“Jules Verne’s Paris in the – 21st – Century

Terry Harpold
Spring 2007

Spring Break, March 11–17, 2007

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email: tharpold@english.ufl.edu
home page for Terry Harpold: http://www.english.ufl.edu/~tharpold
home page for ENC 4956: http://www.english.ufl.edu/~tharpold/courses/spring07/enc4956


Paris à venir

Course description

(Taught under the auspices of UF’s Paris Research Center, this course is conceived as a “capstone” to LIT 4930, “Extraordinary Voyages: The Narrative Fiction of Jules Verne,” also offered during the Spring 2007 semester. Students may enroll in ENC 4956 without taking LIT 4930, and vice-versa.)

A week-long Vernian tour of Paris focusing on architectural, social, and cultural changes produced by the city’s massive rebuilding between 1853 and 1870 under the direction of the Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann. Our primary guidebook will be Verne’s unfinished 1863 novel, Paris in the 20th Century, in which he envisaged a post-Haussmann Paris of the 1960s: rational, hygienic, and prosperous; freed of medieval squalor but stripped of its artistic soul. We will also visit nearby Amiens, where Verne lived and wrote during the last four decades of his life, and home to the Notre Dame Cathedral of Amiens, the largest and one of the most beautiful gothic cathedrals of Europe.

Believed apocryphal until its manuscript was rediscovered in 1993, Paris in the 20th Century portrays the dispiriting urban landscapes and impoverished cultural life of a hyper-materialist Paris of the early 1960s, refashioned by a series of gigantic architectural and city planning schemes like Haussmann’s and driven to soulless efficiency by “American ardor” and “the demon of fortune.”

We will begin with an examination of the general plan of the 20th century Paris imagined by Verne: how its boundaries are determined, how its transit systems operate (he envisages a system of elevated railways encircling and traversing the city), and how it has been opened to new forms of exchange with the larger world (Verne predicts a canal connecting the city to Le Havre: Paris is an ocean port!) We will contrast this imagined Paris with contours and systems of the city as it actually was in the 1960s, and as it is today. Legacies of Haussmann’s unprecedented rebuilding are plain everywhere in modern Paris, and Haussmannisme continues to inform the techniques, esthetics, and politics of new construction.

Verne’s novel will serve as our basis for three tours of 21st century Paris, including parts of the city transformed by Haussmannism, and doubling paths followed by Verne’s hero, Michel Dufrénoy, in the novel’s closing chapters. We’ll travel mostly by foot, with the odd Métro jump:

…from the Champ de Mars (we’ll ascend the Eiffel Tower for a panoramic view of the modern city) to the Latin Quarter, Île de la Cité, the Cathédrale de Notre Dame de Paris, and the Pont Neuf;

…from the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile (another ascent, to view the city from its western periphery) to the Jardins des Tuileries and the Louvre, the Grands Boulevards and the Opéra de Paris Garnier, the grandest example of Second Empire architecture;

…from the gardens of the Palais-Royale (present-day home of the French National Government) to Les Halles, Beaubourg, and the Centre Georges Pompidou (equally celebrated and derided exemplars of 20th century Parisian architecture), , to the Place des Vosges and the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise, the largest cemetery in Paris and the final resting-place of Abélard and Héloise, Balzac, Chopin, La Fontaine, Molière, and many other luminaries of European and American art, literature, music, and politics.

Our aim in these excursions will not be to measure how accurately Verne forecast the modern Parisian landscape but instead to ask, what are the topographic bases of a work of speculative fiction like Paris in the 20th Century? How do the entanglements of real and imagined spaces in which a fiction is staged determine its form and its messages?

During a day trip to Amiens (a 75-minute train ride from Paris), we will visit the newly-renovated Maison de Jules Verne, where the author lived and wrote during the last four decades of his life, and home to an important collection of Verniana. We will also visit the Notre Dame Cathedral of Amiens. Constructed in the 13th century, it is the largest and one of the most beautiful gothic cathedrals of Europe.

Our week in Paris will conclude with a visit to La Défense, Paris’s skyscraper district and the largest purpose-built business district in Europe. Sited at the Western terminus of the Axe Historique (Historic Axis) that runs from the Louvre through the Jardin de Tuileries and the Arc de Triomphe, La Défense is in many respects the modern sequel to Haussmann’s rebuilding of Paris. It is home to more than 100 towering office buildings, the glass and marble Grande Arche de la Fraternité (a gigantic re-envisioning of the Arc de Triomphe) and splendid outdoor gardens of murals, fountains, and monumental modern sculpture.

Course syllabus

The complete course syllabus, including an outline itinerary of our excursions in Paris and Amiens and a description of required readings, assignments, and other course requirements, may be downloaded in .pdf format from this link:

PDF Icon  ENC 4956, Spring 2007 (approx. 300K)

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“Paris to come” – Post card from the early 20th century (Private collection of Piero Gondolo della Riva)

© Terry Harpold. All rights reserved.
Last revision: 12/28/08