Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Paris in the Twentieth Century by Jules Verne

SUMMARY (from Goodreads):  This newly rediscovered novel, written by Jules Verne in 1863, is set in Paris in 1960. Money and technology have taken over society and the narrator, a young poet, is forced to work in a bank. Verne's vision of our mechanized time is prescient: there are fax machines, automobiles, computers, subways, and electronic musical instruments. Illustrations.


Paris in the Twentieth Century is a relatively short novel, published posthumously, having been rejected by the Verne's publisher during his lifetime. It is basically a science-fiction work, presenting Verne's vision of the world and, in particularly, France, in the twentieth century as he imagined it at the time of writing, in the 1860s.

The novel is set approximately a century later, in 1960. Its main protagonist Michel is a young poet born at the wrong time. The story of his struggle in the world he ultimately cannot survive in is tragicomic.

Verne's image of the twentieth century is on one hand horribly bleak. He describes an emotionless world where everything is subjected to industry, work, and money-making. This materialistic, mechanical world values only technical and financial achievements. Science is praised above all, and everything is evaluated from the aspects of usefulness and practicality.

In such a world, there is no place for anything remotely emotional. Art is all but abolished, and what is left of it is terribly deformed, adopted in a twisted way to suit the industrialised world. Artists in the 'old' meaning of the word are despised, their art unwanted. The art of the past and its famous creators, from writers and poets to painters and musicians, are pushed in the background, forgotten.

On the other hand, Verne's ideas are amazingly fantastic. We can still only dream about some technical achievements he envisioned. For example: a perfectly ecological, fast, and virtually soundless transport – high-speed light trains on elevated tracks, running on a combination of compressed air and magnetic force. Or, very prophetic, although we are still not quite there, hydrogen-powered cars.

Verne is extremely pessimistic and cynical about the future he imagines. Through his presentation of the future, however, we can also see his mocking of industrialisation. Therefore, Paris in the Twentieth Century is partly a satire of the world in Verne's time, shown through his sarcastic and at times paradoxical writing in which he often exaggerates.

Paris in the Twentieth Century is a relatively short and fast read. The only setback for me was getting lost a couple of times amidst all the names of people and places.

RECOMMENDATION: If you like the kind of science-fiction predicting the future which is really already the past, you should not overlook this book.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not sure this is my type of book, but it does sound interesting.


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