This one was mentioned in Brian Stableford’s introduction to Henri Allorge’s The Great Cataclysm, so, I picked up a copy.
Review: Chalet in the Sky, Albert Robida, trans. Brian Stableford, 2011.
Brian Stableford’s “Introduction” is particularly useful in this novel. This is the third Robida volume published by Black Coat Press, so there is not so much autobiographical material here. Instead, Stableford places these stories in the context of literature and Robida’s career. “Un Potache en 1950”, “A Schoolboy in 1950”, was published in 1917 and Un Chalet dans les airs, Chalet in the Sky, Robida’s last novel, was published in 1925.
In the 1890s, when technology allowed the easy printing of photographs in newspapers, Robida’s career as a writer and illustrator began to be crimped, and that accelerated with World War One. He began to write for younger markets where his humorous illustrations were still favored. In his heyday, he was well known for his garish illustrations of future warfare and life in the 20th century. Eventually, he found himself doing a lot of illustrations for other people’s work. A pacificist, he came to hate illustrating seriously speculative tales of war. When the Great War started, the market for illustrating future war or even doing illustrations on life in the future largely evaporated. The exception was the juvenile market which still wanted to shield children from the horrors of war and maintain morale.
The public school story was a genre that started with Tom Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays in 1857 though Stableford says it wasn’t established as a genre until the late 1880s with the work of Talbot Baines Reed. It had already been parodied in 1882 with F. Antsey’s Vice Versa. In 1906, Angela Brazil expanded the genre with stories about a girls school.
While these British works were translated into French, French writers didn’t write in the genre. Stableford says Robida’s genius recognized two things: the school story is sort of a utopian fantasy and that, decades before J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, the genre could be enlivened by introducing fantastic elements.
In the 1880s, Robida started to produce works on life and war in the year 1950. That world of 1950, especially with its aviation technology, seemed a good fit for a school story. After Robida got the post-war bile and vitriol out of his system with The Engineer von Satanas in 1918, Robida did “In 1965”. It was intended for adults and not very well received.
Stableford says of “A Schoolboy in 1950”
its Utopian ideals are tarnished, if not frankly deceptive. The disasters featured in the novel are the results of accidental breakdown rather than malice, but that only serves to make their threat seem more ominous, especially in combination with the story’s visit to England, and the discovery there of the continuing thrust of the Industrial revolution.”Continue reading