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)

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. 

Ruins of past futures

Fantastic archaeologies and disruptive imaginations

@ SFRA 2023: Disruptive Imaginations – Joint Annual Conference of SFRA and GfF – TU Dresden, Germany, August 15-19, 2023

 Ruins of an eighteenth-century retrofuturistic city, AI generated image

Ruins of an eighteenth-century retrofuturistic city, AI generated image, under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) license

This paper examines the ruin as a device of cognitive estrangement used in speculative fiction to thematise and problematise given conceptualisations of historical time and temporal linearity. Since the modern age, the ruin as a fragment of the past has engender new imaginary colonisations of a secularised future. Drawing on the hypothesis that the fantastic ruin and archaeological methods applied to past futures matured in the European imagination during the modern age, this research connects twentieth-century archaeological and clipeological science fiction to the long-standing history of the ruin within a fantastic imagination.

Materialising heliotropic conceptions of civilisation, especially since the 18th century the ruin has aroused the interest of writers, historians and painters in connection to notions such as those of development and decadence, modernity and crisis applied to human societies as well as to imaginary alien civilisations. The idea of a history magistra vitae and of a cyclical course of civilisations became premises for the application to the future of history as a method and for the aesthetic appreciation and poetics of ruin, discussed by Denis Diderot and Edmund Burke, and epitomised in the ruined Louvre painted by Hubert Robert and in Joseph Michael Gandy’s pictorial work portraying the Bank of England in ruins. The temporal estrangement of the ruin took on futuristic connotations inspiring some of the earliest speculations about the time to come. The contemplation of the remains of the past synecdochically fostered the idea of a future observer contemplating the ruins of the present in writers such as Thomas Lyttelton and Volney. Towards the end of the 18th and throughout the 19th century, the idea of radical changes foreseen in the future increasingly incorporated the possibility of disasters, catastrophes and extinctions (e.g., the Earth in ruin and the last men imagined by Bodin, Grainville, Shelley).

This paper outlines the connection between these precedents and twentieth-century pseudo-archaeology that hypothesised the existence of hyper-evolved terrestrial or alien civilisations located in a distant past.


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

Global Fandom Series

A project promoted by Henry Jenkins. Iannuzzi in conversation with Ciesielska

This series was first published in http://henryjenkins.org/. The author would like to thank Henry Jenkins and Dominika Ciesielska for permission to reproduce it here.

The Global Fandom Conversation Series, coordinated by Henry Jenkins (MIT) aimed to investigate fandom and fandom studies in different countries, defining fandom in the broadest possible terms for these purposes. Subjects of investigation were both transcultural/transnational exchanges and locally specific fan objects and practices, in an attempt to answer these guiding questions: to what extent is fandom part of a globalisation process? To what extent does fandom still reflect local cultural traditions and practices? How is fandom shaped by economic, political, cultural, social and spiritual traditions and practices and by broader processes of change in different countries and regions of the world? The project has resulted in a series of publications hosted on http://henryjenkins.org/, animated by scholars from some forty different countries. Here’s my contribution in dialogue with Dominika Ciesielska (Jagiellonian University, Cracow, Poland). Each of us produced an opening statement and we subsequently developed the following exchange.


Giulia Iannuzzi – Opening statement

Dominika Ciesielska – Opening statement

Giulia Iannuzzi – First response

Dominika Ciesielska – First response

Giulia Iannuzzi – Second response / Closing remarks

Dominika Ciesielska – Second Response / Closing remarks

Bio notes

Giulia IannuzziOpening statement

The wide range of activities organized by speculative fiction fans has been, in the Italian cultural context, markedly independent from the problematic reception reserved for speculative genres by academics, intellectuals, and cultural institutions. The historical and technical development of Italian sf fandom goes from the first clubs and correspondences in the late 1950s, through the cyclostyled fanzines appeared in the 1960s, the spread of Bulletin Board Systems in the 1990s, and the advent of the Internet in the 2000s. Until today, this history (as well as reading and association practices in earlier phases, and current fan activities) has largely been a critical underground. Fandom studies are not recognized in the Italian university system as a subject or field of teaching in its own right: research and courses can be found within the activities of individual scholars in literary, historical, media and communication disciplines. A number of first-hand accounts and historical reconstructions written by the protagonists and/or by professionals working in the science fiction market is available.

Image credit: Europa Report 2, First European SF Convention, Trieste (Italy), July 12-16, 1972. Cover art by Leonardo Caposiena. Private Collection.

Continue reading “Global Fandom Series”

Anticipation and Satire in 1778 London

The Future Tense of War

@ ISECS International Seminars for early career scholars / SOG18
War Times in the 18th century: Perceptions and Memories, September 25-30, 2022, Schloss Seggau/Leibnitz (Austria)

A view of the House of Peers, the King sitting on the throne, the Commons attending him
J. Lodge, in The gentleman’s magazine, 1769. Yale, Horace Walpole Library.

On 23 November 1778 an account of a heated parliamentary debate on recent developments in the American War of Independence was printed in London, discussing the turning point that had transformed the conflict between the colonies and the mother country into a Euro-Atlantic confrontation with the signing of the Franco-American treaties.

The pamphlet followed the editorial custom, common in the British capital notwithstanding the restrictions in place, of committing to paper the sessions of Parliament. This report, however, had one peculiarity: it reported a session that had yet to take place.

Continue reading “Anticipation and Satire in 1778 London”

Second sights across northern waters

An early-18th century supernatural philosopher between Scotland and Lapland

Duncan Campbell @ the third PiMO annual conference European sea spaces and histories of knowledge, Helsinki and Tallinn, 22-23 June 2022

This paper investigates the North and Baltic Seas as cultural and emotional connective spaces in a hitherto understudied work from the early 18th century, The Supernatural Philosopher, or the Mysteries of Magick. First published anonymously in 1720, then expanded in 1728, this text focuses on the figure of Duncan Campbell (c. 1680-1730), a deaf and mute soothsayer who was a popular attraction in London during the 1720s.

Campbell’s extraordinary faculties were – The Supernatural Philosopher claimed – innate gifts, the result of a birth that combined two mystical cotés: the Scottish one – inherited from his father – and the Sami one – from his mother’s side. Continue reading “Second sights across northern waters”

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