Jane Loudon’s novel, The Mummy, A Tale of the 22nd Century was published anonymously as a trilogy in 1827, and again in 1828. It was the first book about a mummy brought back to life, a popular plot to this day. However, there’s a lot more to Loudon’s contribution to sci-fi. In the regency era, a time when the word sci-fi wasn’t even used, she understood what futuristic sci-fi was meant to be. She wrote of the future in a way no one had before. Instead of just taking her own time period and moving it into the future making few changes except for utopian or dystopian ones, she built an actual futuristic world with advanced technology, futuristic clothing, and a different type of government. Jane Loudon was the first sci-fi author to actually world build.
The gadgets in her future world all spring from the regency era when the high-end technology of the day was steam and balloons. Two of Loudon’s characters, Edwin and Dr. Entwerfen embark on an expedition to the tomb of Pharaoh Cheops (Khufu), to shock him back to life with a galvanized battery. Their dialogue when leaving for Egypt and realizing they have too much baggage for the balloon touches on some of Loudon’s interesting futuristic inventions. She even envisioned a certain type of space flight as a fashionable mode of travel. Here’s a short excerpt:
“The cloaks are of asbestos and will be necessary to protect us from ignition, if we should encounter any electric matter in the clouds; and the hampers are filled with elastic plugs for our ears and noses, and tubes and barrels of common air, for us to breathe when we get beyond the common atmosphere of the earth. “
“But what occasion shall we have to go beyond it?”
“How can we do otherwise? Surely you don’t meant to travel the whole distance in the balloon? I thought of course, you would adopt the present fashionable mode of traveling, and after mounting the seventeen miles or thereabouts, which is necessary to get clear of the mundane attraction, to wait there till the turning of the globe should bring Egypt directly under our feet.”
“But it is not in the same latitude.”
Then the doctor explains the box he wants to bring on the balloon contains his portable galvanic battery and his apparatus for making and collecting the inflammable air. It also holds a machine for producing and concentrating quicksilver vapor – the power to propel them onward in place of steam. It even has laughing gas for the sole purpose of keeping up their spirits.
Another change in everyday life in the future is fast mail delivery. Letters are placed inside balls and fired from steam cannons. Every town and district have a woven wire suspended in the air as a net to catch the ball and a cannon to send it off again when the letters for that neighborhood are extracted. A smaller wooden ball with a hole in its side to making whizzing noise as it sails through the air is sent before each mail ball to alert people to keep out of the way.
Also Stage balloons are used to make fast deliveries. One of the characters receives a collection of ballads, at least three hundred years old, sent from London by stage balloon that morning. They are on rag paper since asbestos paper used in the 22nd century had only been invented for two hundred years.
Movable houses are another change in the future. One of the characters, Edric, sees a house slide out of place and glide along the road. A lady at the window blows a kiss to someone in another house as she passes by. When someone wants to go into the country for a few weeks they take their house with them, which saves the trouble of packing and allows everyone to have all their little conveniences about. There are grooves in the bottom of the houses that fit on the iron railways. Propelled by steam, they slide on without much trouble but it only works for small houses as large ones aren’t compact enough.
More futuristic marvels are feather-fans hung from the ceiling, circulating aeriform fluid. Also they use tubes in the houses to suck out stale air and bring the fresh air in. And the most stylish coats are made in a machine. At one end it strips the wool off a sheep, then weaves it so a ready to wear coat comes out at the other end of the machine. Also Bridges are movable and steam-powered to rotate in all directions and to adjust to whatever height is needed for the different waterways. Even streets are modernized, they are warmed by pipes of hot air so no one perishes of cold.
She envisions a lot of technological advancements in agriculture including a steam-powered lawnmower and a mechanical milking machine. Also when the sun doesn’t shine enough to make hay they use a burning glass to make it. When it doesn’t rain enough for the crops they use an electrical machine to draw down clouds to cause rain on the fields that need it.
She also shares a glimpse of futuristic fashion: “The ladies were all arrayed in loose trousers, over which hung drapery in graceful folds; and most of them carried on their heads streams of lighted gas forced by capillary tubes into plumes, fleurs-de-lis, or in short any form the wearer pleased; which jets de feu had an uncommonly chase and elegant effect.”
There are also political changes from the Regency era to the 22nd century. After undergoing a revolution, and even a period of democracy, England returns to an absolute monarchy but as a matriarchy. All rulers are queens and the candidates are single women of the royal family between the ages of 20 and 25. There is a law that the queen cannot get married. In the towns, the men in the country 21 years on up, in groups of 10,000, choose a deputy to represent them in London. The queen is elected through the majority vote of these deputies.
The main characters in The Mummy, A Tale of the 22nd Century come from two families with their eyes on the crown: the Montagues and the house of the Duke of Cornwall. The Montagues have two sons, Edmund, a national hero and Edric, an intellectual. The Duke of Cornwall’s family has two daughters Elvira and Rosabella, who are the next in line to the throne if anything happens to Queen Claudia. Edric’s father has arranged for him to marry Rosabella but he reuses. Edric is fascinated by the idea of reanimating the dead. His friend, Dr. Entwerfen tells him that since the ancient Egyptians believed the souls of their mummies were chained to them in a torpid state till the final day of judgment, there is every reason to believe that by employing so powerful an agent as a galvanic battery of fifty surgeon power re-animation may be produced. Edric is too squeamish to touch a dead corpse’s flesh but he’s willing to touch a mummy as it swathed in wrappings. He and Dr. Entwerfen go to Egypt and resurrect the mummy, Cheops. But the mummy runs out of the pyramid, hijacks their balloon, and flies back to England. When he flies over Queen Claudia’s coronation pageant, his balloon gets tangled up with all the other balloons crowding he sky. His balloon gets torn and falls to the earth landing on and killing Queen Claudia. The story continues with political intrigue, a secret birth father, and love triangles, all with a little help from the wise Pharaoh, Cheops, who has the most common sense and perception of anyone in the book.
The similarity between awakening the mummy and awakening Frankenstein back to life and the similarity of the two main male characters, hero and intellectual as in in Mary Shelley’s The Last Man, is no coincidence. Jane Loudon uses them as a parody to show her own view point. Her political, social and religious beliefs differ greatly form Mary Shelley’s.
I have to say it, Sci-fi readers and writers owe Jane Loudon and Mary Shelley so much. Frankenstein was written and first published in 1818, when Mary Wollstoncroft was only nineteen. Jane Webb wrote The mummy, a Tale of the 22nd century when she was 17 and it was published in 1827. H. G. Wells and Jules Verne didn’t write their first books for many years after this: Jules Verne’s – Five Weeks In A Balloon in 1863 and H. G. Wells – The Time Machine in 1895. Not only have women been reading and writing sci-fi for over two hundred years, the sci-fi genre wouldn’t be the same without them. The genre was pioneered by two teenage girls with very different views on politics and religion, both writing in the Regency era. I think that’s awesome.
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Maeve Alpin, who also writes as Cornelia Amiri, is the author of 19 books. She creates stories with kilts, corsets, fantasy and happy endings. Her latest Steampunk/Romance is Conquistadors In Outer Space, which is as crazy and as entertaining as it sounds. She lives in Houston Texas with her son, granddaughter, and her cat, Severus. Maeve Alpin will be making several appearances next month in May at the Romantic Times Book Lovers Convention in New Orleans and at Comicpalooza in Houston.