Cousin de Grainville, Jean-Baptiste

Tagged: Author

(1746-1805) French priest and author, whose Les Ruines: ou méditations sur les révolutions des empires ["Ruins: or, Meditations on the Revolutions of Empires"] (1791 chap) is a telling nonfictional reflection on the nature of Ruins and Futurity, written at a time when the past and the future were beginning to seem to recede further and further from the present while simultaneously reflecting one another more and more intimately. Cousin de Grainville's Last Man sf novel, Le Dernier Homme, ouvrage posthume (1805; trans anon [but fraudulently presented as an original work] as The Last Man: or, Omegarus and Syderia: A Romance in Futurity 1806 2vols UK; rev 1811 2vols; new trans from 1811 edition by I F Clarke and Margaret Clarke as The Last Man 2002), is an exemplary manifestation of Proto SF at the cusp of becoming sf. The 1811 edition, as introduced, edited, and possibly in part rewritten by Charles Nodier, has become the accepted text. In paraphrase a confused conflation of apocalyptic Christian visions of the End of the World (see also Utopia) with Enlightenment anticipations of the amelioration of our mortal state through material progress, the novel – as actually experienced by the reader – almost magically sleepwalks through these radical discontinuities. The first Adam – who is a kind of Wandering Jew figure cursed by God to watch the long-deferred but inevitable damnation of his sinful species – is directed in the Far Future to meet the last fertile couple (see Adam and Eve), who are simultaneously being told the history of the world by a wise companion, in the form of an elaborate flashback. It is a history of growth and peace, a Pax Aeronautica that governs for millennia, but the planet has become exhausted, and can no longer support life, except (perhaps) in Brazil – where Syderia, the Eve figure of the tale, is eventually discovered through the agency of the Spirit of Earth, who wishes to survive. Adam then tells the happy couple that their forthcoming offspring will be doomed to fatal internecine quarrels over the last harvests the Earth is capable of delivering. Following Adam's instructions, Syderia's husband Omegarus abandons her, and undertakes a Last Man tour of the ruins of Paris (see again Ruins and Futurity). In all its Janus-faced complexity, The Last Man is a central adumbration of how the new world would be read. [JC]

Jean-Baptiste François Xavier Cousin de Grainville

born Le Havre, France: 1746

died Amiens, France: 1 February 1805

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