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Loudon, Jane Webb

Entry updated 28 November 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1800-1858) UK author of books on popular natural history and gardening, and of The Mummy! A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century (1827 3vols; rev 1828), published anonymously, like Mary Shelley, and also when she was relatively young, though not in her teens. Her birth year is almost certainly 1800 (as given here from 2022) not 1807, the earlier date having been established through research by Nickianne Moody, Andy Sawyer, Lisa Tuttle and others (see about the author below). Her actual birthday – 19 August – seems consistent with family references. She is perhaps most easily recognized under her full name (which we use here), though Jane Webb did not marry John Claudius Loudon (1783-1843) until 1830; she published under various combinations of her name, including Jane Webb Loudon, Mrs Janes Wells Webb, Mrs Loudon, and others. The 1872 edition of The Mummy! appeared as by Mrs Loudon.

The reanimated pharaoh who features in her only tale with Proto SF content, though clearly monstrous in appearance as befits an unwrapped mummy, does not present himself with the threatening ambivalence of Shelley's Frankenstein Monster. Cheops is in fact a sophisticated figure, who becomes sagaciously involved in the post-democracy politics of 2126 CE, arranging with a Roman Catholic priest to control the choice of the next Queen of England. The London depicted in The Mummy!, detailedly and significantly distinct from the world of 1827, features Robot lawyers dispensing their wares and robot surgeons penetrating human bodies; steam-driven ploughs, which have revolutionized agriculture; advanced Communications; sophisticated automatic coffee-makers that provide widespread cheer, among many other Inventions, many of them elaborately described, including movable housing and Weather Control.

Setting a tale in the future is a step Mary Shelley did not take until The Last Man (1826), which lacks the circumstantial detail and "presentness" of Loudon's tale. But although their works differ in matters of depiction and thrust, both authors manifestly and creatively hover between what (in retrospect) may be called late Proto SF on the one hand, and early Fantastika on the other; in both cases, the dictates of convention stutter with a sense that something new can be glimpsed.

In the Preface to his Le roman de l'avenir (1834; trans Brian Stableford as The Novel of the Future 2008), Félix Bodin implies that he himself was the first to compose a text that comprised "the living creation of an ordinary world to come". It is unlikely, however, that Bodin could have been aware of Loudon's earlier tale, despite its quick popularity. Two centuries later, Loudon has been properly recognized, along with Shelley and Margaret Cavendish, as one of the central progenitors of modern sf. [JC]

see also: History of SF; Near Future; Utopias.

Jane Wells Webb Loudon

born Ritwell House, near Birmingham, England: 19 August 1800 [see text of entry above]

died London: 13 July 1858

works (selected)

Various editions of The Mummy! have appeared, including a cut and bowdlerized version from University of Michigan Press in 1994; we list only one posthumous edition, the critical text cited below.

about the author

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