Vairasse D'Alais, Denis

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(circa 1635/1638-circa 1700) French soldier, linguist and author, the latter part of whose surname is sometimes given as Allais; in the UK for a number of years from around 1660 to 1772, when he returned to the Continent. He is of strong Proto SF interest for a complexly published Fantastic Voyage, its mode and contents showing the influence of Johann Valentin Andreae, though its narrative, shaped as a transaction of at least one exemplary Archipelago, may render it easier for modern readers to assimilate. Part one appeared initially in English, seemingly in his own version, as The History of the Sevarites or Sevarambi, a Nation Inhabiting a Part of the Third Continent, Commonly Called Terrae Australes Incognita [for fuller details on various iterations of the text see Checklist below] (1775). A much longer version of this title then appeared in French in five parts as Histoire de Sevarambes, Peuples qui haitent une Partie du troisieme Continent, ordinairement appellé Terre Australe (part 1 1677 and part 2 1677 2vols; part 3 1678; part 4 1679 and part 5 1679). Meanwhile in English a different part two, almost certainly not by Vairasse D'Alais, appeared under the same title as the original, The History of the Sevarites or Sevarambi (1679); these two parts were then released in one volume as The History of the Sevarites or Sevarambi (1700).

The first part of the tale carries Captain Siden [ie Denis], whose papers have been made posthumous use of to construct the narrative, on a journey in 1655 ostensibly to the East Indies; but after his ship is shipwrecked on the coast of Australia, he establishes a crypto-utopian colony, where he and his colleagues are given privileged access to the prostitutes involuntarily onboard (see Sex; Women in SF). Eventually he encounters the inland kingdom of Sporunde, a more fully-fledged Utopia whose central Cities are laid out in terms of the geometrical gigantism typical of early European utopias. Transportation is advanced (unicorns are used to draw vehicles); Eugenic principles are followed, with sex being strictly controlled.

In the French continuation of the tale, more is told about the relationship of Sporunde to the vast inner kingdom of Sevarambia, for which it serves as a satellite, almost as a Dystopia; those who are deemed unworthy of continued residence in this inner land, usually through sexual misdemeanours, are banished to Sporunde. Tall blond worthy Sevarambians proudly trace their lineage back to the Garden of Eden, when God, despairing of Adam and Eve, created a new species, from which they descend. Perhaps oddly, they worship the Sun; reason rules. All is calm.

The English-language continuation of the tale in Sevarambia is narratively more engaging. The experience of becoming a herbivore, through immersion in magical waters, is vividly conveyed. Monsters, it is learned, inhabit a secret Island at the heart of the kingdom. Sevarambians are Colour-Coded [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. The sexual behaviour of the natives, though ritually controlled, is arousingly displayed. Education is available for all, including women (see Feminism). Property, freely available when needed, is held in common. After a decade or so, Captain Siden "escapes", but dies before he reaches home.

Vairasse d'Alais's tale was extremely popular for a number of years, but disappeared from view. Its extremely early use of two bound-together societies within a single text – one utopian, the other dystopian – marks a concentration of the potential of the Fantastic Voyage that may not have registered fully. Given its obscurity it seems unlikely that twentieth century double tales like Sándor Szathmári's Kazohiinia (1941; final rev 1975) or Ursula K Le Guin's The Dispossessed (1974) were written in awareness of this example. A full English translation as The History of the Sevarambians (2006) [see below] may spark renewed interest. [JC]

Denis Vairasse D'Alais

born Aies [ie Alais], Languedoc, France: circa 1635/1638

died ?Aies [ie Alais], Languedoc, France: circa 1700

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