Tomorrow's Eve

In 1878 the French writer named Villiers de l’Isle-Adam  was inspired by enormous press attention that was given to Thomas Edison and his newly invented phonograph to write a story he called “L’Andréïde paradoxale d’Edison.”  He subsequently expanded this into a novel entitled  L’Eve future,, which was first published in 1886.  In the novel, Edison creates an android—the Eve of the title—that is not only indistinguishable from its human model but even considered a marked improvement upon it.

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Although the means by which the fictional Edison employs his phonograph, microphone, electric motors, and even the techniques of mesmerism to create the android has little basis in technological fact, Villiers’s invocation of the famous inventor and his inventions provides a sense of verisimilitude for the fantastic tale that he tells.  In writing his novel, Villiers clearly drew on contemporary newspaper and magazine accounts of the famous inventor to create his fictional Edison, who was already becoming a legendary figure seen as capable of producing any invention and embodying the forces of science and technology that were transforming the modern world.   

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Villiers describes the transformation of Edison from man to myth In the preface to his book:

In America and in Europe a legend has sprung up in the popular mind regarding this great citizen of the United States.  He has become the recipient of thousands of nicknames, such as “The Magician of the Century,” “The Sorcerer of Menlo Park,” the “Papa of the Phonograph,” and so forth and so on.  A perfectly natural enthusiasm in his own country and elsewhere has conferred on him a kind of mystique, or something like it, in many minds.

Henceforth, doesn’t the personage of this legend—even while the man is still alive who inspired it—belong to the world of literature?  For example, if Doctor Johann Faust had been living in the age of Goethe and had given rise to his symbolic legend at that time, wouldn’t the writing of Faust, even then, have been a perfectly legitimate undertaking?

Thus, the Edison of the present work, his character, his dwelling, his language, and his theories, are and ought to be at least somewhat distinct from anything existing in reality.

Let it be understood, then, that I interpret a modern legend to the best advantage of Art-metaphysics that I have conceived; and that, in a word, the hero of this book is above all “The Sorcerer of Menlo Park,” and so forth—and not the engineer, Mr. Edison, our contemporary.

[quoted from Robert Martin Adams’s translation, Tomorrow’s Eve, University of Illinois Press, 1982]