The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana

by Jess Nevins

Eve of the Future (1880)  

copyright © Jess Nevins 2022

Eve of the Future (original: L’Ève Future) was written by Villiers de-L'Isle-Adam and first appeared as “L’Ève Nouvelle” (Le Gaulois, Sept 4-18, 1880). Jean Marie Mathias Philippe Auguste, Comte de Villiers de l'Isle-Adam (1838-1889) was a French poet, dramatist, novelist, and short story writer. Villiers was well-regarded during his lifetime, influencing W.B. Yeats among others, and is now seen as an important figure in the history of French literature. His work is valued for its imagination and its combination of the Romanticism of the early nineteenth century and the Symbolist movement of the early twentieth century. 

Cecil Ewald is a British nobleman. He is unhappy. His mistress Alicia Clary is beautiful but is unintelligent, common, and tediously vulgar. He is physically attracted to her but cannot stand her personality, and this conflict has driven him almost to suicide. So Ewald visits his friend, the inventor Thomas Edison, in Edison’s laboratory in Menlo Park. Ewald unburdens himself to Edison, who blithely tells Ewald that the problem is easily solved. Edison shows Ewald his subterranean labs, in which he carries out his most secret experiments. Edison tells Ewald that he will give Ewald an “andreide,” or android, which is a perfect duplicate of Alicia but which lacks her more displeasing qualities. Edison shows Ewald one of the completed and functioning androids, who Edison calls “Hadaly.” Hadaly looks like a stunningly beautiful young woman and can carry on a conversation with intelligence and wit. Edison explains that a friend of his, Anderson, had committed suicide after an affair ended badly, and after investigating Edison had concluded that the elements which women use to attract men are artificial–wigs, dentures, make-up, false breasts, and so on–and that the most attractive woman possible would be an artificial woman. So Edison created Hadaly, assisted by a mysterious woman named “Sowana.” Ewald is initially doubtful that Hadaly is not human, but Edison shows Ewald Hadaly’s mechanical innards, which convinces Ewald. Edison tells Ewald that Hadaly can be made into Alicia’s physical double and, with Ewald’s input, Hadaly can be made into Ewald’s ideal woman.

Ewald agrees to this. Edison lures Alicia into his lab on false pretenses and then hypnotizes her. Sowana then mystically creates Alicia’s likeness on Hadaly’s body. In a few weeks Hadaly is complete, and so perfect that it fools Ewald, who believes that Hadaly is Alicia and that Alicia has miraculously gained a new, far more appealing personality. Edison explains to Ewald that Hadaly is controlled by Sowana, who is actually an alternate personality of another woman, Mrs. Anderson, who when unconscious has psychic abilities. But Hadaly tells Ewald that she is actually a spirit who saw how unhappy Ewald was and manipulated Edison to create a body for her. Hadaly is Ewald’s ideal woman; they met in dreams and are destined for each other. Ewald is unsure whether Hadaly is saying this because she is programmed to or if it is the truth, but he eventually decides to believe her. Edison takes Hadaly apart and Ewald leaves for England with Hadaly packed in the hold of his ship. But on the voyage home the ship catches fire and Hadaly is destroyed. Ewald is left mourning Hadaly’s personality rather than her body.

An apocryphal story exists that Eve of the Future was inspired by an incident in which an English nobleman became fetishistically attached to a wax figure of a woman and eventually committed suicide. On hearing this, an American is supposed to have said that Edison could have animated the figure, and Villiers was supposedly inspired by this statement.

The specific portrayal of Hadaly can be traced back to medieval epics and romances, which featured a number of human-shaped automata.1 But the more specific inspiration would seem to be the works of E.T.A. Hoffmann, especially Olympia in “The Sandman,” who inspired fictional imitators (Hermann Melville’s “The Bell-Tower,” 1855) as well as anticipated the nineteenth century trend of people producing lifelike automata, clockwork dummies and puppets. Villiers wrote an early version of Eve of the Future in his conte cruel “The Glory Machine” (original: “La Machine à Gloire,” 1874), which “featured robot-like ‘andreids’ manufactured by Edison.”2 

Eve of the Future’s place in the history of French fantastika is somewhat ambiguous. A clear influence on the French Symbolists, Eve of the Future could be counted among the founding works of the fantastique symboliste/fantastique décadent–it appeared only three years before the 1886 publication of the Symbolist manifesto. But Eve of the Future’s clear science fictional elements also means it could be counted among French sf. However, French sf of the nineteenth century falls into several neatly delineated categories: the imaginary voyage, whether cosmic, Earthly, or to the future; Vernian; “Golden Age;” and sf written by mainstream writers.3 Villiers fits in the latter category, but Eve of the Future is so radically unlike the work by other authors of that category that we can only call it a hybrid work, Symbolist science fiction, neither fish nor fowl, and as such belonging, properly, nowhere.

Of course, Eve of the Future derives power from being a hybrid, rather than being stunted because of it:

In L’Ève future / Tomorrow’s Eve (1886), de L’Isle-Adam also reveals that despite (perhaps even partly because of) the novel’s science-fiction subject matter, and as in the case of E. T. A. Hoffmann, he had been influenced by that complex inheritance of the Gothic in magic, Faustian pacts, lantern projection and the embodiment of phantoms. Indeed, as Judith Wilt has demonstrated regarding fin-de siècle literature, when anxiety about the future grows and ‘as science displaces and partakes of magic’ (my italics), suppressed fears of regression grow more powerful. She sees this as being as true of British fiction as I do of Symbolist production, particularly L’Ève future. In such an ideological context, literary genres hybridize and Wilt draws attention to the ‘unhuman-ness’ of Wells’s aliens in The War of the Worlds, revealing that science fiction was the ‘truest of Victorian Gothic forms’. I would only add that L’Ève future manifests the truest fusion of Symbolist Gothic and French fin-de-siècle science fiction.4 

The French Symbolists were greatly influenced by Eve of the Future, as they were by Villiers’ Axël. There is considerable intelligence and imagination at work in Eve of the Future. The ambiguity of Sowana/Mrs. Anderson/Hadaly is intriguing; Villiers never explains whether Sowana is a projection of Mrs. Anderson’s unconscious, a free-floating spirit, or if Hadaly tells Ewald about her dream existence because she is programmed to. Villiers’ portrayal of Edison is of the figure of myth, of the nineteenth century scientific-magician, rather than the flesh-and-blood Edison, and this occasionally lends the novel a myth-like air. (See Edison’s Conquest of Mars for another example of this version of Edison). And Villiers’ treatment of questions of human nature, especially Ewald’s attraction to Alicia–Ewald is attracted to what he projects on to Alicia, and does not see the true woman–is occasionally insightful. But the novel is both misogynistic and, in translation, boring. Too long, overly-florid in its description and writing, too full of extended monologues and deliberately unreal, theatrical dialogue, and layered with symbolism that was far more relevant to Villiers’ time and place than to modern readers, Eve of the Future is, in English, uninvolving. Perhaps like Faust, Eve of the Future is in need of a translator who can properly capture Villiers’ wordplay, narrative rhythm, and poetic imagery. Until that time the novel should be read in French or not at all.

Recommended Edition

Print: Auguste Villiers de L'Isle-Adam, comte de, and Robert M Adams, Tomorrow’s Eve. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2001.

Online:;view=1up;seq=9 (in French; there are no English- language translations available online).


1 Nevins, Evolution of the Costumed Avenger, 73-75.

2 Lofficier, French Science Fiction, 350.

3 Lofficier, French Science Fiction, 333-351.

4 David J. Jones, Gothic Machine: Textualities, Pre-Cinematic Media and Film in Popular Visual Culture, 1670-1910 (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2011), 99-100.