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Nogaret, François-Félix

Entry updated 9 August 2021. Tagged: Author.

(1740-1831) French bureaucrat and author, intermittently prolific from around 1770 to 1830; he is of sf interest for Le Miroir des événements actuels, ou la belle au plus offrant, Histoire à deux visages ["The Mirror of Present Events, or, Beauty to the Highest Bidder: A Two-Faced Tale"] [for various versions see Checklist below] (1790 chap; trans Brian Stableford as "The Mirror of Present Events; Or, Beauty to the Highest Bidder" in The Mirror of Present Events and Other French Scientific Romances anth 2016). The tale has come to notice primarily because one of its characters, the inventor of a humanoid Automaton or Robot, is named Frankenstein, according to the critic Julia V Douthwaite [see Checklist below for citation]. In his introduction to the anthology cited above, however, Brian Stableford indicates that the inventor's name is in fact ­Frankestein, a spelling which has also been rendered as ­Frankésteïn or Franké-Steïn.

The novella itself is an allegory which, though set in the Roman Empire, clearly espouses an eighteenth-century Enlightenment view of the advance of science, a view whose aspirational serenity did not survive the century. The fair Aglaonice, who stands in for France Herself, says she will marry the suitor whose invention most impresses her. Some are of little interest. The fourth contestant displays an extremely advanced hot air Balloon, which soon escapes, perhaps in the direction of the Moon; the fifth, ­Frankésteïn, whom the text compares to Prometheus, displays a music-generating Automaton which/who brings Aglaonice to tears. But her heart is won by the sixth, Nicator, whose ambulatory female Automaton seems to give birth to Cupid (from beneath its/her skirts), and bestrews "France" with jewels. (­Frankésteïn marries her sister.) The Revolution will triumph. Later editions strip the text of its allegorical thrust.

Nogaret's tale was moderately popular, and may have been read by Mary Shelley; or not. But any connection is superficial between Nogaret's automaton and Shelley's Golem-like creation, who is assembled from human parts, is brought to life, is conscious, and rebels against his maker (see Slavery). Any vision of Enlightenment science as a safe incubator of servant clockwork had passed with Napoleon. [JC]

François-Félix Nogaret

born Versailles, Île-de-France, France: 4 November 1740

died Paris: 2 June 1831

works (highly selected)

about the author

  • Julia V Douthwaite with Daniel Richter. "The Frankenstein of the French Revolution: Nogaret's automaton tale of 1790" (July 2009 European Romantic Review) [nonfiction: volume 20, number 3: pp381-411: mag/]

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