Futuristic Fiction, Utopia, and Satire in the Age of the Enlightenment

I am happy to announce the publication of 

Futuristic Fiction, Utopia, and Satire in the Age of the Enlightenment: Samuel Madden’s ‘Memoirs of the Twentieth Century’ (1733)

Hardback ISBN: 978-2-503-60602-6
E-book ISBN: 978-2-503-60603-3

Memoirs of the Twentieth Century (1733) is a fascinating piece of early eighteenth-century literature and an important chapter in the history of futuristic imagination and of an increasing global interconnectedness. Featuring an essay that contextualises the novel and an annotated edition of the text, this study explores issues central to the Enlightenment project: the negotiation of what falls within the limits of credibility, the existence of irrational beliefs in The Age of Reason, and issues of control over the circulation of knowledge.

Published anonymously in 1733, Memoirs of the Twentieth Century is one of the earliest futuristic novels known in Anglophone and Euro-American literature. It foregrounds an acceleration of history brought about by an increasing degree of global interconnectedness, and the exclusion of prophetism and astrology as credible ways to know the future. The work of Samuel Madden, an Irish writer and philanthropist of Whig sympathies, it consists of a collection of diplomatic letters composed in the 1990s, which the narrator claims were brought to him from the time to come by a supernatural entity. Through these correspondences, twentieth-century world scenarios are spread out before the reader, in which British naval power rules the waves and international commerce, while the transnational scheming of the Jesuits threatens the independence of weaker European courts.

This book — which includes a study followed by an annotated edition of the text — assesses the cultural significance of this literary work, as an apt observatory on how historical time as a cultural construction was shaped, during the eighteenth century, by new forms of transnational circulation of information, and by the dubious space carved out in European culture by seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century debates on the nature of historical knowledge.

Through and by means of the Memoirs case study, this volume aims to contribute to a wider cultural history of the future and speculative fiction. The novel’s ironic distancing of beliefs considered to be superstitious and absurd — such as divination techniques and occult and magical disciplines — offers an exceptional testimony to the negotiation of the boundaries of verisimilitude and credibility within a religious enlightenment.


Introduction: Knowledge, Power, and Time in the Age of the Enlightenment

Part I. Samuel Madden’s Eighteenth-Century Memoirs from the Future

I. Where was the Future?

II. When was the Future?

III. An Irish Whig between Philanthropism and Literature

IV. An Eighteenth-Century Twentieth Century

V. An (Unreliable) Historian of the Future

VI. A ‘good genius’ and the ‘scene of things below’

VII. Empirical Science, Global Consciousness, and ‘the History of Future Times’

VIII. Blurring the Dichotomy between History and Fiction

IX. Satirising Past Futures

X. ‘Publishing’ the Letters

XI. ‘This prodigious society’: Anti-Jesuit Satire

XII. Whose Credulity, whose Credibility

XIII. Bookish Mysteries and an ‘alternate George VI’

XIV. Concluding Remarks

Part II. Memoirs of the Twentieth Century

A Note on the Text

Samuel Madden, Memoirs of the Twentieth Century

Notes to the Text



Modern English literature (Restoration to present)
Literature: history & criticism
Comparative & cultural studies through literature
Cultural & intellectual history (c. 1501-1800)

Between Documentation and Dispossession

the Language of the Nuu-chah-nulth People in the Journals of James Cook’s Third Voyage – History Workshop Journal

‘Various Articles, at Nootka Sound’. Engraving by James Record after Webber, in A voyage to the Pacific Ocean undertaken, by the command of His Majesty, for making discoveries in the northern hemisphere performed under the direction of Captains Cook, Clerke, and Gore, in His Majesty’s ships the Resolution and Discovery; in the years 1776, 1777, 1778, 1779, and 1780 […] The second edition, London, Printed by H. Hughs for G. Nicol […] and T. Cadell […], 1785, 3 vols, II, plate after p. 306. Copy at Wellcome Collection, under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.
A bird rattle, a wooden model of bird with stone inside (numbered 1) and three masks or head decoys (numbered 2, 3, 4), one of them (2) a seal’s face, possibly used when hunting.
‘Various Articles, at Nootka Sound’. Engraving by James Record after Webber, in A voyage to the Pacific Ocean undertaken, by the command of His Majesty, for making discoveries in the northern hemisphere performed under the direction of Captains Cook, Clerke, and Gore, in His Majesty’s ships the Resolution and Discovery; in the years 1776, 1777, 1778, 1779, and 1780 […] The second edition, London, Printed by H. Hughs for G. Nicol […] and T. Cadell […], 1785, 3 vols, II, plate after p. 306. Copy at Wellcome Collection, under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license. A bird rattle, a wooden model of bird with stone inside (numbered 1) and three masks or head decoys (numbered 2, 3, 4), one of them (2) a seal’s face, possibly used when hunting.

Through a case study of James Cook’s third voyage and his contact with the Nuu-chah-nulth people of Vancouver Island in 1778, this article just published on the History Workshop Journal sheds new light on the epistemological dispossession of indigenous peoples that accompanied European expansion in the eighteenth century. Continue reading “Between Documentation and Dispossession”

Credulity, Curiosity, and Credibility

Second sight, superstition, seduction.
Prediction of the future, female curiosity and the story of Duncan Campbell in early 18th century England

A fortune-teller who could predict the future, a dumb-mute skilled in mundane conversation, a seller of talismans and miraculous medicines, Duncan Campbell (c. 1680-1730) was a popular attraction in early 18th-century London. Placed at the centre of a number of biographical and autobiographical narratives, his figure took on a particular literary quality.

A reputation built on a proclaimed ‘second sight‘ that enabled him to see the future, and advice on especially sentimental and matrimonial matters, make his case an excellent observatory on the negotiation of what, in the age of reason, constituted authority and credibility, credulity and superstition, and how gender was thematised within this negotiation.

This research focuses on The History of the Life and Adventures of Mr Duncan Campbell, a biography published by Edmund Curll in 1720 and long spuriously attributed to Daniel Defoe. The text offers an unusual glimpse into the contemporary discourse on the relationship between gender and the problem of credulity. Against the backdrop, well known to contemporary historiography, of the conceptualisation of women as exponents of a vulnerable, manipulable and gullible public, the History outlines the problem of the relationship between the female public and popular beliefs inherent in predicting and controlling the future.

In defending Duncan Campbell’s credibility – boasting his Lappish birth and the efficacy of his predictions and recipes – The History insists on the disqualification of competing forms and actors in the field of divination. The book aims to counteract the seductions of Kabbalistic chimeras that too easily capture innocent minds, the impostures of false diviners and swindlers, the dangers of the obscure arts of conjurers and inchanters, and the typically female superstitious practices that are passed down through generations.

The History of Duncan Campbell: geographies of beliefs

A list of locations mentioned in The History of the Life and Adventures of Mr Duncan Campbell. Dot size represent frequency, movement shows mentions order in the narrative.

The History of Duncan Campbell: key concepts in relation

Selected key concepts frequently mentioned in the novel and their context. Hover over to highlight relations, right click to remove words, use drop-down search to add words. 

Ruin Lust, American Futures

@ Antiquity and the Shaping of the Future in the Age of Enlightenment. / L’Antiquité et la construction de l’avenir à l’âge des Lumières, ISECS 2023 congress, 3-7 July 2023, Rome

Gustave Doré’s version of Macaulay’s New Zealander, visiting London in the far future, surveying the ruins of the city from the remains of London Bridge
Doré’s London: A Pilgrimage (London; Grant & Co, 1872), Bibliothèque nationale de France via Gallica, ark:/12148/bpt6k10470488

In 1780, a poetry collection printed in London claimed to contain the letter of an American traveller from the year 2199, who wrote from the ruins of St. Paul’s porch to a friend in Boston, metropolis of the Western Empire. Poems, By a Young Nobleman, of Distinguished Abilities, lately deceased included poetic compositions about the once prosperous city of London. The ruins of an England whose greatness once illuminated Europe were observed from the west, where the sun of British power went to set.

The title page attributed authorship to a young man who had died at the time of publication. Thomas Lyttelton, libertine and politician, who has been later credited with authorship of the work, had in fact died at the age of only thirty-four in 1779, an untimely death lamented in the panegyric of the editor. This paper draws on the case study of Poems to highlight how, in the eighteenth century, the futuristic projection of a distant state of affairs derived from the present was informed by a look back to the past.

Poems exemplifies how American space and time provided a backdrop for revitalisations of translatio imperii topoi. Ancient history was exploited a reservoir of useful models to conceptualise and understand cultural diversity, to articulate an imperial discourse in its entanglements with ideas of monarchical power, colonial expansion, civilisation, and, not least, to anticipate what was yet to come.

Conference programme: https://www.isecs-roma2023.net/en/contents/programme/118

Air warfare from Zeppelin’s 1900 flight to neo-Edwardian fiction

A new post in the Anticipations and aerostatic warfare series – 3/3

After Zeppelin’s flight over Lake Constance in 1900 in a hydrogen-filled aluminium airship and the Wright brothers’ flight in 1903, investment in aircraft research and production by Western powers such as Germany and the United States increased dramatically. Air assaults such as those during the Italian invasion of Libya (1911-1912) and the Balkan Wars (1912-1913) demonstrated a new role for air warfare, not only in intelligence gathering but also in combat, to attack and destroy buildings, artillery and ground troops.

In Europe, Russia and the United States, the potential military applications of the new flight technologies were one of the main attractions around which an ‘air-mindedness’, coagulated – that popular fascination with airships which gave rise to a series of clubs, societies, shows and competitions devoted to gliders and rockets.

Attacks from the sky were to be found in key works in the history of future wars such as Robur-le-Conquérant and Maître du Monde by Jules Verne (1886, 1904) and The War in the Air and The World Set Free by H. G. Wells (1908, 1914). Air-to-ground battles and airborne weaponry remained a constant feature of future war narratives throughout the 20th century.

The author who codified the idea of future warfare fought with balloons with perhaps the greatest vividness and inventiveness between the 19th and early 20th centuries was Albert Robida. A journalist and caricaturist as well as a novelist and illustrator, Robida imagined entire societies revolutionised by the use of electricity, human flight and other incredible inventions in telecommunications.

Illustrated novels such as La guerre au vingtième siècle (1887) and La guerre infernale (1908, with Pierre Giffard) drew inspiration from conflicts fought on the fringes of European space, such as the Russo-Turkish War (1877-1878) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), which reached the French media with documentation, including photographs, of the massacres. In the designer’s fictional imagination, the balloon remained, alongside gliders and aeroplanes, a central element in the creation of a futuristic sense of wonder. Thus, during the 1937-1938 world war imagined in La guerre infernale, the Channel was again crossed by French air armies, this time not to attack but to rescue London, threatened by a German offensive (see Figure below).

Albert Robida, illustration for La guerre infernale by Pierre Giffard, Paris, Èdition Méricant, 1908, detail of the back cover of the first fascicle. Copy at the British Library, London. Work in the public domain, photo by the author.

In the age of aeroplanes and spaceships, far from waning, the trope of the balloon has been re-functionalised and recurs in alternate history narratives. In the lively trend that since the 1980s has been known with labels such as steampunk or dieselpunk, alternate historical courses are imagined by changing known premises, starting from nineteenth- and early twentieth-century settings.

Writers and designers depict a retro-futuristic steam age in which, for example, the analogue computer was invented or in which aerostatic flight reached heights of sophistication unknown in history. Contemporary authors are explicitly inspired by predecessors such as Verne and Robida, taking pleasure in inventing futures that look back to the past.

The balloon is now central to a whole new strand of imagined wars and war technologies. The airship lifted by lighter-than-air gases has become the manifesto of a new aesthetic and synthesises the ambivalent relationship that neo-Victorian and neo-Edwardian fiction has with the course of events in the real world, a relationship of recreation and resistance, of fetishization of the past, questioning the idea of a progressive and teleological historical diachrony.

In literary and figurative invention we find vivid evidence of the consequences that armed confrontation, mass violence and the application of techno-science for the purpose of war have produced in the European mind in the late modern and contemporary eras.

The fact that an omnivorous Italian memorabilia collector like Diego de Henriquez planned to devote the final section of his War for Peace Museum to the anticipations of science fiction clearly testifies to his interest in the effects of war on all levels of society – including cultural and symbolic – as well as the pedagogical ambitions that increasingly characterised his projects in the 1940s and 1960s.

The anonymous novel The Reign of George VI had imagined, immediately after the Treaty of Paris in 1763, an alternative course of the Seven Years’ War, projecting a global conflict between Britain and France into the future. The pamphlet Anticipation (1778) employed a futuristic and exquisitely satirical mechanism to comment on the actuality of British parliamentary debates on the American War of Independence. Between the 1790s and 1805 literary and figurative works had interpreted French ambitions (and specular British fears) of an invasion of Britain, such as the etching La Thiloriere (1803), in which Jean Louis Argaud de Barges envisaged the transportation of Gallic armies across the Channel in huge balloons. Through the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries of Edgard Allan Poe, Jules Verne, Albert Robida and H. G. Wells, the aerostat recurred in futuristic wars, continuing to be part of the repertoire of a narrative genre that was being codified. In this guise it has survived into the 2000s, and proliferates in contemporary steampunk, where it becomes the epitome of the ambivalent relationship that neo-Victorian and neo-Edwardian science fiction entertain with history.


A. J. Echevarria II, Imagining Future War: The West’s Technological Revolution and Visions of Wars to Come, 1880-1914, Westport, CT-London, Praeger Security International, 2007, pp. 81-94.

Ariela Freedman, Zeppelin Fictions and the British Home Front, in: “Journal of Modern Literature”, No. 27, 3, 2004, pp. 47-62.

I. Csicsery-Ronay Jr, ‘Empire’, in The Routledge Companion to Science Fiction, edited by M. Bould, A. M. Butler, A. Roberts, and S. Vint, London and New York, Routledge, 2009, pp. 362-72.

J. Verne, Robur-le-Conquérant (1886), Paris, Hetzel, 1890; J. Verne, Maître du Monde, Paris, Hetzel, 1904.

H. G. Wells, The War in the Air: And Particularly How Mr. Bert Smallways Fared While It Lasted, London, George Bell and Sons, 1908.

H. G. Wells, The World Set Free: A Story of Mankind, New York, E.P. Dutton & Company, 1914.

A. Robida, La guerre au vingtième siècle, Paris, Georges Decaux, 1887.

P. Giffard, La guerre infernale, illustrated by Albert Robida, Paris, Èdition Méricant, 1908.

G. Iannuzzi, The illustrator and the global wars to come. Albert Robida, La guerre infernale, and the long history of imagined warfare, in: “Cromohs” 22, 2019, pp. 95-136, doi: https://doi.org/10.13128/cromohs-11706.

R. A. Bowser and B. Croxall, ed., Steampunk, Science, and (Neo)Victorian Technologies, monographic issue of “Neo-Victorian Studies”, no. 3, 1, 2010.

Board game: Scythe: The Wind Gambit, designer Jamey Stegmaier, edition Stonemaier Games at al., 2017.

Video game: BioShock Infinite, director Ken Levine, production Irrational Games, 2013.

M. Perschon, Steam Wars, in: “Neo-Victorian Studies”, no. 3, 12010, pp. 127-66.

E. Guffey and K. C. Lemay, ‘Retrofuturism and Steampunk’, in The Oxford Handbook of Science Fiction, edited by R. Latham, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2014, pp. 434-48.

G. Iannuzzi, Il collezionista di guerre future. Un percorso nelle collezioni di Diego de Henriquez presso i Civici Musei di Trieste, “Qualestoria”, 1,2020 pp. 98-110.

This blog post is adapted from Giulia Iannuzzi, Guerre del futuro: Anticipazioni e aerostati da battaglia, dall’invasione napoleonica della Gran Bretagna al conflitto mondiale del 1937, in Ragioni Comuni 2017-18, ed. Ilaria Micheli (Trieste: EUT, 2022), 127-142. ISBN: 9788855113076, eISNB: 9788855113083.

Anticipations, celebrations, satires

A new post in the Anticipations and aerostatic warfare series – 2/3

Imaginary wars, projected onto the future of Europe as ominous warnings and political arguments, were part of the emergence of a conception of history pliable by human action. This colonisation of the future within fictional narratives at the end of the eighteenth century already had some significant precedents. One such precedent, The Reign of George VI,[1] was a curious novel – or rather a fictional treatise on the history of the future – published in London in 1763, which offered a fascinating proto-fantascientific remake of the Seven Years’ War. The anonymous author, dissatisfied with the terms of the Treaty of Paris, imagined that the dispute between France and Britain might end very differently in the future, leading to British supremacy over all of continental Europe and global maritime trade. The pamphlet was written in the form of a historical reconstruction of events that took place in the twentieth century, testifying to a mixture of genres between typical modes of historical-political reflection and propaganda and an emerging narrative invention.[2] Continue reading “Anticipations, celebrations, satires”

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