The Last Man, or Omegarus and Syderia, A Romance in Futurity
Author: Jean-Baptiste-François-Xavier Cousin de Grainville
Publisher: R. Dutton
Publication Year: 1806
Book Dimensions: 2 volumes, each 11.5cm x 19cm
Pages: volume one, 220; volume two, 204
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2 .S52 L 1806
In this 1806 Jean-Baptiste-François-Xavier Cousin de Grainville novel, embark on a journey with the last inhabitants of the world as they navigate around the universe’s impending destruction.
The Last Man, or Omegarus and Syderia, A Romance in Futurity was originally a French text by Jean-Baptiste-François-Xavier Cousin de Grainville. The author’s name appears nowhere on the front cover or inside of the book. Instead, “By Mrs. Shelly author of Frankenstein [illegible word]” is penciled in underneath the title on the full title page of both volumes. Though the two texts share the same short title, The Last Man, or Omegarus and Syderia, A Romance in Futurity was written by Cousin de Grainville not Mary Shelley.
This edition, which presents the English translation of the French original, was published in London at Grace Church-Street in 1806 by R. Dutton, as denoted on the full title page of both volumes. An epigraph appears underneath the title on the full title page in both volumes and says, “Through what new scenes and changes must we pass?—The wide, th’unbounded, prospect lies before me.—” which is from Addison’s 1713 “Cato.” The French title is not given in this edition, but the French edition is called Le Dernier Homme, Ouvrage Posthume. The full English title, The Last Man, or Omegarus and Syderia, A Romance in Futurity, is only present on the full title page of each volume and the shortened titles—The Last Man. A Romance in Futurity. and The Last Man.—are present on the half title page of each volume. The latter title—The Last Man.—also appears in the top margin of the left and right pages starting from the beginning of chapter one until the end of the last chapter.
Any designs that may have graced the front or back covers of the book are completely gone, due to over 200 years passing since it was originally printed. There are remnants of a wax-dripped insignia on the spine of volume one and black printed letters on the front cover of volume two; otherwise, the covers are a brownish-yellowish color and are fraying at the corners. There is also worn-off blue tape on the spine that wraps towards the center of the front and back covers in an attempt to secure the fragile binding. The book is 11.5 cm by 19 cm and is of a medium thickness. Volume one contains 220 pages and volume two contains 204 pages, making the entire book a total of 424 pages.
The binding from volume two is in poorer condition than volume one, as all the pages are completely detached from the binding. In volume one, the pages are still slightly secured to the binding, albeit a third of the pages are detached from it. However, all of the pages of each volume remain intact and secured to each other with an adhesive. The paper is yellowed, and there are brown splotches of varying sizes on the majority of pages. The origin of these splotches is unknown. When the book is closed, the pages are noticeably crinkled.
The page immediately following the full title page in volume two has an advertisement for another text published by R. Dutton, The Saracen, or Matilda and Melek Adhel. A Crusade Romance with no listed author. The advertisement relates in italics, “Just published, in 4 vols. 12 mo. price 18s. in boards,” and, “This work has been highly spoken of in the L’Ambigu of M. Peltier.” On page 11 of volume two, there is a handwritten correction for a typo: someone has crossed out “Ormus” and penciled in “Eupholus.” There are no illustrations, decorative elements, table of contents, epilogue, or author’s note present within the text.
We know that this edition of The Last Man has had many institutional homes, as a stamp of T. Norris’s Circulating Library is glued onto the inside of the opening cover of each volume. There are also illegible names and numbers scrawled in pencil and ink on the opening cover and first blank page of each volume, supporting the idea that this edition of The Last Man has passed through many hands. In both volumes, the only writing that can be clearly deciphered is “Doris Pousonly 1927.” This constant transfer between different people also contributed to the novel’s fragile state and worn-out appearance.
The font used in both volumes is identical, and it is of a larger size, making it easier to read. Copious amounts of spaces separate paragraphs, which are generally on the shorter side and range from one to three sentences. The spacing of sentences within paragraphs and words are also spread apart. The first word of every chapter is printed in a larger font size than the following words, with the first letter in a more decorative font. The chapter headers are preceded and succeeded by black lines, which creates ample spacing between them and the paragraphs. They are also in a different font and size than the primary font and font size, and the numbers are roman numerals. Page numbers appear at the top of the pages – the leftmost side of the left page and the rightmost side of the right page.
Different printer notes are scattered throughout the chapters in order to keep track of the page order. Below the last sentence of each paragraph, there are catchwords placed on the bottom and to the rightmost side of the page. These words were customary printing techniques during the nineteenth-century to pair up pages with the same word that appeared at the top of the next page. Also, capital letters immediately followed by a number appear inconsistently on the middle of the bottom portions of pages. These notes provided a map for printers on how to fold the book and align the pages together.
The Last Man. A Romance in Futurity. was originally written in French by Jean-Baptiste-François-Xavier Cousin de Grainville and titled Le dernier homme. Cousin de Grainville was a former priest at the Church of Saint-Leu in Amiens. This is also the same place where he delivered a funeral oration defending the King of France at the time, Louis XVI, which resulted in his imprisonment and potential death sentence. In order to avoid the latter, he was urged into marriage, and the union simply became a way to keep up appearances. After the marriage, he began writing Le dernier homme, which ultimately became his life’s work. He also kept a school in Amiens, but was shunned as an apostate priest. Due to the treatment he endured, he committed suicide at Amiens in 1805, making Le dernier homme a posthumous publication (Paley 67–8).
The Last Man. A Romance in Futurity. was published and received in several different manners. The original French publication received little to no attention; Morton D. Paley notes that this makes the emergence of the English version in 1806, which lists no author, strange (68). The minimum attention the novel received produced a few reviews, which were generally bad. In one instance, the reviewer deems the novel as “most extravagantly wild and eccentric” and recommends it to readers who are “much addicted to the reading of romances” but also warns, “if the same readers should be hostile to licentiousness and profaneness, and should think that translations (as this seems to be) one of the vilest books imported from the Continent, ought to be consigned to some other conspicuous place—we recommend the fire” (“Art. 21” 446). The 1811 publication of the second edition of Le dernier homme in French was influenced by Sir Herbert Croft, who was a contemporary admirer of the novel, and prefaced by Charles Nodier, who was Croft’s literary assistant; the second edition received a little more attention than the first, but still remained widely unknown (Paley 68).
Cousin de Grainville’s work is believed to have inspired the development of other pieces of literature in the following years of its publication. Benjamin Morgan suggests that Cousin de Grainville’s novel stimulated the genre of “Romantic millenarianism,” which included the works of Lord Byron’s Darkness (1816), Thomas Campbell’s The Last Man (1823), and Mary Shelley’s The Last Man (1826) (618). All of these texts are placed in an impending apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic world and involve a fixation on the last man on earth. In 1831, the novel was adapted into a poem by A. Creuzé de Lesser, which was titled “Le dernier homme, poème imité de Grainville,” and published in Paris (Paley 68).
Today, The Last Man. A Romance in Futurity. has been attended to by many scholars and approached as a work of science fiction, potentially one of the earliest such works. Wesleyan University Press published an edition, translated by I.F. Clarke and M. Clarke in 2003 as part of their Early Classics of Science Fiction series. In one review of this newer edition, John Huntington emphasizes common literary elements in the novel, such as “realism and “the kind of empirical detail which will later characterize the SF [science fiction] novel” (374). There have also been interpretations that contextualize the earth’s deterioration in the novel. In one analysis, Morgan situates Cousin de Grainville’s novel amidst other works that examine “ecological catastrophe” (618).
Narrative Point of View
The Last Man. A Romance in Futurity. is a frame narrative in which the main story is narrated in the third-person omniscient by an anonymous narrator and the secondary tale is narrated in the first person by Omegarus. The frame narrative is heavy on dialogue, while typically using descriptive paragraphs to reveal that a strange or magnificent event has taken place. The secondary narrative is related from the perspective of Omegarus, in which he tells Adam about his history. Since the secondary narrative is in the first person while also incorporating a lot of dialogue, Omegarus uses descriptive paragraphs to focus on his thoughts and reactions to different situations. Omegarus also relates stories that other characters told him at that particular instance in his history, which can generate confusion as to the chronology of events. The secondary narrative functions as the backstory to the main narrative, which is narrated in the present. At times, the third-person narration of the framing narrative interrupts the secondary narrative to remind readers that it is the main story, as one can easily become lost in the secondary narrative and forget about the main narrative. It also serves as a way to interact with readers, as we are like Adam listening for the first time to Omegarus’s story.
Sample Passage of Main Frame Narrative:
Scarcely had Omegarus ended the description of the two pictures, when Adam, much affected, interrupted him saying, “Omegarus, O my son! (allow me to use this appellation from my tenderness) hold an instant, and let me recover breath! Thou hast opened again in my heart a source of sentiment which I thought dried up. Ah! If thou didst but know me! – I, as well as Adam, had a wife and children, and but now fancied that I saw them, heard them, and tasted with them all the joys of a husband and father!” (vol. 2, 48–49)
In the main narrative, Adam stands in the same place as the readers of the novel, as he is invested and heavily affected by listening to Omegarus’s story for the first time. This invites readers to be sympathetic towards Omegarus and his future. Readers also know more than Omegarus, because we know Adam’s true identity while Omegarus is unaware of who Adam is at this point in the story. Adam points this out in this passage as he laments, “If thou didst but know me!” then Omegarus would understand why he is heavily affected by the story. In expressing his emotions, Adam interrupts Omegarus’s story, bringing readers back from the secondary narrative to the main narrative. This interjection also acts as a break from Omegarus’s story, which contains a lot of information to digest in one taking.
Sample Passage of Secondary Narrative:
I came. Her room decked out, the soft fragrance I inhaled, Syderia’s dress, – all were preparations that surprised me. I drew near her ; the picture of Eve with her infant son attracted and delighted my eye, and induced a wish to see the other which was veiled. No emotion ever equalled mine at the sight of the Mother of Mankind in the arms of her husband. (vol. 2, 51)
From the first sentence here, the “I” used by Omegarus denotes this passage as originating from the secondary narrative versus the main narrative, which makes no use of first-person pronouns outside of dialogue. Because of this, readers have a window into Omegarus’ thoughts, specifically about Syderia in comparison to the painting of Eve in this sample passage. This ability invites readers to be sympathetic towards Omegarus and gain an understanding of where he is coming from, as we are learning his history from his own perspective, even though Omegarus’s narrative is also faulty and biased, since it is difficult to remember every instance that has occurred in one’s history.
The novel begins with an unknown speaker being willed to enter a cave by a spirit possessing knowledge of all future events. The spirit intends to reveal the events that will result in the end of the universe through a magic mirror. The speaker first sees an image of a melancholy man and woman, Omegarus and Syderia, who are the last inhabitants of the universe. The spirit shows the speaker, who is interested by the cause of their melancholy, a different image depicting Adam, the first father of mankind, guarding the gates of hell as punishment for causing the human race to have original sin. Ithuriel, an angel, comes to Adam and tells him that God has a special mission for him, which involves sending him back to earth. In return for his participation and success in the mission, Adam will be granted deliverance from his punishment. Ithuriel promptly returns Adam to earth, where God communicates that he must demand from Omegarus painful sacrifices using only eloquence and persuasion.
Omegarus and Syderia walk outside of their palace after being plagued by images of bleeding specters and the sound of groans, when they see an old man, who they view as a favorable omen sent from heaven. The old man is actually Adam, who must conceal his true identity from Omegarus and Syderia. Adam inquires the source of their sorrows, to which Omegarus relates the images and sounds that have plagued him and Syderia. Adam confirms that Omegarus has committed a fault that has agitated heaven, and he was sent to teach him how to avoid it. He asks Omegarus to tell him the history of his life and Omegarus begins to tell his story.
Omegarus’s birth was a phenomenon, due to procreation being fruitless twenty years prior, and was nicknamed “Manchild.” No other children, though, were born afterwards, and shortly after the death of Omegarus’s parents, he decided to travel to Europe. Before leaving, he visited his parents’ tomb where the Genius of earth, who is charged with the planet’s preservation and care, appeared to him and warned him of earth’s impending destruction. The Genius explained that he would live as long as the earth lived and that only Omegarus, united by marriage with a specific woman, would result in the production of children and delay the earth’s, mankind’s, and his own destruction. Omegarus offered to promote the Genius’ intentions, and the Genius told him to seek out a man named Idamas, because he knew what plans heaven had for Omegarus.
Upon entering the city that Idamas inhabited, Omegarus encountered Policletes and Cephisa, who had been imparted the knowledge of Omegarus’s fate. Policletes told Omegarus how he went to a temple one day after feeling anxious about the earth’s decay and had a vision of Omegarus as a child, who told him his anxieties would end when he laid eyes on Omegarus’s future wife. Policletes charged this vision as the reason for seeking out Omegarus’s wife. After this encounter, Omegarus continued searching for Idamas, until he is stopped by a man named Palemos, who claimed that heaven had bestowed the knowledge of the future to him and knew Idamas. He explained how he was a guest at Idamas’s home the previous night, where he witnessed God tell Idamas that the earth would be revived through Omegarus, who he is meant to accompany in his journey. Policletes then took Omegarus to Idamas, and they subsequently depart across the seas.
On their journey, Idamas related to Omegarus the story of Ormus, who promised to bring his people into a new world by taking control of the ocean. Initially, his people supported him, but eventually, Ormus abandoned his plans due to his people claiming that his actions were selfish and simply a way to have his name immortalized. Afterwards, Ormus sought refuge in the City of the Sun in Brazil, where he was greatly revered. Omegarus’s future wife was also in Brazil. Idamas’s narrative was interrupted when they discovered that they had reached Brazil’s shores. Omegarus, Idamas, and all of their companions were initially met by Eupolis and the Americans who intended to kill all of them, since this was the law enforced in Brazil to preserve the minimal food supply. Only a sign from heaven, which was the gift of numerous animals from a neighboring village, caused Eupolis and the Americans to change their intentions and lead them to Aglauros, who ruled in the Brazils. Idamas told Aglauros of the display by heaven and convinced him of Omegarus’s role as the reviver of the human race. He then told Aglauros that he would name Omegarus’s wife, and Aglauros allowed Idamas to follow-through with his plans, but imprisoned Omegarus in a tower so that he does not accidentally choose the wrong woman.
After several weeks, Idamas told Aglauros to order all the young American virgins to the plains of Azas where he would name Omegarus’s wife. Meanwhile, Omegarus was visited in the tower by a goddess, who painted an image of a perfect and beautiful woman. The following night and onwards, the same woman visited him in the tower. Syderia also experienced the same phenomena as Omegarus, but instead, she was visited everyday by a young man. They fell in love with each other, which is the reason why both Omegarus and Syderia wished to not partake in the plains of Azas. Despite their reluctance, Omegarus and Syderia were required to go to Azas and discovered that they were the ones they saw every day and night.
The preparations for their marriage were immediately started, but Ormus, who was charged with uniting Omegarus and Syderia, prophesized that their marriage would actually result in the destruction of earth and mankind. He bestowed this knowledge onto Eupolis and a few of the Americans. On the day of Omegarus and Syderia’s wedding, Eupolis revealed this knowledge to everyone after Ormus and Idamas are killed by presumably heaven’s wrath. He demanded that Omegarus return to Europe and Syderia remain in Brazil.
That night, Forestan, Syderia’s father, visited Omegarus and pleaded that he took Syderia with him to Europe, for Eupolis and the Americans intended to kill both her and Omegarus to eliminate the threat of the prophecy all together. Omegarus agreed, and him and Syderia escaped to Europe the same night. In the following days, Omegarus was consumed with his love for Syderia, which she refused to return in respect of her father’s wishes to not marry Omegarus. One day, Omegarus wished to escape Syderia’s presence and ended up in a delightful valley wherein he perceived Syderia willingly accepting his love. Realizing it was an illusion, Omegarus immediately rushed back to Syderia, but she still implored that they remained separated. This caused further distress in Omegarus, who now shunned Syderia.
One day, Syderia is visited by her father’s spirit, who revealed that he had died shortly after her departure. He told her that heaven actually approved of her marriage to Omegarus and that his love for her would be rekindled by two images located over the altar in the temple. Syderia was moved by the second image, which depicted Eve and her infant son, and presented herself under the two images so that Omegarus may find her. Once he found her, Omegarus was moved by the first image of Eve and Adam getting married. Shortly after, Omegarus and Syderia got married. With the end of his narrative, Omegarus demands Adam to ask heaven whether or not their union is favorable.
After consulting with heaven, Adam drags Omegarus from the palace and reveals that Syderia is pregnant and their child will be the father of an ill-fated generation of humans. Omegarus is unwilling to believe Adam, as he is still unaware of his true identity. Adam cites all of the bad events that have taken place since Omegarus and Syderia have been in each other’s company, and Omegarus admits that he was in the wrong, but refuses to allow Syderia’s death and the death of their child. This refusal causes Adam to reveal his true identity to Omegarus as the “Father of Mankind,” and he tells Omegarus the mission that God has entrusted to him. Although at first unwilling to let Syderia die, Omegarus changes his mind when God shows him a vision of the future where his future generations are at war with each other. Omegarus signs a tree and carves that he is innocent in hopes that Syderia reads it and officially parts ways with her. She ultimately perishes as a result of his absence. The Almighty opens the graves of the dead and shields Omegarus from the havoc the dead causes. The novel concludes with Omegarus witnessing the end of the universe.
Cousin de Grainville, Jean-Baptiste-François-Xavier. The Last Man, or Omegarus and Syderia, A Romance in Futurity. London, R. Dutton, 1806.
Huntington, John. “Lumen/The Last Man.” Extrapolation (pre-2012), 44.3 (Fall 2003): 372–375.
Morgan, Benjamin. “Fin du Globe: On Decadent Planets.” Victorian Studies, Vol. 58, No. 4 (Summer 2016): 609–635.
“Art. 21. The Last Man; or Omegarus and Syderia, a Romance in Futurity.” The British Critic, 1793–1826, vol. 28, 1806, pp. 446.
Paley, Morton D. “Le dernier homme: The French Revolution as the Failure of Typology.” Mosaic 24, 1 (Jan 1991): 67–76.
Researcher: Shayna Gomez