Sunday, March 25, 2018

Fortnightly Book, March 25

In the 1890s, a sensational news story caught the interest of many in France. A mutiny had occurred aboard a French ship, called the Niuorahiti; the captain had been killed and the ship used for piracy. The suspects were two brothers, Lèonce and Eugène Degrave, who had assumed the names of Joseph and Alexandre Rorique (or Rorick, depending on the source); they were put on trial for murder and piracy. The brothers insisted that they were innocent. In the course of the trial it happened to come out that this was not their first incidence of international fame; they had heroically helped to save the crew of another ship. Their accuser was himself a dubious person who may have well been one of the mutineers. They made a very good impression at their trial. A very large number of people following the case by newspaper believed them to be innocent. But they were judged guilty of both murder and piracy and sentenced to death. The death sentence was eventually commuted to life of hard labor; Lèonce died in 1898, and Eugène was pardoned the next year, but eventually got into trouble in a smuggling operation that led to his murder.

The working title for Jules Verne's The Kip Brothers (Les Frères Kip) was Les Frères Norik, and it is quite certain from his correspondence that the work was based on the Roriqe affair. The romanticized version of that tale is interwoven with two more typically Vernian elements: geography of the South Seas and the newest technology for photography.

I had originally intended to do just The Kip Brothers but yesterday another work by Verne just happened to arrive in the mail: Travel Scholarships (Bourses de voyage). It tells the story of a group of schoolboys who, having received scholarships for an educational voyage in the Antilles, find themselves on a ship that has been highjacked by pirates. Despite the very different kinds of stories, the two make a natural pairing. The Kip Brothers is #51 and Travel Scholarships is #52 in the Voyages extraordinaires, so Verne's work on them would have overlapped, and they both come from his very late period. Neither was very successful, and, in fact, they were the last two of the Extraordinary Voyages to be translated into English: The Kip Brothers was first translated into English in 2007, and Travel Scholarships in 2013, as part of the Wesleyan Early Classics of Science Fiction series (which are, of course, the versions I will be reading). And, of course, they both involve pirates and adventures on the seas (one Pacific, the other Atlantic), in one form or another.

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