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Restif de la Bretonne

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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Name by which the French author Nicolas-Anne-Edmé Restif (1734-1806) is usually known, though he sometimes signed his books N A E Restif de la Bretonne; his surname at birth was simply Rétif, without the spoof addition, which was the name of a family field. He was an extremely prolific author, publishing about 250 volumes in all beginning in 1767, including many formless, semi-autobiographical novels often attacked for imputed pornographic content. Of his Utopian texts, Le Gynographs [for full titles throughout, see Checklist] (1777) and L'Andrographe (1781) are assemblies of non-narrative speculation; but two come close to genuine Proto SF. La découverte australe par un homme-volant, ou le Dédale français ["The Southern-Hemisphere Discovery by a Flying Man, or the French Daedalus"] (1781 4vols; trans Brian Stableford as The Discovery of the Austral Continent by a Flying Man 2016) is a Fantastic Voyage tale – the later volumes also containing essay-like speculative disquisitions – that first describes the French aviator's Airship (umbrella plus winged body-fitting suit plus parachute), then his Alpine Utopia, then a voyage to the Antipodes with his abducted bride; there, like François Rabelais's heroes, he adventurously travels to a diffusely extensive Archipelago containing a range of allegorical Islands, at least one of which houses a Lost Race, and another an articulate creature, half-human half-baboon (see Apes as Human), who excoriates Homo sapiens. The sequence climaxes in Megapatagonia (ie Australia), where an even-handed and harmonious Utopia, housed in the great City of Sirap (Paris), is described at length. Restif's cosmogony in this significantly inventive work is based on a kind of proto-Evolution, with species metamorphosing into rivals and successors.

The first work under the surtitle The Fay Ouroucoucou, apparently generated by the translator, is Les veillées du marais, ou, histoire du grand prince Oribeau [for full title see Checklist below] (1785 4vols; trans Brian Stableford as The Story of the Great Prince Oribeau 2017) contains with a massive Club Story frame several semi-autonomous tales which ensemble provide a Satirical provenance of Faerie [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. The second volume of The Fay Ouroucoucou, The Four Beauties and the Four Beasts (coll 2017), presents tales selected from other sources by Stableford.

Les posthumes (written 1787-1789; 1802; trans Brian Stableford as Posthumous Correspondence 2016 3vols) is an ambitious Future History told through a complex frame whose ostensible author – the historical Jacques Cazotte (1719-1792) [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below], who died on the guillotine – was not involved in its composition; Restif may have used his name because of his well-known oriental fantasies, and because he was a member of the secret society known as the Illuminati, and claimed prophetic powers. "Cazotte" presents a correspondence between Monsieur de Fonthète and his wife Hortense, which initially focuses on his recounting of the afterlife adventures of two souls, in conjunction with whom he himself gains artificial wings, a Superpower that enables him to defeat evildoers in various spheres. Later, the focus changes to the eighteenth century Duke Multipliandre, who uses his power of Identity Transfer to piggyback through the coming aeons, as well as to the Moon, Mars, Mercury and the Outer Planets; his observations from the distant future of contemporary and near-past life are an acute example of the Ruins and Futurity topos only then becoming available to the human imagination (see Fantastika; Omega Point). [JC]

see also: France.

Nicolas-Anne-Edmé Restif de la Bretonne [born Rétif]

born Sacy, near Auxerre, France: 23 October 1734

died Paris: 2 February 1806


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