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Nodier, Charles

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1780-1844) French professional librarian and author whose early writings were aesthetically delicate fin de siècle romances and poems. Some of this work was quite properly read as subversive; one ode, La Napoléone (1802), landed him briefly in jail. He was responsible for introducing and editing the reorganized second edition of Jean-Baptiste Cousin de Grainville's Le Dernier Homme (1805; rev 1811), which he may have rewritten in part; The Last Man (trans I F Clarke and Margaret Clarke 2002) is based on the 1811 version. "Une Heure, ou la vision" ["The One O'Clock Vision"] in Les Tristes, ou Mélanges tirés des tablettes d'un suicidé ["Sadnesses, or a Miscellany from a Suicide's Notes"] (1806) features a Telepath, impressionistically conceived. After Jean Sbogar (1818 2vols), a grotesquerie-choked but essentially nonfantastic gothic novel, his first extended work of genre interest – directly based on John Polidori's The Vampyre: A Tale (1819 chap) – is Le Vampire (1820) (see Vampire), a play in which Polidori's Lord Ruthven (based on Lord Byron) again appears and finally dies; this version was immediately adapted by James R Planché (1796-1880) for the English stage as The Vampire, or The Bride of the Isles (1820). Cyprien Bérard's Lord Ruthwen, ou Les Vampires (1820 2vols; trans Brian Stableford as The Vampire Lord Ruthwen 2011), the first actual vampire novel, has been falsely ascribed to Nodier, whose "introduction" to this clumsy tale does not actually mention it.

Nodier's later life was industrious and intermittently hermetic – he was the founder around 1826 of a reclusive literary salon known as Le Cénacle, several of whose members, including Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo (1802-1885), were already or would become influential in French Romanticism; given Nodier's contrarian conservative take on political and aesthetic matters, the cabal was short-lived. He was also, because of his twenty years' tenure as librarian of the Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal, of academic importance. Though he wrote many ironized fairy tales, he is perhaps best known for two novella-length fantasies: Smarra, ou Les Démons de la nuit ["Smarra, or The Demons of the Night"] (1821) and Trilby, ou le lutin d'Argail ["Trilby, the Fairy of Argyle"] (1822) [for various translations see checklist below]. Inspired by Henry Fuseli's The Nightmare (1781), Smarra is a literary dream whose convolutions lead a Byronic Childe/brigand downwards through will-o'-the-wisp-ridden forests into Arabian-Nightmare territory [for Arabian Nightmare and Childe see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below], where the eponymous Vampire – a malign figure spun out of the dreamworld – sucks his blood. Trilby, which derives its Scottish geography and folklore resonance from Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), is a tale of psychic bondage in which a mortal woman is seduced and entrapped by an imp who takes on the semblance of a man. In the introduction to his 1895 translation of Trilby, Nathan Haskell Dole makes it clear that he (for one) translated the tale at this time to cash in on the success of George du Maurier's Trilby (1894), which was entirely unrelated to Nodier's text.

Nodier is of sf interest primarily for the Hurlubleu sequence of tales whose frame story is set 10,000 years hence, a time that would in the 1830s be deemed to be the Far Future, as the tales' Sleeper-Awakes protagonist Berniquet prepares to entertain the emperor Hurblubleu with the story of his adventures in the nineteenth century. The series comprises two novellas: Hurlubleu, Grand Manifafa D'Hurlubière; ou La Perfectibilité: Histoire progressive ["Hurlubleu, Grand Manifafa of Hurlubière; or Perfectibility: a Progressive Story"] (August 1833 La Revue de Paris: 2003) and "Léviathan-le-Long: Archikan des Patagons de l'île savante ou La Perfectibilité pour faire suite à Hurlubleu" ["Long Leviathan, Ruler of the Patagonian Isle of Savants: or Perfectibility"] (1833 La Revue de Paris). A translation of both as "Perfectibility" appears in The Germans on Venus (anth 2009) edited with translations by Brian Stableford. Berniquet describes a Fantastic Voyage involving at least one armour-plated Airship in search of a "perfect man" befitting the inevitable Utopia soon to be created by modern civilization; but he crash-lands in the great, perfectly circular, elaborately Technology-driven Island of the Patagonians, who devote themselves to experimental attempts to actualize Francis Bacon's Great Instauration. It is here that Berniquet is put to sleep in error, awakening aeons later when he returns to Paris, now known as Mataquin, where he becomes Hurlubleu's pet. The notion of perfectibility is treated Satirically; the tales were almost certainly read by Felix Bodin. and they were as well a direct influence on Emile Souvestre's Le Monde Tel Qu'il Sera (1846; trans Margaret Clarke as The World As It Shall Be 2004).

Any fair description of Nodier's third tale of this sort has been obscured by the fact that "Voyage pittoresque et industriel dans le Paraguay-Roux et la Palingénésie australe" ["A Picturesque and Industrial Voyage to Paraguay-Roux and Southern Palingénésie"] (February 1836 La Revue de Paris) is to a considerable degree plagiarized from an earlier work with a longer form of the same title, Voyage pittoresque et industriel dans le Paraguay-Roux et la Palingénésie australe par Tridace-Nafé-Théobrome de Kaout't'chouk ["A Picturesque and Industrial Voyage to Paraguay-Roux and Southern Palingénésie by Tridace-Nafé-Théobrome de Kaout't'chouk"] [for full title see below] (1835 chap) by Henri-Florent Delmotte [see his entry for description]. In Nodier's version, Kaout't'chouk describes another Fantastic Voyage, during the course of which he visits the astronomer William Herschel (1738-1822) at the Cape of Good Hope, his travels climaxing on a secret South Pacific Island, Ile de la Civilisation, deep in the Polynesian Archipelago. This turns out to be a Utopia whose monarch is a wooden Automaton which signs any decree demanded; the Ile isTechnologically advanced, with electric means of Transportation.

The speculative suggestion that at some point before 1813 Nodier composed the first ten, complicatedly supernatural chapters of Jan Potocki's Manuscrit Trouvé à Saragosse (full text 1989; trans Ian Maclean as Manuscript Found at Saragossa 1995) is no longer taken seriously. Nodier himself is a figure of significance, and his work as a whole should become easier to sort for English readers as new translations continue to appear. [JC]

Jean-Charles-Emmanuel Nodier

born Besançon, France: 29 April 1780

died Paris: 27 January 1844

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