The Mummy!: Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century
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The Mummy! defies attempts to put it into a category, not only because those categories had not existed at the time. One thing that it clearly is not, is a horror story. While this is the first book in which an Egyptian mummy is brought back to life, it is not out to spread havoc – this is not the work from which the numerous later “Mummy” books and films have drawn their inspiration. It is an early work of science fiction – among many other things, Jane Webb gives us air traffic (complete with accidents), automaton steam surgeons, clockwork-powered judges, a tunnel that connects Ireland and Britain, a “patent steam coffee-machine, by which coffee was roasted, ground, made, and poured out with an ad libitum of boiling milk and sugar, all in the short space of five minutes,” and even the most marvellous technological fantasy of all, clean air in London, due to the abolishment of coal fires. But, like the resuscitated Mummy, these things do not define this book, which is full of adventures, drama, political intrigues, comedy, and satire – never taking itself too seriously, and, whatever else it is, always good entertainment.
About the Author
Jane Webb was born in 1807 in Birmingham as the daughter of a wealthy manufacturer. When her mother died in 1819, she and her father spent one year travelling through Europe, where she learned several languages. After their return, her father’s business faltered, he ruined himself financially through failed speculations, and in 1824, when Jane was 17, he died penniless.
Jane Webb had been writing poetry since she was twelve, and now began to write as a source of income – her first book, Prose and Verse, was published 1826, and The Mummy!: Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century, anonymously, in 1827.
An offhandedly mentioned steam-powered mowing apparatus (in her biographies usually, but mistakenly, it is a “steam plough”) drew the attention of the botanist, garden designer, and author John Claudius Loudon. In 1829, having written a review of the book, he wanted to meet the author, not knowing that it was a woman – they married in 1830. Jane Webb, now Jane Loudon, assisted her husband in his work, and wrote best-selling gardening books, which were the first that were written for the general public, and not for expert horticulturists.
When John Loudon died in 1843, she continued to write, published new editions of her husband’s books, and in 1849 became the editor of a new journal for women, The Ladies’ Companion at Home and Abroad. She died in 1858 at the age of 51.