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Bodin, Félix

(1795-1837) French politician, journalist, songwriter, historian and author, whose Le roman de l'avenir (1834; trans Brian Stableford as The Novel of the Future 2008) is of central importance in the History of SF (see also Proto SF), mainly for the manifesto contained in the Preface to the actual tale, where Bodin presents his arguments for a more realistic and inventive treatment of the future as a concept and as a venue. He argues that in speculative literature before 1834, the future was conceived of as a region inherently similar to the present, a kind of tabula rasa upon which an exemplary Utopia or Disaster could then be planted (see End of the World; Last Man; Ruins and Futurity), but without reflecting any realistic change: for both the utopia and the apocalypse were inherently blind to the secular progress of humanity through time, "giving neither relief nor movement to things or persons – without, in sum, getting to grips with the living creation of an ordinary world to come". Bodin argues that the future – that "the epic of the future" – should be conceived through the use of novelistic methods, which are necessary in order to grasp how science and technology will continue to transform the nineteenth-century world. A novel of the future should depict that process of change, through which we shall "find a new world: a new milieu which is entirely fantastic, and yet not unbelievable, in which human beings may be deployed, with the mutability of their ideas and the immutability of their propensities". The novel of the future "will be fantastic, romantic, philosophical and somewhat critical at the same time; a book in which a brilliant, rich and vagabond imagination can be deployed at its ease...." The seminal importance of his thesis is argued persuasively by Paul K Alkon, though Adam Roberts (for both critics, see about the author below) is less convinced of Bodin's centrality, a response consistent with his downplaying of the importance, in the History of SF, of the discovery of the uses of the engine of Time, a discovery whose beginnings arguably originate in the work of M Volney.

The sf novels that Jules Verne and others began to write a quarter of a century after Bodin's early death embody his vision, though almost certainly not his example, as the text of his novel is sly and spoofish (but Verne's editor, Jules Hetzel, censored his author's Satirical impulses, and excised political comments). The tale is told within multiple frames, which include the theoretical Preface (see above), and an Introduction that presents the actual narrative as a manuscript redacted by the author from innumerable fragments laid down by a seer during drug- and mesmerism-induced trances. This has not proved a popular way to normalize the future, though M P Shiel in early novels like The Purple Cloud (1901) and H G Wells in The Shape of Things to Come (1933) applied the same strategy. The story itself refers frequently improvements in Medicine, Transportation and republican governance of the world (in the context of 1834, bodin's Politics were strongly left-wing). Although the action of the tale is broken off at the halfway point (a projected sequel never appeared), an element common to early Fantastika is clearly evident: the personality of each of the main protagonists is bifurcated (the Doppelganger within only being revealed during Hypnosis), the inner self radically contradicting the outer version. It may be useful to think that this persistent instability is consistent with Bodin's own conflicted portrait of the future, which persistently undercuts his presentation of liberal government and progress all around as the shape of things to come. [JC]

Félix Bodin

born Saumur, France: 29 December 1795

died Paris: 8 May 1837


about the author


Entry from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (2011-current) edited by John Clute and David Langford.
Accessed 11:41 am on 16 May 2022.