Tuesday, January 12, 2021

SF Luminaries: Jules Verne

Étienne Carjat: Jules Verne (1884)

It's hard to communicate the strange charm of Jules Verne's books to anyone who wasn't lucky enough to read them at the right age - maybe somewhere between 10 and 17? Their merits are not readily apparent on the surface: clumsy dialogue, ridiculously implausible events, a backdrop of misinformation about virtually every corner of the world ... And yet, and yet ...

Jules Verne: Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1864 / 1874)

I suppose that my favourite remains Journey to the Centre of the Earth. I loved the characters' long voyage to Iceland before they even started to make their descent in the footsteps of that intrepid 16th century alchemist, Arne Saknussemm. I liked the cryptogram and complex clues they had to solve along the way, and Verne's vision of the Earth's interior was suitably awe-inspiring.

Henry Levin, dir.: Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)
l-r: Pat Boone, Peter Ronson, James Mason, & Arlene Dahl

It did come as a bit of a shock when I watched the film version of the novel on TV, only to discover that the setting had been shifted from Hamburg to Edinburgh, and a love interest and villainous saboteur added to the plot! It was still fun, but virtually all the complexities which made the novel so rewarding seemed to have been removed.

Jules Verne: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1869-70 / 1976)

The same, alas, was true of probably his most famous novel, Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea. The version above, edited by Walter James Miller, restores to the text all the passages generally removed in English translation. The editor points out that there's a simple reason why Verne is regarded as essentialy a children's writer in English whereas his works are taken quite seriously in France: because we're not actually reading the same book.

Richard Fleischer, dir.: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1954)

By comparison with the sins of his various translators, the sins of the above adaptation seem quite venial (though Kirk Douglas's singing is a heavy price to have to pay for admission). James Mason makes an excellent, brooding Captain Nemo, though admittedly the character's Indian heritage is left in the background.

Verne has been quite well served by his various illustrators over the years, however. The above graphic adaptation leans heavily on the brooding, Doré-influenced style of the original nineteenth-century editions. The chapter on Atlantis is one of the highlights of the novel, along with the famous encounter with a giant squid!

Alphonse-Marie-Adolphe de Neuville: Atlantis (1870)

Which brings us to a confession. I'm afraid I have to admit to having read quite a few of Verne's works as Classics Illustrated comics rather than as books. To this day, for instance, I've never actually read Off on a Comet, but the comic below was one of my favourites.

Jules Verne: Off on a Comet (Classics Illustrated, 1959-60)

Others, such as From the Earth to the Moon and its sequel Around the Moon I read both as comics and, subsequently, novels. It all depended on which ones my parents had copies of, and - more to the point - which of them had found their way to the shelves of my Intermediate and Secondary School libraries.

Victor G. Ambrus: Jules Verne's A Long Vacation (1888 / 1967)

After Journey to the Centre of the Earth, the above translation of Verne's Deux ans de vacance [A Two-Year Holiday] was my all-time favourite. I'm not quite sure why. There was a curious atmosphere about the book which seemed to transcend its fairly familiar Robinson Crusoe-esque plot (what the French call a 'Robinsonade'). It helped that the characters were all supposed to be pupils at a school in Auckland, New Zealand who'd ended up on a desert island by mistake - but that wasn't the main reason.

Jules Verne: The Mysterious Island (1874-75 / 1965)

I guess its rather plotless, episodic structure made it seem more like life than some of his more intricately woven stories. Much though I subsequently enjoyed reading The Mysterious Island (in the Airmont Classics edition pictured above), I couldn't believe in it the way I did in A Long Vacation.

Victor Ambrus (1935- )

Recently I made the experiment of rereading the book, having run across a copy in a second-hand bookshop. Its allure had faded somewhat, I must confess, but it was still an interesting and occasionally atmospheric book. Sometimes you do have to encounter a book at the right age for it to leave an indelible impression, though - the Victor Ambrus illustrations still seem as magical as ever to me.

Jules Verne: Les Voyages Extraordinaires. 32 vols (Édition Jean de Bonnot, 1976)

Once or twice I've toyed with the idea of buying a complete set of the Voyages Extraordinaires in French. If I were to ever see such a thing on sale, I suspect I would. Calculating just how much it would cost to have it sent out here (and trying to think where I could possibly put it) has put me off so far, however.

Jules Verne: Les Voyages Extraordinaires. 32 vols (Édition Jean de Bonnot, 1976)

And do I really want to read all of them? Apart from the bona fide masterpieces, some of them can be pretty tough going, I've found. The English translations simply aren't reliable enough to be worth reading en masse, however, so it's a project I'll continue to think about.

Georges Perec (1936-1982)

Georges Perec, probably my favourite twentieth-century French writer, was a Jules Verne obsessive, and constantly made references to him in his works. For Perec, I think Verne represented the storytelling impulse at its most pure and unselfconscious.

Georges Perec: W ou le souvenir d'enfance (1975)

In such books as his fictional memoir W, or the Memory of Childhood, Perec interweaves his reconstruction of a (now lost) Verne-like adventure story he wrote as a schoolboy with the dawning awareness of his status as a Jewish child in hiding in wartime France, along with the knowledge he subsequently obtained of his mother's death in Auschwitz.

David Bellos: Georges Perec: A Life in Words (1975)

One reason for the celebrated inaccuracies of Verne's settings - Pacific islands full of kangaroos and Kauri trees, savage tribes in the middle of sober colonial empires - was the fact that they were mostly based on clippings from magazines, collected and classified in an immense set of filing cabinets by the desk-bound Verne, who never actually travelled to any of the places he described in his books.

This may have been one of the reasons why he became an essential alter-ego for Perec. Where the former could welcome Modernity with boosterish enthusiasm, the latter, who sought a not dissimilar refuge in his crossword puzzles and word games, was foredoomed from childhood to be one of its victims.

In this Steampunk-infested age, it seems odd that its enthusiasts don't read and talk more about Jules Verne. It's hard to exaggerate his influence on his own time and the progress of Science Fiction over the century to follow.

He's still one of the world's best-known and most translated writers, like it or not, and his swashbuckling approach to narrative can be seen clearly in the early American pulp magazines, as well as in such isolated works as New Zealand's first homegrown SF novel, The Great Romance.

'The Inhabitant': The Great Romance (1881)

Georges Roux: Hetzel Advertisement (1890)

Jules Gabriel Verne

    Voyages extraordinaires [published in Verne's lifetime]:

  1. Cinq Semaines en ballon. [Five Weeks in a Balloon] (1863)
  2. Voyages et aventures du capitaine Hatteras. [The Adventures of Captain Hatteras]. Serialised 1864–5 (1866)
  3. Voyage au centre de la Terre. [Journey to the Center of the Earth] (1864)
    • Voyage au centre de la terre. 1864. Les Voyages Extraordinaires. Collection Hetzel. Paris: Librairie Hachette et Cie, 1919.
    • Journey to the Centre of the Earth. 1864. Trans. Robert Baldick. Penguin Science Fiction. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1965.
  4. De la Terre à la Lune. [From the Earth to the Moon]. Serialised 1865 (1865)
    • From the Earth to the Moon. 1865. A Digit Book. London: Brown, Watson, Ltd., 1958.
    • Classic Science Fiction: Three Complete Illustrated Novels - Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea / From the Earth to the Moon / Round the Moon. 1869-70, 1865, 1869-70. Introduction by Alan K. Russell. Castle Books. Secausus, N.J.: Book Sales Inc., 1981.
  5. Les Enfants du capitaine Grant. [In Search of the Castaways]. Serialised 1865–7 (1867–8)
  6. Vingt Mille Lieues sous les mers. [Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea]. Serialised 1869–70 (1869–70)
    • Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. 1869-70. Illustrated by Peter Henville. 1955. London: The Heirloom Library, 1956.
    • The Annotated Jules Verne: Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea. Ed. Walter James Miller. New York: Thomas J. Crowell, 1976.
    • Classic Science Fiction: Three Complete Illustrated Novels - Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea / From the Earth to the Moon / Round the Moon. 1869-70, 1865, 1869-70. Introduction by Alan K. Russell. Castle Books. Secausus, N.J.: Book Sales Inc., 1981.
  7. Autour de la Lune. [Around the Moon]. Serialised 1869 (1870)
    • Round the Moon. 1869-70. The Royal Series. 1958. London: Ward, Lock & Co., Ltd., 1963.
    • Classic Science Fiction: Three Complete Illustrated Novels - Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea / From the Earth to the Moon / Round the Moon. 1869-70, 1865, 1869-70. Introduction by Alan K. Russell. Castle Books. Secausus, N.J.: Book Sales Inc., 1981.
  8. Une Ville flottante. [A Floating City]. Serialised 1870 (1871)
  9. Aventures de trois Russes et de trois Anglais. [The Adventures of Three Englishmen and Three Russians in South Africa]. Serialised 1871–2 (1872)
  10. Le Pays des fourrures. [The Fur Country]. Serialised 1872–3 (1873)
  11. Le Tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours. [Around the World in Eighty Days]. Serialised 1872 (1873)
    • Round the World in Eighty Days. 1873. Fontana Books. London: Collins, 1956.
  12. L'Île mystérieuse. [The Mysterious Island]. Serialised 1874–5 (1874–5)
    • L’île mystérieuse. 1875. Maxi-poche. Classiques Français. Paris: Bookking International, 1995.
    • The Mysterious Island. 1875. Introduction by Raymond R. Canon. New York: Airmont Publishing Company, Ltd., 1965.
  13. Le Chancellor. [The Survivors of the Chancellor]. Serialised 1874–5 (1875)
  14. Michel Strogoff. [Michael Strogoff]. Serialised 1876 (1876)
  15. Hector Servadac. [Off on a Comet]. Serialised 1877 (1877)
  16. Les Indes noires. [The Child of the Cavern]. Serialised 1877 (1877)
  17. Un Capitaine de quinze ans. [Dick Sand, A Captain at Fifteen]. Serialised 1878 (1878)
  18. Les Cinq Cents Millions de la Bégum. [The Begum's Fortune]. Serialised 1879 (1879)
  19. Les Tribulations d'un Chinois en Chine. [Tribulations of a Chinaman in China]. Serialised 1879 (1879)
  20. La Maison à vapeur. [The Steam House]. Serialised 1879–80 (1880)
  21. La Jangada. [Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon]. Serialised 1881 (1881)
  22. L'École des Robinsons. [Godfrey Morgan]. Serialised 1882 (1882)
  23. Le Rayon vert. [The Green Ray]. Serialised 1882 (1882)
  24. Kéraban-le-têtu. [Kéraban the Inflexible]. Serialised 1883 (1883)
  25. L'Étoile du sud. [The Vanished Diamond]. Serialised 1884 (1884)
  26. L'Archipel en feu. [The Archipelago on Fire]. Serialised 1884 (1884)
  27. Mathias Sandorf. [Mathias Sandorf]. Serialised 1885 (1885)
  28. Un Billet de loterie. [The Lottery Ticket]. Serialised 1886 (1886)
  29. Robur-le-Conquérant. [Robur the Conqueror]. Serialised 1886 (1886)
  30. Nord contre Sud. [North Against South]. Serialised 1887 (1887)
  31. Le Chemin de France. [The Flight to France]. Serialised 1887 (1887)
  32. Deux Ans de vacances. [Two Years' Vacation]. Serialised 1888 (1888)
    • A Long Vacation. 1888. Trans. Olga Marx. Illustrated by Victor G. Ambrus. London: Oxford University Press, 1967.
  33. Famille-sans-nom. [Family Without a Name]. Serialised 1889 (1889)
  34. Sans dessus dessous. [The Purchase of the North Pole] (1889)
  35. César Cascabel. [César Cascabel]. Serialised 1890 (1890)
  36. Mistress Branican. [Mistress Branican]. Serialised 1891 (1891)
  37. Le Château des Carpathes. [Carpathian Castle]. Serialised 1892 (1892)
  38. Claudius Bombarnac. [Claudius Bombarnac]. Serialised 1892 (1893)
  39. P'tit-Bonhomme. [Foundling Mick]. Serialised 1893 (1893)
  40. Mirifiques Aventures de Maître Antifer. [Captain Antifer]. Serialised 1894 (1894)
  41. L'Île à hélice. [Propeller Island]. Serialised 1895 (1895)
  42. Face au drapeau. [Facing the Flag]. Serialised 1896 (1896)
  43. Clovis Dardentor. [Clovis Dardentor]. Serialised 1896 (1896)
  44. Le Sphinx des glaces. [An Antarctic Mystery]. Serialised 1897 (1897)
  45. Le Superbe Orénoque. [The Mighty Orinoco]. Serialised 1898 (1898)
  46. Le Testament d'un excentrique. [The Will of an Eccentric]. Serialised 1899 (1899)
  47. Seconde Patrie. [The Castaways of the Flag]. Serialised 1900 (1900)
  48. Le Village aérien. [The Village in the Treetops]. Serialised 1901 (1901)
  49. Les Histoires de Jean-Marie Cabidoulin. [The Sea Serpent]. Serialised 1901 (1901)
  50. Les Frères Kip. [The Kip Brothers]. Serialised 1902 (1902)
  51. Bourses de voyage. [Travel Scholarships]. Serialised 1903 (1903)
  52. Un Drame en Livonie. [A Drama in Livonia]. Serialised 1904 (1904)
  53. Maître du monde. [Master of the World]. Serialised 1904 (1904)
  54. L'Invasion de la mer. [Invasion of the Sea]. Serialised 1905 (1905)

  55. Posthumous additions [extensively rewritten or composed by Verne's son Michel]:

  56. Le Phare du bout du monde. [The Lighthouse at the End of the World]. Serialised 1905 (1905)
  57. Le Volcan d’or. [The Golden Volcano]. Serialised 1906 (1906)
  58. L’Agence Thompson and Co. [The Thompson Travel Agency]. Serialised 1907 (1907)
  59. La Chasse au météore. [The Chase of the Golden Meteor]. Serialised 1908 (1908)
  60. Le Pilote du Danube. [The Danube Pilot]. Serialised 1908 (1908)
  61. Les Naufragés du "Jonathan". [The Survivors of the "Jonathan"]. Serialised 1909 (1909)
  62. Le Secret de Wilhelm Storitz. [The Secret of Wilhelm Storitz]. Serialised 1910 (1910)
  63. L’Étonnante Aventure de la mission Barsac. [The Barsac Mission]. Serialised 1914 (1920)

  64. Other novels:

  65. Voyage en Angleterre et en Ecosse. [Backwards to Britain]. 1860 (first published 1989)
  66. Paris au XXe siècle. [Paris in the Twentieth Century]. 1863 (first published 1994)

  67. Secondary:

  68. Costello, Peter. Jules Verne: Inventor of Science Fiction. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1978.

Alphonse-Marie-Adolphe de Neuville: Captain Nemo (1870)

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