‘SINCE THE FRENCH SAY THAT THEIR LANGUAGE IS UNIVERSALLY UNDERSTOOD, THEN THERE IS NO DOUBT THAT I

Microselene. Curioso viaggio etereo di madamigella Garnerin.

Milan, Angelo Stanislao Brambilla, 1824.

8vo, pp. 224; some light foxing and dampstaining, a few pages cropped at lower edge; a very good copy in the original blue paper printed wrappers, with some dampstaining.

£950

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First edition of an innovative early Italian work of satirical imaginative fiction. Subtitled the ‘Curioso viaggio etereo di madamigella Garnerin’ [The Curious Voyage of Miss Garnerin], Microselene centres on an aeroporista [aeronaut], and begins with her ascent in a hot air balloon, based on the famous exploits of Elisa Garnerin (1791-1853), the French parachutist and balloonist. As with the novels of Jules Verne several decades later, recent developments in technology provide fuel for speculation; but unlike his strictly-circumscribed adventures, the present work revels in diverging fantastically (and comically) from the limitations of scientific possibility.

The work begins with Garnerin’s ascent in a hot-air balloon, at which point, ‘la terra appariva al suo sguardo come un formicaio’ [the Earth seeming to her eyes like a vast anthill], she muses on the vanity and pride of humanity. Although this brief commentary is ostensibly interrupted, it strikes a satirical note which continues throughout the work, which finds comedy in the fantastic (and places closer to home) in the manner of Gulliver’s Travels. Garnerin meets a sylph (air spirit) riding a cloud being drawn by an eagle and a vulture ‘as big as an ox’, who offers her the opportunity to visit the Earth’s second, lesser-known satellite, the eponymous Microselene. The work’s self-conscious narrative method regularly digresses to move between characters and locations, and being punctuated by the occasional intrusions of a narrative voice, who addresses the reader on various occasions to excuse the deficiencies in his style, or failing to conform to the tragic or comic mode, concluding with a forceful apology for imaginative fiction, declaring that ‘la vita stessa è un continuo vaneggiament’ [life itself is a continuous delirium].

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