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Maurois, André

Entry updated 15 March 2024. Tagged: Author.

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Initially the pseudonym of prolific French man of letters and author Émile Salomon Wilhelm Herzog (1885-1967), who took the name from a village he visited during active service in World War One; in 1947 he took it as his legal name. He was best known outside of France for his romantic biographies and other nonfiction, though his first work, "La dernière histoire du monde" ["The Final History of the World"] (1903) as by Émile Herzog, was sf – included much later in Premiers contes ["First Stories"] (coll 1935) as by Maurois, it was the first of his several Future Histories. The most interesting of these, and the first of the loosely connected Satires usually designated by Maurois as Fragments of Universal History, is Le chapitre suivant (1927 chap; trans anon as The Next Chapter: The War Against the Moon 1928 chap), which describes a war against the ostensibly uninhabited Moon concocted by a cabal of newspaper barons to provide bored mankind with an external enemy (see Scientific Hoax); unfortunately the Moon is indeed occupied, and retaliates. This fragment was assembled as Deux fragments d'une histoire universelle 1992 (coll 1928; vt 1992: Deux Fragments d'une histoire universelle 1929) along with its sequel, "Chapitre CXVIII: La vie des hommes" (trans Hamish Miles as "The Earth Dwellers"), both of which were later collected, along with other material illustrating the Fragments of Universal History, as Relativisme (coll 1930; trans Hamish Miles as A Private Universe 1931). "The Earth Dwellers" deals with inhabitants of Uranus who fail to understand the supposedly inferior inhabitants of Earth. An interesting Alternate-History essay, "If Louis XVI had had an Atom of Firmness", appeared in J C Squire's If: or History Rewritten (anth 1931).

Maurois also wrote more conventional sf narratives. Voyage aux pays des Articoles (1927 chap; trans David Garnett as A Voyage to the Island of the Articoles 1928 chap) carries a man and woman to an Island in whose Utopian society the dominant Articole caste is made up of artists who provide the other castes with their raisons d'être; the tale is ironic. In Le peseur d'âmes (1931; trans Hamish Miles as The Weigher of Souls 1931) a doctor discovers that the élan vital is a gas which escapes the body at death; his attempts to mingle in posthumous harmony with his wife are, however, frustrated. The Weigher of Souls & The Earth Dwellers (1963) combines this tale with an episode in the Fragments of Universal History (see above). The sf device in La machine à lire les pensées (1937; trans James Whitall as The Thought-Reading Machine 1938) is a "camera" capable of registering thoughts on photographic film.

Though a self-consciously Gallic amiability tends to soften the bite of his morality-like tales and his reputation has faded, Maurois's work is nicely representative of the idiomatic ease with which sf ideas have been used in the twentieth century by Mainstream Writers, especially in the UK and mainland Europe, as vehicles for the conveyance of satirical material. [JC/PN]

see also: Arts; Eschatology; History of SF; Machines; Religion; Telepathy.

Émile Salomon Wilhelm Herzog

born Elbeuf, France: 26 July 1885

died Neuilly-sur-Seine, near Paris: 9 October 1967



Fragments of Universal History

  • Le chapitre suivant (Paris: Aux éditions du Sagittaire, chez Simon Kra, 1927) [chap: Fragments of Universal History: pb/]
  • Relativisme (Paris: Aux éditions du Sagittaire, chez Simon Kra, 1930) [coll: some nonfiction: contains some Fragments of Universal History including "The Next Chapter": pb/]
    • A Private Universe (London: Cassell and Company, 1932) [coll: some nonfiction: trans by Hamish Miles of the above: contains Fragments of Universal History: hb/nonpictorial]

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