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Mercier, Louis-Sébastien

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1740-1814) French playwright and author best known for his sixty or more plays and for his anecdotal journalism; he was active in the French Revolution, being imprisoned during the Terror. He is of interest for his exceedingly popular Proto SF tale, L'an deux mille quatre cent quarante: Rêve s'il en fût jamais (1771 Holland; trans William Hooper as Memoirs of the Year Two Thousand Five Hundred 1772 2vols UK; French text rev vt 1774; further rev exp vt L'an deux mille quatre cent quarante, Suivi de L'Homme de Fer: Songe 1786 3vols; trans Harriot Augusta Freeman [incorporating portions of 1786 text] as Astraea's Return, or The Halcyon Days of France in the Year 2440: A Dream 1797). L'an deux mille quatre cent quarante is told within a Sleeper Awakes frame: the protagonist goes to sleep in eighteen century Paris, awakening five centuries later in a France which has become a rationally governed Utopia along Enlightenment lines, as stirred by the neoprimitivism of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). Paris itself is airy and clement; there is no formal Religion and no army. The protagonist's constant comparisons of the new and the old Paris are of course Satirical; but they also demonstrate the growing power of the concept of Time itself as a speculative tool (see Ruins and Futurity).

Mercier's novel is a central eighteenth-century text, important particularly for any analysis of pre-Revolutionary ferment in France; in sf terms it illuminates the relationship between Enlightenment thought and the literatures of the fantastic, and can be see to come close to the imagining of a rendered future (see Félix Bodin; History of SF; Ruins and Futurity). It was probably the first utopia to be published in the USA, in 1795, a reprint of the 1772 translation; unfortunately, Mercier's expanded 1786 version of the text has never been fully translated into English. [JC]

see also: Anonymous SF Authors; Balloons; Cities; Futures Studies; Near Future; Suspended Animation.

Louis-Sébastien Mercier

born Paris: 6 June 1740

died Paris: 25 April 1814


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