The Introduction of Science Fiction into France

  • Pascal Ory
Part of the Warwick Studies in the European Humanities book series (WSEH)


Let us begin with the facts: in other words, the terminology and the practices which surrounded it. The term ‘science fiction’ was invented in the United States, in the world of the press and popular publishing, towards the end of the 1920s, probably in June 1929, after an intermediary stage based on a word-play: ‘scientification’. Both terms had the same inventor, the journalist and publisher Hugo Gernback. The 1929 term was first used in France, almost certainly, in the middle of an article in the Figaro Littéraire of 8 April 1950 by a certain Claude Elsen who, having first of all presented it in italics as an untranslated anglicism, then dispensed with any attempt at translation. The article continued with an interview with a fan of this kind of writing (which was presented as typically American), the journalist Georges ‘H’ Gallet. Finally, Elsen ended his article by predicting the future success in France of a fictional genre which, for him, would soon replace the thriller, which was out of date. Indeed, the article was entitled: ‘Le Roman “fantastique” va-t-il tuer le roman “noir”’, with the adjectives in inverted commas and no question mark, which of course provided its own answer. It is worth recording in parenthesis that this article is extremely difficult to find since the rare histories of the genre which look at French science fiction refer to it without having read it, thus rendering it unrecognisable since its date is given as ‘1950’, with no further indication. It is attributed to Le Figaro, and not Le Figaro Littéraire, and, crucially, it is mistitled as ‘La Science-fiction remplacera-t-elle le roman policier?’ It is important to note that in the real title the new term ‘science-fiction’ had not yet been adopted, which is hardly surprising given that subsequently the new term needed another four years in order to become accepted.


Popular Culture Science Fiction French Author Inverted Comma Inferiority Complex 
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© Brian Rigby and Nicholas Hewitt 1991

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  • Pascal Ory

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