Academic journal article Romance Notes

Engineering Nostalgia: The Machine De Marly in Madame d'Auneuil's la Tyrannie Des Fees Detruite

Academic journal article Romance Notes

Engineering Nostalgia: The Machine De Marly in Madame d'Auneuil's la Tyrannie Des Fees Detruite

Article excerpt

ALTHOUGH Charles Perrault remains the best known French fairy-tale writer, scholarly attention devoted to the less recognized conteuses reveals a trove of literature that merits analysis. (1) Lewis Seifert reminds us that seven women wrote more than two-thirds of the fairy tales published between 1690 and 1715 (8). The works of those authors engage complex aesthetic and ideological debates that reflect, respond to, or even subvert the dominant courtly culture of Louis XIV. In spite of (or, in part, because of) its infantilizing and precious veneer, the fairy-tale genre presents a paradoxical mixture of nostalgia and modernity that makes it an ideal repository for the anxieties of a society under transformation. This essay analyzes how a forward-thinking nostalgic tale--La Tyrannie des fees detruite by Madame d'Auneuil--helps the eighteenthcentury reader embrace the transformations brought on by emerging technology. Originally published in 1702, during the first wave of fairy tale popularity (1690-1715), and republished by the writer Mademoiselle de Lubert in 1756, during the second wave (1730-1758) with the added subtitle "ou L'origine de la machine de Marli," the tale remains relevant for its portrayal of the marvelous as a tool for the normalization of industrial expansion. I will argue that by fusing the marvelous and the mechanical, Madame d'Auneuil promotes change through nostalgia. (2) Madame d'Auneuil's fabrication of a myth of origins for a vast waterworks project asserts the commensurability of literary and mechanical production, both of which glorify but ultimately transcend the roi-machine. (3)

The machine in Madame d'Auneuil's fairy tale was a feat of engineering that Louis XIV had constructed in order to pump river water to the chateaux of both Marly and Versailles. Powered by the Seine, fourteen giant paddlewheels (each about thirty feet in diameter) activated more than two hundred pumps, sending water 570 feet up through pipes to an aqueduct at Louvenciennes. From there, gravity brought the water to Versailles. The ambitious project was inaugurated by the king in 1684, and work on its construction continued for years. "Cette machine ... n'est pas encore dans la derniere perfection; car on doit y ajouter quelques roues & d'autres ouvrages," reads an account from 1693 (Jordan 185-86). Nevertheless, even incomplete, the machine took on the status of eighth world wonder and was visited by travelers from all over Europe and by foreign dignitaries such as Peter the Great, the King of Denmark, and the ambassadors from Siam (Frelant n.p.). "Tous les etrangers y admirent un effet de la grandeur & de la gloire du Roi," notes a guide to the wonders of Europe (Jordan 185). Marly's machine may have been as much of a tourist attraction in the eighteenth century as the Eiffel Tower is today. Diderot and d'Alembert's Encyclopedie mentions it in no less than ten articles and includes two plates representing the hydraulic system. The machine spread across the countryside with its reservoirs and pipes, creating a landscape that blended pastoral beauty and modern invention. An anonymous eighteenth-century engraving of the machine (fig. 1) illustrates perfectly this marriage of nostalgia and technology. In the foreground, a pastoral scene reminiscent of l'Astree peacefully coexists with the giant work of engineering. The ease of coexistence is accentuated by the attitude of both the people and the animals. There is no evidence of wonder, fear, disdain, or even the slightest display of concern for the machine. Undisturbed, neither the shepherds nor the animals bother to look at the technological marvel. Immense, and yet understated, the machine becomes a natural part of the landscape. In the far distance, the aqueduct recalls ancient engineering. The nostalgic tableau couches the modern technology comfortably amid signs of ancient grandeur and of an idealized pastoral mythos. This artistic response to the mechanical attraction echoes the sentiment in Madame d'Auneuil's literary tale of the machine's origins. …

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