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

Samuel Madden’s ‘Memoirs of the Twentieth Century’ (1733) – Brepols

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.

Here’s the book on Brepols’ website: https://www.brepols.net/products/IS-9782503606026-1

Pages: 460 p.
Size: 156 x 234 mm
Illustrations:10 b/w
Language: English
Publication Year: 2024

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

SUMMARY

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.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

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

Bibliography

Index

Utopias and other Histories of the Future

How to temporalize utopia, and what to bring on a trip to the utopian archipelago

A fundamental problem faced by scholars researching the history and functioning of societies is the fact that their object of study cannot be recreated in a laboratory, to replicate events and test hypotheses on causes and effects. A political regime, a development model, a society’s relationship with the biosphere are systems too vast and complex to be artificially created or replicated.

But not if we move into the realm of the imaginary, and let ourselves be conducted in hypothetical experiments described by speculative and fantastic imagination. Exploring worlds located in a temporal and/or geographical elsewhere, utopian thought has isolated, changed, introduced determining factors in the systems of collective organization and in the relationships between humans and environment, and has observed the consequences.

October the 15th 2020, as a corollary of Guido Abbattista’s prolusion at the Collegio Fonda in Trieste, I will offer some remarks on the relationship between utopia and history, understanding utopia in all its semantic ambiguity – thought device and literary genre – and understanding history as a culturally constructed framework, as the seat of causal mechanisms, informed by a temporal flow that, in modern Europe, gradually became secularized and unidirectional.

Ambrosius Holbein, woodcut in More, Utopia (ed. Basel 1518) representing the island. Copy at British Library.

I will look at the relationship between utopian thought and history through a series of examples, that will allow me to propose and argue an interpretative thesis: utopia, far from being the creation of a-temporal and immobile models, abstract and detached from history, is a process of conceptual construction intimately linked to the processes of temporalization and acceleration of history that characterised the modern era in Europe.

Utopia therefore offers us a privileged point of view from which the way in which we culturally construct history becomes evident, it is a device that reveals the implicit assumptions in the ideas of historical time that inform the reconstruction and narration of the past.

I prepared a list of essentials to put in my suitcase for this journey:

Companions and general introductions

Gregory Claeys, Searching for Utopia: The History of an Idea (London: Thames & Hudson, 2011).

Gregory Claeys, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).

J. C. Davis, “Utopianism”, in The Cambridge History of Political Thought 1450-1700, ed. by J. H. Burns with the assistance of Mark Goldie (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 329-344.

Steve Mentz, Erin M. Gallagher, “Utopian and Dystopian Literature to 1800”, Oxford Bibliographies, last modified 20 September 2012, doi: 10.1093/OBO/9780199846719-0082.

Frank E. Manuel and Fritzie P. Manuel, Utopian Thought in the Western World (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1979)

Lyman Tower Sargent, Utopianism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).

Essential readings on Eighteenth century utopias

Bronisław Baczko, L’utopia. Immaginazione sociale e rappresentazioni utopiche nell’età dell’Illuminismo, trans. Margherita Botto and Dario Gibelli (1978; Torino: Einaudi, 1979).

Gregory Claeys, Utopias of the British Enlightenment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

Reinhart Koselleck, “The Temporalization of Utopia”, in id., The Practice of Conceptual History: Timing History, Spacing Concepts trans. Todd Samuel Presner et al. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2002), 84-99.

Nicole Pohl, “Utopianism after More: The Renaissance and Enlightenment”, in The Cambridge Companion to Utopian Literature, 51-78.

Darko Suvin, “The Shift to Anticipation: Radical Rhapsody and Romantic Recoil”, in id., Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1979), 115-144.

Societies and Centers

Histopia (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, 2016-. https://utopia.hypotheses.org/histopia) 

Ralahine Centre for Utopian Studies (UK, University of Limerick, 2003-, https://ulsites.ul.ie/ralahinecentre/)

The Center for Thomas More Studies (USA, University of Dallas, https://www.thomasmorestudies.org//index.html

The Society for Utopian Studies (USA, 1975-, https://utopian-studies.org/)

Journals

Science Fiction Studies (1973-), https://www.depauw.edu/sfs/index.htm (also on JStor)

Spaces of Utopia (2006-2014) https://ler.letras.up.pt/site_uk/default.aspx?qry=id05id174&sum=sim

Moreana (1963-), https://www.euppublishing.com/loi/more

Utopian Studies, ed. Nicole Pohl (1987-) https://www.psupress.org/journals/jnls_utopian_studies.html (also on JStor)

Book collections

Palgrave Studies in Utopianism (2017-)

Ralahine Utopian Studies (Peter Lang, 2007-)

Archives and Special Collections

Arthur O. Lewis Society for Utopian Studies papers, Pennsylvania State University, https://libraries.psu.edu/findingaids/2373.htm

Eaton Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy, University of California, https://library.ucr.edu/collections/eaton-collection-of-science-fiction-fantasy

Utopian Studies Collection, St. Louis Mercantile Library, University of Missoouri-St. Louis, https://www.umsl.edu/mercantile/collections/mercantile-library-special-collections/special_collections/slma-133.html

And also:

SF Archival Collections Wiki, crowd-sourced by librarians

SF Archival collection, Googlemap maintained by The Eaton Journal of Archival Research in Science Fiction

Gateways

Decolonising Utopia Resource List, parte di Utopian Acts, Birkbeck University, https://utopia.ac/resources/decolonisation/

Global Utopias Project Resource Guide, Illinois University Library, https://guides.library.illinois.edu/c.php?g=417947&p=2848553

Pre-1950 Utopias and Science Fiction by Women: An Annotated Reading List of Online Editions,https://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/_collections/utopias/utopias.html

Digital History projects

Stephen Duncombe, Open Utopia, https://theopenutopia.org/ (More’s Utopia electronic edition and much more)

Lyman Tower Sargent, Utopian Literature in English: An Annotated Bibliography From 1516 to the Present, University Park, PA: Penn State Libraries Open Publishing, 2016 and continuing, doi: 10.18113/P8WC77, https://openpublishing.psu.edu/utopia/home

Utopia, thematic section of First X, Then Y, Now Z: Landmark Thematic Maps, Princeton University, https://lib-dbserver.princeton.edu/visual_materials/maps/websites/thematic-maps/theme-maps/utopia.html

Utopia 500https://www.utopia500.net/ (a project bringing together scholars and collectives working on utopia, lead by CETAPS, Centre for English, Translation and Anglo-Portuguese Studies (University of Porto and University Nova de Lisboa)

Wikitopia, https://www.openwikitopia.org/ (collective writing project on wiki platform)

Historicizing the Future

… I must acquiesce, and be content with the Honour and Misfortune, of being the first among Historians (if a mere Publisher of Memoirs may deserve that Name) who leaving the beaten Tracts of writing with Malice or Flattery, the accounts of past Actions and Times, have dar’d to enter by the help of an infallible Guide, into the dark Caverns of Futurity, and discover the Secrets of Ages yet to come.

Samuel Madden,  Memoirs of the Twentieth Century (London: Printed for Messieurs Osborn and Longman, Davis, and Batley …, 1733) vol. 1, 3.

Contemporary historiography has highlighted the role played by a spatial dimension in the birth of a speculative imagination which, in modern-age Europe, exploited fantastic and philosophical motives, and was rich in theological and spiritual interests.1 The Copernican revolution opened up cosmic space as a possible home to other planets and civilisations. From Francis Godwin’s The Man in the Moon (1638) to Cyrano de Bergerac’s The Other World (1657), up to Fontenelle’s Entretiens sur la pluralités des mondes (1686), the seventeenth century reflected on the possibility of extra-terrestrial life and saw the flourishing of interplanetary voyages, explorations of the moon and more remote celestial bodies, close encounters with distant civilizations, including the possibility of being visited by extra-terrestrials beings on Earth (e.g. Charles Sorel’sL’Histoire comique de Francion, 1623, progenitor of the imaginary visits of alien humans in Europe).2

Cultural historians and scholars of speculative fiction usually locate in a late-modern period the appearance of a temporal dimension exploited as a means of dislocation from the writer’s reality, and thus as a source of cognitive estrangement.3 However, while some see in the consequences of the same Copernican revolution the crucial condition thanks to which the imagination first became able to work outside the temporal horizon of Biblical time,4 others place the shift from a spatial-based to a temporal-based speculation as late as the eighteenth century,5 or take the year 1800 as a conventional watershed.6 In his comprehensive anthology of British future fiction, I. F. Clarke identifies a turning point during the nineteenth century, but traces from the seventeenth century onwards the first developments of a temporal imagination, in consequence of which “the geographies of utopian fiction evolved into the historiographies of a new literature.”7

The conceptualization of a future intimately linked to the present and shapeable by human action can in fact be traced back to the emergence of new ideas and sensibilities towards historical time, which matured gradually during the modern age.8 Anglophone and francophone literatures offer extrapolations of near-future scenarios as early as the beginning of the seventeenth century. 

A play such as A Larum for London (published anonymously in 1602) implicitly suggests that a Spanish sack of London might replicate the horrors of 1576 Antwerp,9 John Dryden’s Annus Mirabilis (1667) imagines London reborn after the Great Fire, political prophetism nourishes works such as Aulicus his Dream of the King’s Sudden Comming to London (anonymous, 1644)10 and Jacques Guttin’s Épigone, Histoire du siècle futur (1659). The future is home to a model society towards which the English Parliament is invited to work in A Description of the Famous Kingdome of Macaria (1642) attributed to Samuel Hartlib.11 These narrations offer possible and counter-factual histories used to make a point about the politics of the day, whether through ominous predictions, practical indications, or – in the case of Guttin – as the backdrop to adventurous plots.12 Squibs, satires, or exotic romances, these texts represent a step towards a secularized history13 and conceptualizations of the future that their late-modern and early-contemporary descendants will come to embody, without yet constituting a genre, nor focusing their inventions and extrapolations on those techno-scientific wonders that would only later take centre-stage.14

As Bronisław Baczko has argued,15 the topographical dislocation exploited in early-modern imaginary voyages may serve the purpose of constructing an ideal society untouched by the same historical processes experienced by the reader’s, so that history as known by the writer and the reader constantly informs the invention as a negative presence, by its absence. Utopian societies may consequently be described as a result of different histories, and characterized by alternate calendars and time-computing methods, such as in L’histoire des Sevarambes; peuples qui habitent une partie du troisième continent, communément appelé la Terre australe by Denis Veiras (1677-1679).16 Baczko discusses also what he calls utopia-proposals, such as Étienne-Gabriel Morelly’s Code de la Nature (1755), in which the utopian project may serve the purpose of showing a different yet possible continuation of history, freeing society from its past to offer a new beginning.17

A fantastic voyage: a ship has left the sea below and is sailing among the clouds, in a nocturnal sky. The caption below reads "The ship is caught up into the skies". Illustration from Lucian's wonderland: being a translation of the 'Vera historia' by Lucian, by St J. Basil Wynne Willson; with numerous illustrations by A. Payne Garnett (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1899), p. 47. Copy via InternetArchive.
“The ship is caught up into the skies”. Lucian’s wonderland: being a translation of the ‘Vera historia’ by Lucian, by St J. Basil Wynne Willson; with numerous illustrations by A. Payne Garnett (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1899), p. 47. Copy via InternetArchive. Non known restriction for scholarly use.

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