Abstract

This essay builds on recent scholarship on romans d’anticipation and the popular press to read French Edisonades by Auguste Villiers de l’Isle-Adam (L’Ève future, Contes cruels), Alphonse Allais (“La Vérité sur l’exposition de Chicago,” “Supériorité de la vie américaine sur la nôtre,” etc.), and Gustave Le Rouge and Gustave Guitton (La Conspiration des milliardaires) as marking a fundamental anxiety about France’s slipping world-power status in the face of America’s industrial and economic ascendancy. In these fin de siècle technological fictions, the American inventor emerges as an ambivalent figure hovering between scientific genius and hucksterish humbuggery. The real-life rivalry between Thomas Alva Edison and Charles Cros over the 1878 invention of the phonograph led to satiric forms of resistance to the United States as a land of vulgar mercantile utilitarianism threatening to decenter Paris as the cultural capital of the nineteenth century. Although evolving drafts of Villiers’s metaphysical novel seem to highlight the divine creative potential of “le ‘Sorcier de Menlo Park,’” L’Ève future retains less idealistic references to Edison’s commercial side as a Barnum-like businessman from America. Meanwhile, Le Rouge and Guitton’s fantasy of French scientific triumph over American millionaires counters the troubling lure of technical wonder and speculative energy from the land of the almighty dollar.

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