (398).

Alkon, Paul. “France: Technophilia.” In his Science Fiction Before 1900: Imagination Discovers Technology, New York: Twayne, 1994. 89-100.

Angenot, Marc. “Albert Robida’s Twentieth Century,” SFS 10.2 (July 1983): 237-40.

Baudelaire, Charles. Salon de 1859. Curiosités esthétiques. L’Art romantique et autres œuvres critiques de Baudelaire, ed. Henri Lemaitre. Paris: Garnier, 1962. 305-96.

Bleiler, Everett F. Science-Fiction: The Early Years. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1990.

Brun, Philippe. Albert Robida (1848-1926). Sa vie, son œuvre. Suivi d’une bibliographie complète de ses écrits et dessins. Paris: Promodis, 1984.

Clarke, I.F. “Future-War Fiction: The First Main Phase, 1871-1900,” SFS 24.3 (November 1997): 387-412.

Compère, Daniel. “La Nouvelle d’un écrivain français en 1890.” La Journée d’un journaliste américain en 2890. By Jules Verne. Paris: Atelier du Gué, 1978. 43-49.

Delahaye, Ph. “Hygiène publique. L’Air des rues.” La Science Illustrée 9 (1892): 147.

Evans, Arthur B. “Functions of Science in French Fiction.” Studies in the Literary Imagination 22.1 (1989): 79-100.

─────. “The ‘New’ Jules Verne.” SFS 22.1 (March 1995): 35-46.

─────. “Science Fiction vs. Scientific Fiction in France: From Jules Verne to J.-H. Rosny Aîné” SFS 15.1 (March 1988): 1-11

Furetières. “M. Robida et le nouveau roman des ‘Annales’.” Les Annales 1896 (1925). En 1965. By Albert Robida. 1919. La Valette-du-Var: Apex, 1996. ii.

Gondolo della Riva, Piero. “Préface.” In Jules Verne, Paris au XXe siècle (Paris: Hachette, 1994): 7-26.

Michelet, Jules. Foreword. 1869. Histoire de France. 1833-67. Paris: Laffont, 1981. 15-32.

Nicholls, Peter and Jon Gustafson. “Albert Robida.” In The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, eds. John Clute and Peter Nicholls. New York: St. Martin’s, 1993. 1014.

Robida, Albert. La Guerre au vingtième siècle. 1887. Paris: Tallandier, 1991.

─────. Paris de siècle en siècle. 1895. Vol. 2. Geneva: Crémille, 1995.

─────. Le Vingtième Siècle. 1883. Geneva: Slatkine, 1981.

─────. Le Vingtième Siècle. La Vie électrique. 1890. Paris: La Librairie Illustrée, 1893.

Suvin, Darko. Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre. New Haven: Yale UP, 1979.

Versins, Pierre. Encyclopédie de l’utopie, des voyages extraordinaires et de la science fiction. 2nd Ed. Lausanne: Editions l’Age d’homme, 1984.

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