Sunday, April 12, 2015

Fortnightly Book, April 12

Jules Gabriel Verne is one of the most widely translated authors in the world. Much of his reputation is based on his Voyages Extraordinaires series of books, fifty-four novels that were designed to convey the universe, with all of its wonder and scientifically discovered detail, in miniature. Indeed, it was explicitly undertaken to be a sort of survey of the whole universe. The fortnightly book is one of the three or four most popular books from this series (and the one that has been the best selling in English translation): Around the World in Eighty Days, originally published under the title, Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours.

The book was very cutting-edge. It was written during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), and essential links in the trip around the world include the Suez canal (completed 1869) and the American transcontinental railroad (completed 1870). Phileas Fogg's journey begins at exactly 8:45 on October 2, 1872 (a Wednesday) and ends on December 21 (a Saturday) of the same year; this was the same year it was published as a serial, and it is said that some readers thought that the journey was actually taking place.

In 1889, Nellie Bly attempted to replicate the feat in the novel. She managed to do it in seventy-two days, and wrote a book on the experience. Part of her trip was a visit to Amiens, where she met Verne himself, just shy of his sixty-second birthday. According to the summary of the trip in The Sandglass, Bly asked him how he got the idea, and he attributed it to his reading of the newspaper (Verne read newspapers extensively); Le Siècle had had a brief speculative discussion showing that it was in principle possible to go around the world in eighty days, and Verne noticed that the calculation overlooked the international dateline, which gave him not just a plan for a story, but also a solid conclusion for it. As she left, Verne said that if she managed to do the trip in seventy-nine days, he would applaud her for it, and wished her luck.

The Sandglass also has an interesting paragraph in which it notes that if you leave out air travel (which obviously shortens times considerably), you could in 1956 cut the land-and-sea trip down to about fifty-eight days; and that there were still stretches (like the train from Bombay to Calcutta) that would take pretty much exactly as long as it would have taken Fogg and Passepartout in 1872.

As you might have guessed from the mention of The Sandglass, I will be reading fromthe 1962 Heritage Press (New York) edition. It has illustrations by Edward A. Wilson and an introduction by no less than Ray Bradbury who, in typical Bradbury paradox, vehemently denies that science fiction has much to do with predicting the future, and (although much less vehemently) also denies that the book is science fiction. His own assessment of the book's appeal is well worth quoting, and as true today as it was then:

For--let us face it-- we are a spoiled people living in a spoiled time. All too often we find the new generations growing up with little sense of where they want to go, what they want to be, or even any need of asking themselves the question. We have become a little too comfortable. We have not tested ourselves for a very long time. Even during World War II, the United States, unbombed, lived in comparative luxury while its allies suffered gross destruction. We ride about amidst our two-car families, spend as much time dieting as eating, and vaguely blink around looking for our National Purpose and seemingly find none.

We live, then, in a time between, half-remembering, half-forgetting our muscle and will. In such a time it is understandable that such a person as Phileas Fogg should stand like a calm Titan before us, and his journey summon us--in imagination at least, and perhaps in reality--to action. (p. ix)

The typeface is Joanna, which I think looks a little odd on the page, at least at first perusal, and has blue vellum cloth covers with a repeated pattern of a winged globe.


  1. MrsDarwin1:14 PM

    Joanna is a typeface by Eric Gill. No wonder you find it uncomfortable to look at. I even like the Gill Sans font, aesthetically, but I'll never use it in anything because, ugh.

  2. branemrys6:37 PM

    Yes, Gill's definitely an issue in a lot of ways. I like a lot of Gill's aesthetic ideas, but, as you say, there's always that 'ugh'. I had thought I had a post-length discussion of Gill's work and its problems at some point, but it looks like I just had a brief note specifically about cases of churches with Gill-made iconography in a links post a long time ago:

    Part of the issue with Gill, I think, is that iconography is not like art in the secular world; its purpose is to be not merely art but pictorial prayer and preaching of the Word made flesh. You cannot take this seriously and put a sharp divide between the artist and his artistic work. You cannot be a genuine iconographer in your art and an iconoclast blaspheming the image of God in your life. It is true that human failure to measure up to Christ, the Icon of the Father, is universal, that we all to some extent fall to that iconoclasm called sin; but the inconsistency can only be tolerated so far, and only where it is healed and overcome by a penitent heart. Beyond that it ceases to be iconic and becomes perverted. It might pass for secular art, only surface-deep and for pleasing the eye according to one's tastes; but it is not an icon, which is supposed to be something much, much more.


Please understand that this weblog runs on a third-party comment system, not on Blogger's comment system. If you have come by way of a mobile device and can see this message, you may have landed on the Blogger comment page, or the third party commenting system has not yet completely loaded; your comments will only be shown on this page and not on the page most people will see, and it is much more likely that your comment will be missed.