|French literary history|
He was the son of a civil engineer and was educated at the college of Pontivy, with the intention of following his father's career by entering the Polytechnic School. However, his father died in 1823 and he matriculated as a law student at Rennes but soon devoted himself to literature.
He was by turns a bookseller's assistant and a private schoolmaster in Nantes, a journalist and a grammar school teacher in Brest and a teacher in Mulhouse. He settled in Paris in 1836. In 1848 he became professor in the school for the instruction of civil servants initiated by Hippolyte Carnot, but which was soon to be cancelled.
He began his literary career with a drama, played at the Théâtre français in 1828, the Siege de Missolonghi. This tragedy was a pronounced failure. In novel writing he did much better than for the stage, deliberately aiming at making the novel an engine of moral instruction. His first two novels L'Echelle de Femmes and Riche et Pauvre met with favourable receptions.
His best work is undoubtedly to be found in the charming Derniers Bretons (4 vols, 1835-1837) and Foyer breton (1844), where the folk-lore and natural features of his native province are worked up into story form, and in Un Philosophe sous les toils, which received in 1851 a well-deserved academic prize. He also wrote a number of other works—novels, dramas, essays and miscellanies.
In 1846, Souvestre published the ambitious Le Monde Tel Qu'il Sera [The World As It Will Be], a full-blown dystopia and science fiction novel which featured some remarkable predictions. In it, a French couple, Maurice and Marthe are taken to the year 3000 by a man named John Progress on a flying, steam-powered, time-traveling locomotive. There, they discover the existence of steam-powered subways, submarines, synthetic materials imitating real wood, marble, etc., telephone, air conditioning, giant fruits and vegetables obtained through what we would call today genetic engineering, etc. The world is one nation, the capital of which is Tahiti. Parenting has vanished, because most children are removed from their parents and taken to places where eugenics, genetic manipulation, and different forms of education give rise to somewhat human grotesques tailored for specific tasks. Corporations have enough power to influence government decisions to ensure a good profit margins. The medical community manipulates people to ensure that they are seriously sick when they enter, and conducts medical experiments on animals. This is paid for by cutting costs in the food the patients receive. No sympathy or encouragement is given to the poor or disabled. China has become inactive and listless, going into a steep decline after their socio-economic structure was ruined by opium, and wars and murders occur in Persia for idiotic religious reasons. Russia seems more or less a backwater obscurity, an Germany is a jingoistic nation that permits freedom while undermining it at the same time.
Souvestre died in Paris on the July 5, 1854. On his widow was bestowed the Prix Lambert designed for the "families of authors who by their integrity, and by the probity of their efforts have well deserved this token from the Republique des Lettres."
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
|Wikisource has original works written by or about:
- Works by Émile Souvestre at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about Émile Souvestre in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- English translation of The World as It Shall Be