Sunday, November 25, 2018

Fortnightly Book, November 25

I've been doing a number of Jules Verne's Voyages Extraordinaires, but Verne has a number of works that are not part of the Voyages Extraordinaires that he published, even though they are connected. Two of these are particularly interesting, and they will be the next fortnightly books.

(1) In 1863, Five Weeks in a Balloon having recently been published and the prospects for it looking quite promising, Verne set out immediately to try to pull together another book that he could sell. The result was Paris in the Twentieth Century. When he submitted to Hetzel, his publisher, however, Hetzel was not impressed. He thought it was a considerable deterioration in quality from Five Weeks, and pessimistic in a way that would certainly put an end to Verne's burgeoning career. Nobody would believe its predictions of the future. In the face of a criticism like that, there wasn't much to say, so Verne simply put it aside and went on to other things. Paris was not published until 1994.

According to the story that is usually told, Verne's great-grandson happened to find the lost manuscript in a trunk or a safe, and Jules Verne's "lost novel" was again available to the world. In fact, the story seems to be a complete fiction, a way to gin up publicity; it was not 'newly rediscovered' but had been known to exist for quite some time before. But the strategy worked, and when it was published, the French edition became an instant bestseller.

Paris in the Twentieth Century takes us to 1960, a time of marvels, yes, but also a time in which the financial industry has taken over everything and everything has been subordinated to the drive for profit. Michel Dufrénoy, an impractical teenager, has just graduated, to everyone's derision, with a degree in Classics. It's not a promising beginning. It gets worse from there.

(2) At the other end of his career, in 1901, Verne wrote the first draft of The Lighthouse at the End of the World. He died in 1905 without having done much revision of it. Jules Verne's son Michel published it shortly afterward. In Verne's later years, Michel had often helped him with revisions, which is probably why Michel did not hesitate to revise the book. He would continue to do this with other manuscripts left by Verne, so The Lighthouse at the End of the World became the first in the series of 'Voyages Extraordinaires' that were not published by Verne, and in which Michel had a rather extensive hand. However, most of those were cases in which Verne had only completed a few chapters or an outline or the like; Lighthouse, however, is from a complete first draft, which means that, of the posthumous works, it is the one that still retains the most of Jules Verne, and many of Michel's revisions are clearly just his attempt to polish the first draft into (his conception of) a final draft. And while purists might be finicky about such things, since the book has so much of the original author in it, the fact that his son is partial redactor is not, I think, a serious problem. (An interesting comparison is The Silmarillion. Tolkien's conception of it was fairly clear, but many of the important parts had never been revised after a very early period. So Christopher Tolkien selected the best he could, made revisions to establish consistency, wrote short bridge passages, and so forth. Christopher Tolkien was a much more conscientious editor than Michel Verne, but there's at least as much of Christopher Tolkien in The Silmarillion as there is of Michel Verne in The Lighthouse at the End of the World.) Whatever Michel Verne did, Jules Verne is still the principal co-author.

The lighthouse at the end of the world was a real lighthouse: it was the San Juan de Salvamento Lighthouse on the far southern Argentine island, Isla de los Estados, which operated from 1884 to 1900. It's a perfect scene for a tale of lighthouse keepers trying to fend off murderous pirates with only their wits and what they have on hand.

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