Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Revisiting the Classics -- Paris in the Twentieth Century

Today I'm taking a look back at the lost Jules Verne novel, Paris in the Twentieth Century. Rejected by his literary agent, the book wasn't published until 1994, so whether or not you consider it to be a classic is debatable.

As the title suggests, the story concerns what Verne imagined Paris would be like in the 1960's. In his version, the City of Lights has grown to encompass most of France. Large buildings tower over the city, and a sophisticated rail system, powered by compressed air and electromagnets, get Parisians where they need to go. Central to all of this is a school system owned by big business. Science and math are king, while journalism, literature and the arts have been largely forgotten. Michel, the young protagonist, has a talent for Latin, but in this overly-practical society that makes him an outcast, laughed at for his proficiency at "useless" endeavors. He yearns to write poetry and devour the literary classics, but struggles to find his place in a world that has moved beyond such things.

The name Jules Verne, along with the futuristic book cover, may lead you to believe this is mainly a science fiction story. In actuality, it is a celebration of French culture up to Verne's time. French authors, poets, journalists and scientists are named one after the other at rapid-fire speed. Verne couldn't list them fast enough. The soulless technology of 20th-century Paris stands in stark contrast to these dead heroes, a metaphor made complete by a cemetery scene at the end of the book.

I'm torn on Paris of the Twentieth Century. On the one hand, Verne eerily predicts future technological advancements such as the mass transit system, cars, instant messaging, defibrillators, and the electric chair. On the other hand, there isn't as much sci-fi in the story as I would have liked. Also, the main character is kinda whiny and the ending resolves nothing. Still, the book stands as a testament to Jules Verne's vision and imagination.

No comments:

Post a Comment