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Jules Verne: Paris In the 20th Century; A Lost Novel

Updated on February 4, 2013

Nighttime Paris from the Eiffel Tower

(Photo in the late 2000s, by kalimevole on Sxc.hu)
(Photo in the late 2000s, by kalimevole on Sxc.hu)

Back to the Future

This is speculative fiction from Jules Verne (1828 - 1905), is not as popularly read as Five Weeks in a Balloon, The Time Machine, or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. In fact, it was not published until 1994. However, it is grand in its predictions and off the timeline of real occurrences by mere years.

Author Verne set Paris and his forecast of its future in 1960, an early year of the US and Soviet Space Programs during the Cold War. For additional period information, one can view the films The Right Stuff and K-19.

For another criticism of capitalistic society, see the work of Franz Kafka in The Metamorphosis.

What Was Happening in 1960?

One of the most memorable events of 1960 was the US Presidential election that places America's first Catholic present in office: John Fitzgerald Kennedy. With the event the US Space Program blossomed out into the universe with the President's challenge to reach our moon by the end of the 1960s.

In France, President Charle de Gaulle was on early duty, serving from 1959 - 1969 with the French Fifth Republic (constitution of October 1958), which was a revitalization movement to bring renewal to Paris and all France after WWII. The President wished to be independent from larger national powers and to develop French nuclear weapons during the Cold War. President de Gaulle called for Europe to lead the destiny of world ahead of the USSR, and USA.

Other 1960 Events

  • Harper Lee published her Pulitzer classic, To Kill a Mockingbird.
  • The US sci-fi pulp magazine industry began to quickly decline. Major futurist writers continued to publish short stories in magazinesthat remained (eg. Analog)
  • The first functional laser was built by T. H. Maiman in America.
  • Donald A. Glaser, invented the bubble chamber for examining subatomic particles in America.
  • Also in America, chlorophyll was synthesized and the birth-control pill was invented.
  • Echo I, the first communications satellite, launched, validating Arthur C. Clarke's writings.
  • May 1 thru 16: The American U-2 spy plane, flown by Francis Gary Powers, was shot down over the Soviet Union air space. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev cancelled the Paris Summit Conference because of U-2 incident.
  • May 23: A leading WWII Nazi executioner of Jews, Adolf Eichmann, was captured by Israelis in Argentina and later transported to Israel for execution.
  • Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Madagascar, and Zaire/Belgian Congo gain independence from European countries, including France.
  • At least 900 US military advisers are already stationed in South Vietnam, observing, but tacitly supporting the French interests.

Sci-Fi Films and Speculation Written in 1960

  • Film of Jules Verne's The Time Machine released in 1960, the setting year of his Parisian forecast in Paris in the Twentieth Century.
  • Film Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea released in 1961
  • Film The Angry Red Planet released. 
  • French Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror films released: Eyes Without a Face, Stowaway in the Sky, Zazie in the Metro.

Métro La Chapelle

This public transportation and metro stop is much like that found in Verne's forecasts for Paris in 1960. (cvan on Sxc.hu)
This public transportation and metro stop is much like that found in Verne's forecasts for Paris in 1960. (cvan on Sxc.hu)

1960 in 1860

Paris au XXesiècle is Paris in the Twentieth Centuryin English and is speculative or futurist writing done 100 years into the future of Jules Verne's current day. Another sci-fi author, Sir Arthur C. Clarke. made similar types of long-range forecasts, although he was shouted down - specifically about satellite transmissions for telecommunications, which came to fruition in his lifetime.

Verne seems to proclaim a warning, as did Franz Kakfa in The Metamorphosis, to the western world about the evils inherent in rabid industrialization and its impact on life, especially the burying of literature and the classics under the importance of business, advanced technologies, and money. Verne also forecasts many of the advances that he imagined, accurately.

20th Century French Business: Arc de la Defense, Paris

Modern French business building, photo taken by werberei on Sxc.hu.
Modern French business building, photo taken by werberei on Sxc.hu.
Metro
Metro

Some Verne Predictions, 1863

  • Air Conditioning
  • Automobiles powered by gasoline engines with pistons, yet as quiet as our current electric models in 2010. A gasoline auto was invented in France about the same time that Henry Ford developed his version in the US. No one, however, has developed a combustion engine that is noiseless.
  • Burglar Alarms
  • Calculators
  • "Canned" education - i.e. self-learning modules and eudcational prescriptions 
  • Execution of death row prisoners with electricity
  • Funding cuts to all the humanities
  • High Speed trains and rail systems (the Metro, so- named today as well)
  • Marked increase in unwed births
  • Skyscrapers
  • Television and television- phones
  • World Wide Telecommunications (like the Web)

Buildings and Architecture

Jules Verne wrote about expanding geometric architecture beyond the cubic and rectangular box covered with architectural gingerbread and topped with golden angels and gray gargoyles. He predicted something less baroquely ornate, taller, and sleeker.

He predicted for the Lovre an addition of its 1989 glass-and-steel pyramid structure, actually built in the 20th Century about 120 years later. He predicted the construction details of the Eiffel Tower, erected 24 years after his forecast of 1863. He also forecasted skyscrapers for business and his prediction came to pass many fold.

Surreal and Senseless Decay

The protagonist of Verne's futurist novel is a 16-year-old lad, Michel, who has graduated school with a certificate in - of all the wasteful things - humanities: literature and classics. His extended family treats him as an outcast ne'er do well, because only technical writing is the genre respected in 20th Century Paris. He is seen as a bottom feeding sponge in society.

Michel has written a volume of poetry, but cannot sell it, becoming desitute in a mechanical society. With his last coins, he purchases a small bunch of violets for his sweetheart and when he appears at her door, finds that she and her father have been evicted. Papa had been a professor of rhetoric, no longer needed by Paris, terminated from the university with the other men of arts and letters.

Badly shaken and starving to death, Michel wanders in circles around Paris, looking at the electical wonders in a surreal haze of mind. These scenes may have been influenced by Verne's study of Edgar Allen Poe and are reminiscent of scenes in The Masque of the Red Death.

The final scenes evoke more impact upon readers than do this translation by Howard, who comibines sentences and paragraphs into a smoother and blander story. If you can read the story in French or find another translation, you may feel the pain of the starving, dying artist in the snow - and of no use to this mechanized society - more fully.

Reactions and Comments

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    • emichael profile image

      emichael 

      6 years ago from New Orleans

      I am a big Verne fan and, somehow, missed this book completely. Sounds fantastic, I will definitely be checking it out.

      It is amazing how many sci-fi writers were able to speculate or inspire (depending on how you look at it) many of societies advancements. Bradbury is another one who has done this startlingly well.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish 

      7 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Great copmments! -- I'm extremely happy to have found this book and wish I knew more French so that I can read the original (so I am studying bit by bit)!

      @RedElf - I recall that writer Arthur C. Clarke first developed the idea for communication satellites (comsat) and received laughter. Now these devices and systems are everywhere. We must not lose the emergence of new writers,. because as you say - we are having techical courses that limit the imagination in a sense. Robots making robots perhaps. Fortunately, our Kent State Unversity is still dedicated to a writing program and if Antioch reopens as we hope, thaty will be a big second. Southern Ohio holds some writers' weekends, but it's not enough.

      MyOuterSpace.com would do well to hold some writers' workshops around North America after they have all their ships' captains/project managers in place. I think I'll suggest it. You'e given me the idea.

      In other news, in 2000 I wished that the heavy old computer screens could be replaced by a virtual screen and now Apple applied for a patent for a holographic screen that rises from a strip or some such. I could not imagine the details and schematics, but am glad they did. I hope most companies have a leat 1 or 2 with imaginations and talents to make it so.

    • RedElf profile image

      RedElf 

      7 years ago from Canada

      I find it so amazing that writers of speculative fiction (or sci-fi, as we used to call it), a genre much looked down upon by so-called "serious writers," have made such perceptive predictions about the future. It has been suggested that because they wrote it down, that someone else read it and was inspired to make it come true. I couldn't say on way or the other, but the idea of artists and writers of literature becoming superfluous to society is very scary - the best attended and supported courses of study at university these days are all technical.

    • profile image

      Doug Turner Jr. 

      7 years ago

      I always assumed Verne was a genius because of his fantastic -- and much more popular -- works of fiction, but I never knew he was so keen on predicting the future. His grasp of technology and the sciences must have been so astute that he was able to pinpoint where mankind's crazy inventions were headed.

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 

      8 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      I find it amazing that some of the great thinkers of the past were able to look into the future with a degree of clarity. I'm not sure I'd like such predictions of our future today. Things don't seem to be going all that well. Thumbs up.

    • randslam profile image

      Rand Zacharias 

      8 years ago from Kelowna, British Columbia

      Patty, you do this so often. Well informed hub about one of the planet's greatest futurist writers. I just did a short story on Philip K. Dick that showed his own prescient, tho' disturbed, mind.

      Thanks for your continuity in purpose and excellence.

      Rand

    • maven101 profile image

      maven101 

      8 years ago from Northern Arizona

      Hi Patti....Another thumbs up for a well written and interesting Hub...Jules Verne, as futurist, like Toffler, sorely underestimated the impact of the information age on culture , business, and the average man...the empowerment gained by those without power, and the manipulation by those with power...a true visionary that wrote novels that fascinated me in my youth...Thanks for bringing this heretofore unknown, to me anyway, story of a future Paris as seen with 19th century eyes...quite prescient...Larry

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile imageAUTHOR

      Patty Inglish 

      8 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Thanks to all of you for the kind comments!

      @Zsuzsy Bee! - You have the book in French!! I can only read some and not at all speak the language, but see the existence of concepts in French that I think do not exist in English. I'd like Jules Verne to be here now to comment!

      I must look through old book shops and find another versions of this book, in French. Thanks, as always, for visiting! You're the only other person I know so far that has read this one - and the only one in 2 languages.

      @Enelle - How are things in your sector of Canada? Cooler than in Ohio, no doubt. Thanks very much for posting.

      @Sara - Email me at the contact link :)

    • Zsuzsy Bee profile image

      Zsuzsy Bee 

      8 years ago from Ontario/Canada

      Wow, Patty, as always a great hub. I actually own the book in French but have read it in English also. Somehow the French version does portrait the misery of Michel more in depth or maybe the French language just has more descriptive words for the tragic then English.

      In this book Jules Verne shows his amazing ability to describe the future once again.

      Can you just imagine what good old Jules would have to say if he were able to see today's technology

      loved the hub

      hope you're well

      regards Zsuzsy

    • Enelle Lamb profile image

      Enelle Lamb 

      8 years ago from Canada's 'California'

      An excellent review Patty, and chock full of interesting information as well. Thumbs up my dear!

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 

      8 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      Given his "reality" was filtered through the late 1800's to early 1900's... It is amazing he had the mental acuity to vision, or have the conceptualization of these "modern-day" realities... Jules Verne's concern of "...the evils inherent in rapid industrialization and its impact on life, especially the burying of literature and the classics under the importance of business, advanced technologies, and money." is valid.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      8 years ago from London, UK

      Thank you for your review and bringing this book to our attention.

    • Sara Algoe profile image

      HARRIS 

      8 years ago from Phoenix, Ariz

      When i saw that this Hub is reply to a question, I thought it would be a paragraph answer but now i know why Patty Inglish is most decorated writer on Hubpages.

      Can i use you page break style picture Pleaseeeeeeee !

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