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The Man in the Moone

par Francis Godwin

Prix : 1,99 €
ISBN : 978-1-909782-45-7
Nombre de pages : 71 pages
Langue du livre : en

Thème : English eBooks

« The Man in the Moone » is a novel by Francis Godwin probably written in the 1620s and published for the first time in 1638 after his death under the pseudonym of Domingo Gonsales. A bit fallen out of fame, “The Man in the Moone” can be considered as one of the major works of the late English Renaissance. Its influence over future utopian, picaresque and science-fiction writers is major. With this not so popular novel, Francis Godwin became one of the great Seventeenth century English writers.


The book is supposed to be a translation of an original written by a Spaniard, Domingo Gonsales, who writes at the first person narrative. In the first part of the book, Domingo Gonsales is forced to flee Spain after killing a man in a duel. He finds refuge in the East Indies, becomes wealthy, involves himself in all sorts of trading. He then sails back home but falls gravely ill, and is sent on shore on the island of Saint Helena. Based on the island with his servant Diego, he designs an intelligent device using gansas (large geese) that carry heavy burdens. In other words he has invented a flying machine. On his way back to Spain, his ship is attacked by the English fleet off Tenerife, and he has no choice by escape by taking to the airs thanks to his gansa-propelled flying-machine.

Then comes the second and the most fascinating part, when Domingo travels to the moon, and reaches the planet after twelve days. Once on the moon, he finds an Utopian world inhabited by tall Christian people governed by some orderly rules which he will describe in detail, and who speak a curious language made of musical tunes which Domingo will learn rapidly, allowing him to communicate.

In the third part, Domingo becomes homesick, travels back home with this gansa-propelled flying-machine, but he lands in China, when, first taken for a magician, he gets to learn the language again, meet the local Jesuits, and ends the book with the hope to return home eventually and share his learnings and knowledge with his contemporaries.

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Historical context: the New World

In the same way that the Renaissance historian will often consider the Renaissance is born not in Italy with the artistic marvels of the Quatrocento but rather in Portugal with Henry the Navigator, creating a spirit of curiosity which breaks with the dogmatic past of an emerging Europe, morally, spiritually, intellectually dominated by Christianity, and properly expressed in this picture by Nuno Gonçalvès, Paineis de Sao Vicente de fora, Montaigne would not have written the Essays without the civil war in France and without the New World discoveries, (see the chapter on the Cannibals, also used in Shakespeare's The Tempest), then Francis Godwin would probably not have ventured into alien worlds.

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Historical context: scientific discoveries

Francis Godwin was a “skilful mathematician”, it is said by his contemporaries. His interest for mathematics, physics, astronomy, is well known. Of course, he was influenced by Copernic whose works had already revolutionised European thinking, but also by Galileo and Kepler. We will review these influences further down.

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Influences on Godwin's book

For this section, we will dig like everyone else into William Poole's remarkable work on “The Man in the Moone”.

Burton's influence: in 1621 the vicar Robert Burton publishes a strange book called The anatomy of melancholy that he will relentlessly rewrite. According to William Poole, Godwin found some inspiration in one section of the book, “Digression of Ayre”, in which he exposes numerous astronomical theories, along with references to Lucian's previous voyage to the Moon, True history. Another interesting mention is the green children, which according to “The Man in the Moone”'s narrator are rejects of lunar society. The mention of green children is obviously interesting to the contemporary reader...but if it is referenced in Burton's work, it is also first (?) mentioned in William of Newburgh's twelfth century work, which Godwin had also read.

William of Newburgh's influence: in 1220, William of Newburgh tells the account of the green children who had arrived from Saint Martin's land, originally taken from an old true story set in the village of Woolpit, in Suffolk, a few decades ago. Godwin had read William of Newburgh's “Historia rerum anglicarum”, and mentions it in “The Man in the Moone”.

Galileo's influence: in 1610 Galileo writes the “Sidereus nuncius”. In this short astronomical treatise, Galileo deals with the stars, earth, the moon...His first engravings of the moon are at the origin of selenography. But Galileo does not go as far as Kepler.

Kepler's influence: in 1610 too Kepler writes “Dissertatio cum Nuncio sidereo” as a reply to Galileo's work, and then in 1611 he writes “Somnium”, describing a fantastic trip to the moon.

Ben Jonson's influence: in 1620, a Masque was presented before King James. The Masque was titled “News from the New World discovered in the Moone” and was the creation of Ben Jonson. Several points remind us of “The Man in the Moone”: language based on music, inhabitants who go from place to place propelled by fans, feathered beings. According to William Poole, Francis Godwin must have heard of Jonson's masque one way or another, as the masque was never published in his lifetime. We trust Poole but want to add something. We have already mentioned the importance of the succession of European discoveries, expeditions and then settlements, in shaping European Renaissance, but we also want to refer to the scene of Shakespeare's The Tempest where Caliban repeats numerous times: “The man in the Moone”...So either the dating of “The Man in the Moone”, which according to scholars is not the case, or the notion of a “man in the Moone” was simply very popular at the time.

Lazarillo's influence: there is something undoubtedly picaresque about “The Man in the Moone”. To start with, the first person narrative, the Spanish name, the flight from the home town following a duel, the ingenious-ridiculous flying device invented, the strange position Domingo finds himself in several times, first at the court of the Lunars, then with the Mandarins in China...

Lucian's influence: in 1634 is published the English translation of Lucian's “True history”. The True history is a remarkable Second century satirical story telling a voyage to the moon, populated with bald homosexuals.

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Who are the Lunars?

This what we know about the Lunars, based on Domingo Gonsales' account: “Their trees at least three times so high as ours, and more than five times the breadth and thickness”, “Their stature...twice the height of ours”, Irdonozur, the strange Emperor of the Lunars who behaves a bit like a Chinese Emperor, their language is made of musical tunes, “their heat is so vehement, as they will make red hot any metal they shall come within a foot of them”, “their females are all of an absolute beauty”, “a man having once a Woman, never desireth any other”, and they have a special physical disposition as “there is no wound to be given which may not be cured”. This is also one of the first descriptions of a society without any capital punishment: “And because it is an inviolable decree amongst them, never to put anyone to death”, and when they are wicked, they send them away, back to earth. Also, very interestingly, Godwin speculates on the fact the Native Americans might be descendants of the Lunars, for many reasons, including their chewing of tobacco: “And their ordinary vent for them is a certain high hill in the north of America, whose people I can easily believe to be wholly descended to them, partly in regard of their colour, partly also in regard of the continual use of tobacco which the Lunars use exceeding much...”. Justice is obviously ideal: “Alas what need is there of exemplary punishment, where there are no offences committed: they need there no lawyer, for there is never any contention...”, and death is also special: “Their bodies being dead putrify not, and therefore are not buried, but kept in certain rooms ordained for that purpose; so as most of them can show their ancestors bodies uncorrupt for many generations”, which leads Domingo to say: “for by this voyage am I sufficiently assured, that ere long the race of my mortal life being run, I shall attain a greater happiness elsewhere, and that everlasting.”.

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Influence of Godwin on the others

Influence on the French: Jean Baudoin, already a translator of Francis Bacon, translates “The man in the Moone” in 1648, and the French translation becomes the basis for the German translation (Baudoin, predating French “laïcité” had taken out the references to Lunar Christianity). “L'homme dans la lune” is then mentioned as “Voyage fait au monde de la lune par Dominic Gonzalès, aventurier espagnol » by Jules Verne in De la terre à la lune.

Influence on Cyrano de Bergerac: Cyrano de Bergerac's celebrated work « Comical history of the states and empires of the worlds of the moon and sun » was published in 1648, and then became popular in England as it was translated twice in rapid succession. Cyrano even makes a reference to Domingo Gonsales, which the narrator and voyager to the moon encounters then; the Queen apparently mistook him for a monkey, and so she kept him.

Influence on Gulliver: it is then easy to see the link between Cyrano's work and Swift's Gulliver just through that excerpt. Both are of the same vein, satirical and picaresque rather than utopian.

Influence on Edgar Allan Poe: Poe explores the idea of a lunar voyage in The unparalleled adventure of One Hans Pfaall. He also thought that “The man in the Moone” was Baudoin's original work.

Influence on H.G. Wells: in “The first men in the moon”, Wells makes a clear reference to Kepler's “Somnium” and Godwin's “The Man in the Moone”, honouring their early contribution to science-fiction.

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Utopian tradition

It is true “The Man in the Moone”, with his mixture of scientific considerations, picaresque homage, and voyage literature inspiration, seems hard to categorise. But to us it clearly belongs to the utopian tradition. Light-heartedly or nor, Godwin is interested in exploring other worlds, other societies, made possible by the combined shocks to human history of rapid exploratory and scientific progress since the end of the Fifteenth century, since the beginning of the Renaissance.

© 2013- Les Éditions de Londres

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