All Wrong, All the Time: The Tawdry Literature of Nicolas Restif

Dirty books, quickly and carelessly written—almost 200 of them.

That’s the legacy of Nicolas-Edme Restif de la Bretonne, prolific French author whose works showcased the sordid aspects of French life and society in the 18th century.  Restif’s writings included a plan for legalizing and regulating prostitution, as well as a vast array of novels, plays, and essays on a wide range of topics.

His 16-volume autobiography, Monsieur Nicolas, begins with stories of sexual experiences beginning in early childhood, and continues through an amazingly frank recounting of his many and varied sexual exploits.  It is said that the French word “restifisme”—meaning “shoe fetish”—was coined because of Monsieur Nicolas’ propensity for collecting women’s shoes.

This author of sordid tales caught my attention this week because of a play he wrote in 1789—tantalizingly titled The Year 2000.  In it, Restif imagined what life would be like in the far distant future, in the year 2000 A.D.

  • Restif predicted that in the year 2000, all marriages would be arranged—with the bridegrooms selected by a council of elders according to merit.
  • He thought that married couples would be kept apart for years—thereby insuring that their passion would survive.
  • There would be no lawyers.
  • Society as a whole would be Utopian, and we would all be ruled by a fair and virtuous king.  One of the King’s lines in the play was, “In the year 2000, virtue never goes unrewarded.”

Restif’s predictions, viewed from the vantage point of contemporary American society, are so far astray as to be laughable.  Apparently, his faulty logic impacts not only his selection of themes for his books, but also his political analysis and social theory.

It makes me wonder, though:  What do you think life will be like in the year 3000?

  • Kevin Orlin Johnson

    Well, he was right about the prostitution.

  • Rebecca Fuentes

    I find it amusing that he imagined a utopia that specifically had no lawyers. I could several directions on how life could look 1000 years from now. Look how much it has changed since 1000.

  • Aodh P O’Beachain

    Another troublesome Celt from France. How quaint. Dirty mind with no imagination a few years ahead of his own time. How boring. As to 3000 who will be around to read English or boring Restif’s French merde when Mr Obama and Mr Hi Slung Low of China and Mr Putin and NaughtyNettyahWho of Israel and Iran are finished ?

  • Pidge

    Poor St. Aethedreda, less than a thousand years ago William the Conqueror didn’t dare approach the holy virgin’s shrine after his victory at Ely; tales were told of how she struck the thieving Sheriff of Cambridgeshire dead for robbing monks (with her crozier even!) and she even caused Bishop Nigel’s castle to fall down; yet first cheap fairings are called ‘tawdry’ after her and now she gets associated with smut. Who knows what depths the blessed woman’s memory will have sunk to in another thousand years.