Science Fiction Studies

# 63 = Volume 21, Part 2 = July 1994




Everett F. Bleiler

French Voyages into Imaginary Lands

David Fausett. Writing the New World: Imaginary Voyages and Utopias of the Great Southern Land. Syracuse UP (800-365-8929), 1993. xii+ 239. $42.50 cloth, $17.95 paper.

Gabriel de Foigny. The Southern Land, Known (La Terre Australe connue, 1676). Trans. and ed. David Fausett. Syracuse UP (800-365-8919), 1993. li+192. $24.95.

As the title of Writing the New World hints, Fausett is not primarily concerned with imaginary voyages or extraordinary voyages of the seventeenth century as texts for reading, but with their composition, which he sees as a complex interplay among various factors in a changing intellectual climate. These factors would include maritime trade secrecy and censorship; the conflict between "mythical and empirical," the former of which was used by church and state to maintain a feudal order; and the possibility of using unverifiable information for "dislocating." The result was a travel story that in major examples, like Denis Vairasse's The History of the Sevarites or Sevarambi(1675) and Gabriel de Foigny's La Terre australe connue (1676), also became a philosophical novel focusing on unknown Australia. In earlier periods of study such works, the most influential of which were French, were considered mostly as stepping stones to the work of Daniel Defoe and Jonathan Swift, but it is now recognized that they have considerable interest of their own.

After introductory sections on utopism and imaginary travels, Fausett briefly describes such early works as Joseph Hall's Mundus Alter et Idem (1605), Thomas Artus's L'Isle des hermaphrodites(1605, a political satire on the court of Henri III), the anonymous Le Grand royaume d'Antangil(1616), Richard Brome's play The Antipodes(1640), Henry Neville's The Isle of Pines (1668), and Henry Schooten's The Isle of Giants, of uncertain date. This material could be useful for summary details that have not previously been available except in specialist literature. The Isle of Giants was new to me.

Fausett then enters into the history of exploration around Austronesia and Australia, some of which history is reconstructed and speculative. Two famous shipwrecks associated with the Dutch mercantile enterprise in the East Indies provided efficient cause to the imaginary voyage. The Batavia, which struck a reef off western Australia in 1629, offered a scandalous history of mutiny, sexual misbehavior, and brutality, which Vairasse incorporated in his Sevarites. Perhaps even more important was the fate of the Vergulde Draeck (the Gilded Dragon, not the Golden Dragon as Fausett translates it). A Dutch vessel carrying a large amount of specie, it was wrecked in 1656 off the west coast of Australia. It seems to have been an event that moved men's minds, for Captain Siden of Vairasse's Sevarites sailed on the Vergulde Draeck. Fausett, however, moves on from this general situation, postulating that an unpublished reminiscence of the wreck by a survivor circulated and served as a germ within the germ for imaginary voyages of the day. I must confess that I do not find this secondary theory convincing; it seems unnecessary.

Individual chapters consider The Sevarites by Vairasse, Krinke Kesmes (the short title of a 1708 Dutch imaginary voyage written by Hendrik Smeeks), and La Terre australe connue by Foigny. Fausett considers Foigny's work as ultimately a dystopia, not a work anticipating the Enlightment, but one that precriticized Enlightenment ideals. In this I would not agree. Early descriptions of ideal societies are often not univalent as we tend to expect, but multivalent, both praising and condemning, advocating and rejecting. This is certainly the case with More's Utopia, whence the many different interpretations of it. In the case of La Terre australe connue the acceptances outweigh the rejections.

Fausett displays his material on a framework of modern criticism that is notably concerned with the interspace between the writer and his book. References are made to the work of, among others, Derrida and Foucault, with heavy emphasis on the system of Marian Hobson as expounded in The Object of Art: The Theory of Illusion in Eighteenth Century France. Hobson (and Fausett) find a shift of mental orientation in the late seventeenth century from a literature of secondary meaning ("aletheia") to one of primary meaning ("adequatio"). This theme weaves in and out of Fausett's exposition.

One of the conclusions that Fausett draws is that the cultural shift from romance to realism in the late seventeenth century was in large part due to the imaginary voyage, which provided the "forcing of credence" (160), with techniques of illusion. These would include authors' statements about the veracity of their accounts, adhesion to well-known events, and formal imitations of historical voyages. All this caused a separation between imaginative and literal forms of belief.

On this point I would suggest that Fausett is unhistorical and overstates, for such techniques are certainly older than the late seventeenth century. Statements about veracity occur in Classical literature, and there certainly is an elaborate apparatus of veracity in Cervantes's Don Quijote, which had long been an international book. In addition English crime fiction/literature, as is well known, had been using the techniques of verisimiltude for generations. There are the conny-catching books of Greene and Dekker, the apocryphal Shakespearean play Arden of Feversham, which is based on a historical crime, The English Rogue, and other such works.

Another criticism that I would level at Writing the New World is that Fausett seems to be completely unaware of science-fiction. Historians of science-fiction are likely to be dismayed with a key point that Fausett makes several times: Fausett states, in effect, that after Cook's circumnavigation of Australia, there were no more unknown lands on earth, and therefore no possibility of imaginary voyages with geospatial utopism.

This, of course, is demonstrably absurd, as the very late explorations of Africa, Central America, and Antarctica show. Also, in Fausett's own Austronesia-Australia, there are dozens of modern equivalents of the old imaginary voyage with utopism, including at least two fine literary achievements, Alexander Moszkowski's Die Inseln der Weisheit (translated, The Isles of Wisdom) and the Riallaro/Limanora utopia of John Macmillan Brown ("Godfrey Sweven"), long chancellor of the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. An examination, even if only brief, of the parallelisms between the early imaginary voyage and certain lost-race novels would have been interesting in terms of Formgeschichte.

More germane to the book, as something that is present and not not-present, and thereby more disturbing, is the amount of factual inaccuracy in the general sections about utopias and imaginary voyages. For example, we find statements that Nearchus took Alexander's fleet down the Ganges (Alexander never reached the Ganges; it was the Indus, and Fausett's circumstances are wrong); that Endymion won the war against Phaeton in Lucian's A True Story (Endymion was badly beaten and had to sue for peace); that Utopia was sited in the Pacific (it was in the Atlantic, a point proved, despite More's vague geography, by the fact that a Roman ship washed up on Utopian shores); that the people of the New Atlantis were "Spanish-speakers" (Spanish was a lingua franca they used); that Plato discusses Atlantis in the Republic and Laws (wrong, only Timaeus and Critias); that Plato's Atlantis was "fortified by metal walls" (wrong; Plato mentions stone); that Atlantis was sited in the Antipodes (wrong; Atlantic); that the name of the capital of Utopia, Amaurot, means "no shadows" and "invokes a solar metaphor of social uniformity" (wrong, it means "blindness," probably equivalent to theological vincible ignorance); that the New Atlantis was 5600 miles in diameter (really 5,000 miles in circumference); that Margaret Newcastle's The Burning World takes place inside the earth, and so on.

Points like these, most of which should be common knowledge to anyone working in the field, make one wonder how far Fausett's data can be trusted in areas that the reader is not familiar with--like details in the early history of navigation of the Indian and South Pacific Oceans, in the minor works described, and in the biographies of Foigny and Vairasse. They shatter trust.

These criticisms, weighed in with the general tenor of the book, make a recommendation at least difficult, and perhaps necessarily two or more fold depending upon potential readership. For a reader who wants a survey of this interesting subgenre, who wants primarily data and would like to make his/her own interpretations, I would consider Writing the New World somewhat lacking.

For a readership that is more interested in the interpretative system than the published phenomena, I am loath to pass judgment. But within this zone I will say that Faucett's exposition is not always as clear as it might be, that it sometimes treats data in a Procrustean way, that it makes some interpretations that I would consider farfetched, and that it is not self-sustaining, but moves in reference to other works not always fully "adequated."

If Syracuse University Press plans a second printing of Writing the New World, the book should be thoroughly checked and revised. At the moment Geoffroy Atkinson's The Extraordinary Voyage in French Literature before 1700 and The Extraordinary Voyage in French Literature 1700-1720, though now somewhat out of date, are still the best sources of basic information about the French imaginary voyage.

Gabriel de Foigny, the author of La Terre australe connue, one of the most important French imaginary voyages, was born in Picardy around 1630. He entered the local Cistercian monastery, became a preacher, but was forced to resign or was expelled, probably for sexual misconduct. Since defrocked monks were regarded unfavorably in Catholic France, he made his way to Geneva, where he abjured Catholicism and became a Calvinist, making a living by small literary work and teaching. In French Switzerland, too, he fell into hot water, for in addition to drunkenness and lechery he skirted the edge of apostasy with La Terre australe connue. He attempted to disavow authorship, but convinced no one. Eventually he was expelled from Geneva on a morals charge, which may have been trumped up. In any case, he reconverted to Catholicism and spent his days in a monastery in Savoy, where he died in 1692.

While Foigny's vita is fairly solid, interpretation of his personality and activities is not uniform, and he has been called variously a disreputable scoundrel of letters; a sensitive soul caught up in religious faction; a satirist of monasticism, Jansenism, or Calvinism; an early promulgator of the Enlightenment; and a deflater of the early Enlightenment. Much the same critical spread exists for his book.

La Terre australe connue first appeared in 1676 in Geneva (though with a false imprint), then was reissued in a heavily abridged, bowdlerized posthumous edition in Paris in 1692. This Paris edition has served as the basis for the English translation of 1693 and for most later reprints until the twentieth century.

In narrative La Terre australe connue is the life history of Jacques Sadeur, a man who involuntarily took to the sea, and after adventures in West Africa cut around the Cape of Good Hope and was shipwrecked somewhere in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar. His adventures up to this point strive for realism, though with occasional marvels, and imitate factual accounts of earlier genuine voyages.

After being shipwrecked Sadeur floats to the great southern continent, as yet not well known, where, after perils, he is accepted by an isolated nation of hermaphrodites who have developed a peculiar culture. His acceptance is due to two factors: first, his bravery in defending himself from an attack by giant birds; second, his sexual physiology, which is that of a perfect hermaphrodite.

Much of the remainder of the novel is devoted to discussions between Sadeur, who serves as a sort of ideological fencing dummy, and an Australian sage. Their topics include sexual dimorphism versus hermaphroditism, the differences between animal and man, nudity and the sense of shame, reason and right, natural religion and revelation, personal immortality, the ultimate meaning of life, and similar topics. Foigny also describes the natural history of the land, the daily life of the Australians, their language (which is built upon a completely rational basis suggestive of Aristotelian-Galenic classifications), and their modes of defending their system against lesser mortals.

From a psychological point of view La Terre australe connue is a parable of Foigny's own life: the experiences of a man confronted with a superior morality that he recognizes as such, but because of human frailty (temptation) cannot live up to. His fall is then followed by expulsion and a literary apology. Some of the symbolic detail in the book can be considered a mirroring of both Sadeur's personal life and the larger culture clashes of the time.

Foigny's Australia provides a fictional situation where temptation cannot exist, an ideal society where almost all potential sources of trouble have been removed: sexual impulses and crimes arising from them, oppression of women, dangers of childbirth, want, serious illness, inequality of rank, fear of death, drive to power or wealth, and emotional isolation.

His panacea is absolute uniformity. Since the Australians have no sexual dimorphism, there are no sex problems, but a strong feeling of brotherhood because of near identity; there is communism of property and an almost Schlaraffenland mode of sustenance, hence no want; and no social inequality. All "men" are not only absolutely equal, but are programmed (my term) toward the same reactions in daily life and emergency, though this has not created mechanization. It is a culture in which uniformity, leveling, and absolute control of nature are so potent that they carry over even into the terrain, which the Australians have graded on a continental level, descending from south to north.

Within this uniformity there are no religious disputes, for all believe in a sort of deism based on (the eighteenth-century concept of) natural revelation. While on the one hand they deny kinship with animals, on the other they recognize that on death their bodies are like animal bodies, dead. They do not believe in a soul or personal immortality, but accept a sort of transmigration of a certain element. All these matters are brought out in a conversation between Sadeur and his Australian mentor who enjoys disputing with him and enlightening him.

Australia is, of course, a cold eutopia, and it is not surprising that the Australians are often bored with life, enough that this is a cultural weakness. There is no question of timor mortis conturbat me; the Australians embrace death in a ritualized manner. Indeed, in the past it was necessary to forbid suicide lest the nation die out.

As for Sadeur, while he agrees with most of the Australian religious position, excepting (perhaps for censorship purposes?) the Christian special revelation, he finds himself unable to live up to it. He serves as a soldier in a war against normal humans who have invaded the Australian territory; during the battle he is first repelled by Australian ruthlessness in exterminating the enemy, then is overcome by sexual desire for a human woman and begins to have intercourse with her.

The Australians, some of whom have had severe doubts about permitting Sadeur to live, now sentence him to compulsory suicide. He cannily accepts the verdict, but plays for time and escapes from the land on the back of a giant bird he has tamed. He is rescued at sea and taken to Madagascar, where he transships for Europe, landing at Livorno in Italy. He dies not long after his arrival, leaving a manuscript to the "editor" of this book.

Until now Foigny's "novel" has been available only in French or in the abridged seventeenth- century English version, which is a rare book and probably not accessible to most readers. Thus, a good modern translation, if suitably edited, would be a valuable work for students of the early novel, of early fantastic fiction, and of the history of ideas. Foigny is certainly worth reading.

Fausett's translation is preceded by a fifty-page introduction that makes many of the same points as Writing the New World. There are many other areas, though, that I would like to have seen developed, especially since Foigny was a learned man. Such would be the influence of Cartesian ideas on the nature of animals and the geometricization of Australia; relationships between Stoic (Zeno) notions and Australian Weltanschauung; animal symbolism as a continuation of Renaissance symbolism; a more profound examination of religious elements; and a closer examination of the nature of reincarnation, in terms of the postulations given by Cyrano de Bergerac and others.

Most strongly, I wondered about the magical aspects of La Terre australe connu. On page 89 (Fausett/Foigny) is a list of operations in natural magic that on one hand harken back to Renaissance practices and on the other hand adumbrate Swift's description of the projects of the savants of Laputa. Are these procedures to be taken literally? And, more important, what is their place in a book that stresses reason and nature and is otherwise (except one other situation) totally rational?

There is also an intriguing suggestion of other magical matters. As I was rereading La Terre australe connue, after having read Dame Frances Yates's Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition and The Rosicrucian Enlightenment, it occurred to me that the hermaphrodite, the central symbol in Foigny's work, is also central in the alchemical mysticism of the time. Looking at Sadeur's travails, one can see other parallels: the dark matter (travels in black Africa), the rebirth in water, the salvation by the tree, the magical operations cited, the breaking of the hermaphroditism, and the curious Death of the King in the Madagascar section--a purely magical event. Is it possible that Sadeur was also trying to latch onto the contemporary market for occultism?

As for Fausett's translation per se, it is smooth, even enjoyable reading. Although I am not an expert in seventeenth-century French, I would guess that Fausett's English is superior as English to Foigny's somewhat cumbersome French as French. But this smoothness has been accomplished at some sacrifice, raising the perpetual question of evaluating a translation. Should one accept occasional consolidating of text, breaking classical balanced structure, eluding the more elaborate paraphrases, all for the sake of a modern, perhaps student, readership? My own preference is for more literal renderings even if they retain awkwardnesses and repetitions.

But beyond freedom of translation, there is the question of accuracy. I have compared Fausett/Foigny with the French text published in Les Successeurs de Cyrano de Bergerac (Slatkine Reprints, Geneva, 1968), edited by Frédéric Lachèvre. This reprints the entire text of the 1676 Geneva edition and also indicates those sections of the original work that were omitted (or sometimes restated) in the Paris abridged edition of 1692.

Even a brief comparison of the French with Fausett/Foigny reveals errors and weak renderings. To cite examples from the first few pages: "Ce n'est cependant qu'un léger crayon qui altère plus qu'il ne satisfait, puis qu'ils ne particularisent rien" (Lachèvre 65) is translated as "Their brush, however, is light of touch: it serves only to arouse our curiosity because they neglect to paint in any details" (Fausett/Foigny 4). While the shift from pencil to artist's brush is undesirable, rendering "altère" as "arouse curiosity" rather than "distort" is not good. And "un espèce de livre fait de feuilles, long de demi-pied, large de six doigts" (Lachèvre 66) is translated as "a kind of book, a bundle of pages one foot long, six fingers wide" (Fausett/Foigny 6), which, apart from wrong measurement, misses the point that "feuilles" here means "leaves." Sadeur (Fausett/Foigny 89) describes the process for preparing leaves for a writing surface, ending with "Indeed, that is what I am writing these lines on."

Discussing which nation could claim Sadeur, since he was raised in Portugal, though of French parentage: "Mais puisque le fruit appartient ý l'arbre qui l'a porté, et que son père et sa mère ont été François, nous pouvons asseurer que cet avantage appartient à la France" (Lachèvre 65), is translated as "Because the tree is known by the fruit, and his father and mother were French, we can be certain that this claim is rightfully France's" (Fausett/ Foigny 4), which context alone should have indicated as a reversal of thought.

All in all, there are about a dozen such points to be found on pages 4 through 7 of Fausett/Foigny, some out and out errors as above, and some questionable renderings. This includes a footnote on page 7 that incorrectly states the omissions in the 1692 edition. Spot checking through the book indicates the same pattern, with hardly a page without difficulties.

A further problem arises with Fausett's occasional restatement in terms of modern concepts. "I can see, however, that great cycles of evolution [my italics] must have made what we see now very different from its beginnings" (65). Or "So tell me...if the clothing fetish [my italics] we have noticed among foreigners is outlawed..." (50). Also, in a work of anthropological interest one should not use the word "fetish" so loosely.

Some might counter my criticisms with the comment that all this is trivial; that it makes little difference whether Sadeur's manuscript was a French foot or half a French foot in length, whether fruits on certain small trees were the size of berries or apples, whether one presses on a paint brush to get detail, whether a tree is judged by its fruit or a fruit by its tree, under what circumstances an Australian eats a soporific fruit, or whether an imaginary seventeenth-century Australian would have known what fetishism is. But I would disagree. Trust is vitiated.

Must a reader check every sentence in the more significant, idea-bearing parts of Foigny to be sure that Fausett has not erred, omitted, or worked too freely? I find this depressingly self-defeating.

As for recommendation: A scholar seriously working in the period would have to check Fausett against the original. Since Fausett makes no real attempt at annotation, which is necessary to this book, such a reader would do better consulting the French in one of the modern reprintings of the first edition.

On the other hand, I would probably assign Fausett's version of Foigny in a survey course on early fantastic fiction, with a warning that details are not always trustworthy. At the pace of a book or two a week, a student reader would soon forget small points, and Fausett's English is enjoyable. Under these circumstances it is probably better to have an erratic translation than none at all.

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