Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Three Hundred Years Hence

By reading early sci-fi books, you gather wonderful steampunk ideas, as well as a Victorian and Regency perspective on their vision of the future. Contrary to what I’ve heard some people say, women have written Sci-Fi books for hundreds of years. Including several published in the Regency and Victorian eras. One example is Mary Griffith’s, Three Hundred Years Hence, the first utopia story written by an American woman. After its publication in 1836, many American authors followed her lead, and still do to this day.
Mary Griffith
In Three Hundred Years Hence, Mary Griffith envisioned a feminist future in the year 2135. She set the book in Philadelphia, her hometown. In some ways, her vision of the future is strange, at times not quite right, and in other ways it's amazing. Keep in mind, she wrote this in 1835.
In her novel, the main character, Edgar Hastings, when leaving on a business trip, as he walks to the steamboat, stops off at a small farmhouse on his estate. There he falls asleep. A great thaw causes a bank of snow from the hill above to cover the farmhouse. His family never tries to dig out his body as they think he's was on the steamship, which happened to explode. So they thought he died in the explosion with the other passengers.
Three hundred years later, his descendants, who still own the property, hire workers to cut a road through the hill. They come to a stratum of ice. After the workers cut through the ice, they discover the farmhouse. Edgar's descendants step inside and that is when he thaws out and wakes up, still alive. But he thinks he's in the wrong place for so much has changed in 300 years. He finds the improvements taken place since his accident, amazing. Edgar’s descendants explain the improved conditions are due entirely to the changes that took place when all poor females were given an education.
In Philadelphia, Edgar only recognizes five buildings still standing from his day: the Mint, the United States Bank, the Asylum for the deaf and dumb and Girard College, (still in operation and the school's buildings, shown in this drawing, still stand). Of all those, only one of them, the mint, was demolished, the other three still stand in 2013, almost two hundred years later.
In the book, Edgar's descendants inform him, no one goes door to door asking for donations to charities anymore. Now, each state runs its own charitable institutions, except for those people volunteer to maintain with their own money.
The old market place used to be a roof supported by pillars with stone pavement running the length of it, where women selling food and wares sat under the arch, outside of the pillars, and yelled through the streets, carrying fish and vegetables on their heads. Now it's changed into a two story, fire proof building of hewn stone. On the upper story, wooden, tin, baskets, and crockery domestic wares, as well as seeds and garden utensils, are all kept clean and are neatly arranged. On the ground floor, under which runs a stream of cold, clear water, are a variety of fruits and vegetables. All the women clerks, selling the produce, wear caps and snow white aprons, and stand or sit by their baskets, no longer having to yell. In the butcher shop, meat is no longer hung in the open air. You just ask for a particular joint and a small door opens, two feet square in the wall and there hangs the part, priced four cents a pound.
Steamboats due to all their boiler explosions and the deaths they caused were replaced in 1850. A woman invented a new power for the boats to run on – no steam, no heat, nor animal power, no masts and no sails, and not condensed air, which was tried in Edgar's time - but with enough energy to move the largest ship.
In China, the feet of their women are allowed to grow and they import their fashions from France. They also have made great improvements in the conditions of their lower class, all due to humanizing the treatment of women.
Tobacco is no longer grown, due to the disgusting habit of tobacco juice. (Not due to the dangers of nicotine and cancer, which no one in the Regency era knew about.) Instead of copyrights for 14 years, as in Edgar's time, they are held by the author, then by his/her family as long as they choose to keep it. Daniel Webster became president in 1842, (of course that didn’t happen).
Monopolies have become illegal. In 1848, the monopolies of roads are broken up and come under the state governments, then later, control of the roads all merge under the federal government.
In the rail cars they travel in, the seats are all nice rocking chairs. The cars run silently with little friction as the rails of the road and the tires of the wheels are of wood. They also come in a variety of sizes – some small enough for only two or four passengers. They run by themselves and you just turn a little crank to bring the machine to a stop.
Edgar's descendants explain that as soon as women were considered of equal importance with their husbands – as soon as they were financially equal - all barbaric practices of the age disappeared. Women exterminated all wars to abstain from shedding human blood except in self-defense or in cases of invasion. No more hangings, criminals are sent to solitary confinement.
He also finds that slavery is abolished and the rights and privileges of African Americans are respected and all without a civil war. The government, rich in resources, and rich in land, sells the land, and with that money, they indemnify the slaveholders for their loss of property. (Keep in mind she is writing this twenty-six years before the civil war began).
Three Hundred Years Hence is just one example of Sci-fi written by a woman, many years ago. Women have been reading and writing Sci-fi and utopia novels for hundreds of years and will continue to do so far into the future. We modern women, in reading and writing sci-fi, are simply following an old tradition. This link will take you to an interesting list of science fiction books by female authors that were published before 1923. It begins with Lady Mary Wroth's, The Countesse of Mountgomeries, Urania, published in 1621. This link is to an amazing post on nine women who shaped sci-fi.
Please feel free to comment below. All comments welcomed.
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