Le Vingtième siècle. La vie électrique  

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Le Vingtième siècle. La vie électrique[1] (1890) is a science fiction novel written by the French author Albert Robida. It describes various aspects of life in France as it is supposed to take place in 1955. At the center of the plot are the scientific work and technological advances made by the illustrious French scientist Philox Lorris. A great emphasis is put on how the new technology has transformed the French society and individual lives of people. The novel is written in a lively language and contains many comic situations. The original French edition included multiple illustrations drawn by the author. These drawings are often executed in a satirical style reflecting Robida's other occupation as a caricaturist.


Technological devices

The technological devices mentioned in Le Vingtième siècle. La vie électrique and non-existent in 1890 include:

  • Les tubes - a form of transportation operating above the city and reminiscent of modern rapid transit
  • Le phonographe - a device through which two people can talk at a distance, close in function to the modern telephone
  • Le téléphonoscope - a device that has the form of a large ovoid screen that is capable of transmitting visual information. In the novel it combines the capabilities of the modern TV, VCR and webcam.
  • Hélicoptère, aéronef - vehicles that serve for individual transportation and can move through the air
  • Sous-marine - a military watercraft reminiscent of a modern submarine

Social phenomena

Among the most interesting social phenomena predicted in the novel are:

  • The emancipation of women and the creation of feminine political parties
  • Biological warfare, praised as a humane alternative to a traditional military combat. The idea that the biological weapons will kill the weak and only temporarily incapacitate the healthy (thus selecting the people who are more fit for the propagation of the human race) borders on fascism
  • The importance of scientific education and increasing complexity of scientific knowledge
  • The debilitating effect that an intensive mental labor can have on the human organism
  • The invasion of Chinese forces on Europe in 1941 (la grande invasion chinoise)
  • The harmful consequences of science going out of control: for example, the electric storm created by the malfunction at one of the electric stations and the leakage of the biological weapons

Plot summary

An electric storm raging in France as a result of the breakdown at one of the electric stations accidentally puts in contact George Lorris and Estelle Lacombe who meet each other via the téléphonoscope. George, a lieutenant of the French army in the corps of chemical engineers, is the only son of the great scientist and inventor Philox Lorris. Estelle belongs to a middle class family. George is planning to marry Estelle, a plan which encounters opposition from his father. The latter wants to marry George to either La Docroresse Bardoz or La Senatrice Coupard, de la Sarthe, either of which is a woman of great accomplishments. George insists on his original intention, and when he and his bride embark on a pre-nuptial journey, Philox Lorris employs his colleague Sulfatin to break the relationship of the couple. Instead of the tour over the factories and scientific laboratories suggested by Philox Lorris and intended to fatigue the young pair, George takes Estelle and Sulfatin to a quiet village whose inhabitants resist modern technology and live in the traditions of the 19th century. Sulfatin takes along on a journey his ward and patient, an invalid Adrien La Héronnière who is suffering from the exhaustion of the body due to an intensive mental work during his lifetime. Despite the instructions of Philox Lorris, Sulfatin does not meddle in the relationship of George and Estelle, apparently trying to make his boss disinherit George. This would make Sulfatin the sole successor of the great scientist. Philox Lorris seeing the failure of his plans, engages George in military maneuvers where George excels and advances in esteem of his bride even further. When George returns from his trip, more than ever convinced in the rightness of his decision to marry Estelle, his father becomes furious. Still, Philox Lorris believes he can alter the choice of his son.

Presently, Philox Lorris is working on his two novel scientific applications: a biological weapon and a vaccine that is meant to give boost to one's health. To promote these achievements and lobby them on a political level, he organizes a large party at his house to which he invites various dignitaries, including Arsène de Marettes, a prominent political figure. George is asked to collect the video-recordings of the greatest singers and performers of the past and play them for the audience. Unfortunately, as the party begins and the videos are played out, the sound quality turns out to be mediocre. The voices recorded on the tapes sound as if their owners caught a cold. This is due to Sulfatin's absent-mindedness: he took the tapes out to a chilly air last night. Due to this unforeseen circumstance, the video concert is going to be stopped in the middle. However, Estelle had taken the copies of the tapes for her personal enjoyment, and since the copies have not been affected by the cold air, she is able to replace the originals with them after which the concert continues with great success. Meanwhile, Philox Lorris explains his inventions to politicians. Sulfatin who is assisting him with the demonstrations, confuses the health vaccine with the biological weapon and lets some of the latter escape into the room where the guests are gathered. Panic ensues; and many people including Philox Lorris and Sulfatin are poisoned. Luckily, the weapon is not lethal, and only incapacitates the affected. The house of Philox Lorris is transformed into a hospital where the guests (named the martyrs of the science in newspapers) occupy sick-beds. Philox Lorris and Sulfatin quarrel, but soon notice that Adrien La Héronnière recently cured by Sulfatin by the vaccine is immune to the poison. Philox Lorris has an idea: he tries the vaccine on himself and in two days recovers completely. He repeats the application of the vaccine on the rest of the sick and achieves the desired effect. This makes a phenomenal advertisement of the vaccine which is immediately accepted as panacea on a national level. George marries Estella, and Philox Lorris has to save his face before La Docroresse Bardoz and La Senatrice Coupard, de la Sarthe having previously offered the hand of George to both. He escapes the looming lawsuits by managing to marry La Senatrice Coupard, de la Sarthe to Sulfatin and La Docroresse Bardoz to Adrien La Héronnière.

Recent editions

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Le Vingtième siècle. La vie électrique" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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