Flight to the Antipodes

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Flight to the Antipodes

Mariage du fils de Victorin avec Ishmichtriss.

Hermantin harangant les Mégapatagons

Les Hommes-serpens - 1781: Nicolas-Edme Restif frontpiece

Les Hommes-taureaux

Les Hommes-moutons

Les Hommes-oiseaus

Les Hommes-Ours

Utopia/Science-fiction prototype: engraving of Les Hommes-singes

Les Hommes-chiens

Les Hommes-cochons

Les Hommes-éléfans in Nicolas-Edme Rétif's 'australe par un homme-volant'

Les Hommes-grenouilles

Les Hommes-lions

Les Hommes-de-nuit

Les Hommes-ânes

Les Hommes-boucs

Les Hommes-castors

Les Hommes-cheveaux

engraving from Découverte Australe par un Homme Volant

At once both a proto-science fiction book and also a member of the utopia genre of literature, this exceedingly rare 4-volume work from 1781, 'Découverte Australe par un Homme Volant, ou Le Dédale Français' (Southern Discovery by a Flying Man, or The French Dedalus) is online at BNF (only the illustrations - I've posted all but 1 of them, I think).

The very prolific author and printer, Nicolas-Edmé Restif de la Bretonne (1734-1806), was something of an eccentric or even neurotic character who recorded his own libertine life in many of his works. These included the first real outline of shoe fetishism and a social commentary on prostitution among a diverse range of subject matter. His literary audacity led to his being branded "the Rousseau of the gutter" and "the Voltaire of the chambermaids." I get the feeling from the scant information around online that Restif was, to all intents, an agitator for social reform and his writings would be regarded as very tame today.

The protagonist in 'Découverte Australe par un Homme Volant', Victorin, apparently spends the first third of the book studying insects and designing wing models so that he can whisk his Christine away to a place where their love won't be forbidden.
"He locates an inaccessible mountain, stocks it with the basic necessities (plants, animals, servants), and finally swoops down and carries Christine off. (He seems to have neglected to tell her that he was planning to do this, but fortunately she proves sympathetic. They are married by a priest that he also had the foresight to fly off with.)"
Their journey takes them to the archipelago of Megapatagon which is on the opposite side of the world to France, halfway between Tierra del Fuego and Antarctica. So opposite in fact that in the utopian society our heroes found, the language is backwards french, clothes are topsy-turvy (the shoe fetish comes out in hats with shoe qualities...or so they say) and even the capital is Sirap. {I am guessing this allows Restif some satirical distance to comment on perceived deficiencies in his own world}

And obviously, from the point of view of the intriguing engravings above, Victorin and Christine encounter all manner of weird and wonderful 'humans': frogmen, sheepmen, hairymen, elephantmen, dogmen, birdmen, snakemen and other Swiftian imaginary types (mouseover images above for french captions).
  • There is no definitive source online to read in relation to this bizarre work. But these links contain snippets about the book: i, ii, iii, iv, v, vi, vii, viii and an excerpt (translation).
  • In relation to science fiction: a, b.
  • Site devoted to Restif (I haven't looked through this french site at all).
  • Kinda sorta related: 1, 2, 3 (nsfw), 4, 5, 6.

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