Saturday, December 29, 2018

Verne's Voyages Extraordinaires

This past year I spent some time reading as many of Jules Verne's Voyages Extraordinaires as I could find and fit into the year. I had already done two as fortnightly books, and the rest I added this year, either as fortnightly books (F) or as brief notes (N), and got through about three quarters of the series that was published in Verne's lifetime:

1. Cinq semaines en ballon (Five Weeks in a Balloon, 1863): N
2. Voyages et aventures du capitaine Hatteras (The Adventures of Captain Hatteras, 1866): F
3. Voyage au centre de la Terre (Journey to the Center of the Earth, 1864, revised 1867): F
4. De la terre à la lune (From the Earth to the Moon, 1865): F
5. Les Enfants du capitaine Grant (In Search of the Castaways, 1867–8): N
6. Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas, 1869–70): F
7. Autour de la lune (Around The Moon, 1870): F
8. Une ville flottante (A Floating City, 1871): N
9. Aventures de trois Russes et de trois Anglais (The Adventures of Three Englishmen and Three Russians in South Africa, 1872): N
10. Le Pays des fourrures (The Fur Country, 1873): N
11. Le Tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours (Around the World in Eighty Days, 1873): F
12. L'Île mystérieuse (The Mysterious Island, 1874–5): F
13. Le Chancellor (The Survivors of the Chancellor, 1875): N
14. Michel Strogoff (Michael Strogoff, 1876): N
15. Hector Servadac (Off on a Comet, 1877): N
16. Les Indes noires (The Child of the Cavern, 1877): N
17. Un capitaine de quinze ans (Dick Sand, A Captain at Fifteen, 1878): N
18. Les Cinq Cents Millions de la Bégum (The Begum's Millions, 1879): F
19. Les Tribulations d'un chinois en Chine (Tribulations of a Chinaman in China, 1879): N
20. La Maison à vapeur (The Steam House, 1880)
21. La Jangada (Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon, 1881): N
22. L'École des Robinsons (Godfrey Morgan, 1882): N
23. Le Rayon vert (The Green Ray, 1882): N
24. Kéraban-le-têtu (Kéraban the Inflexible, 1883)
25. L'Étoile du sud (The Vanished Diamond, 1884): N
26. L'Archipel en feu (The Archipelago on Fire, 1884)
27. Mathias Sandorf (Mathias Sandorf, 1885): N
28. Un billet de loterie (The Lottery Ticket, 1886): N
29. Robur-le-Conquérant (Robur the Conqueror, 1886): F
30. Nord contre Sud (North Against South, 1887): N
31. Le Chemin de France (The Flight to France, 1887)
32. Deux Ans de vacances (Two Years' Vacation, 1888): N
33. Famille-sans-nom (Family Without a Name, 1889): F
34. Sans dessus dessous (The Purchase of the North Pole, 1889): N
35. César Cascabel (César Cascabel, 1890): N
36. Mistress Branican (Mistress Branican, 1891)
37. Le Château des Carpathes (Carpathian Castle, 1892): F
38. Claudius Bombarnac (Claudius Bombarnac, 1892): N
39. P’tit-Bonhomme (Foundling Mick, 1893)
40. Mirifiques Aventures de Maître Antifer (Captain Antifer, 1894): N
41. L'Île à hélice (Propeller Island, 1895): F
42. Face au drapeau (Facing the Flag, 1896): N
43. Clovis Dardentor (Clovis Dardentor, 1896)
44. Le Sphinx des glaces (An Antarctic Mystery, 1897): N
45. Le Superbe Orénoque (The Mighty Orinoco, 1898): F
46. Le Testament d'un excentrique (The Will of an Eccentric, 1899)
47. Seconde Patrie (The Castaways of the Flag, 1900)
48. Le Village aérien (The Village in the Treetops, 1901)
49. Les Histoires de Jean-Marie Cabidoulin (The Sea Serpent, 1901)
50. Les Frères Kip (The Kip Brothers, 1902): F
51. Bourses de voyage (Traveling Scholarships, 1903): F
52. Un drame en Livonie (A Drama in Livonia, 1904)
53. Maître du monde (Master of the World, 1904): F
54. L'Invasion de la mer (Invasion of the Sea, 1905): F

In addition, I did a fortnightly book on two works that, while not part of the series published in Verne's lifetime, are closely related to it: Paris in the Twentieth Century, which is an early work that Verne proposed for the series, but which was turned down by Hetzel, and The Lighthouse at the End of the World, which was largely written by Verne by the end of his life and was published shortly after his death with revisions by his son, Michel Verne. You can find that here.

Most of the works in the series are stand-alone, but some of the works are explicitly set up as sequels. By 'explicitly' I mean that there is direct reference in the course of a story to another story as giving events leading up to that story. There are a number of other works that could possibly take place in 'the same universe', as we say; for instance, there are three works that explicitly mention the same real-world ship, the Pereire of the French Transatlantic Company, as playing some kind of important minor role: Vingt mille lieues sous les mers, Le Tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours, Le Superbe Orénoque. Perhaps you could take that as a reason to group them together. And there is one case (Claudius Bombarnac) that both refers to something written by Verne as a literary work and alludes to a number of other works by Verne without actually treating those works as prequels (usually just by presenting characters that are similar to those in other works). But in some cases, there is an explicit connection to another of the Voyages, and, in two cases, to works by other authors that were a major influence on Verne's own themes. I do not claim to have done any exhaustive search, but these are the cases that I found in the course of this project:

Voyage is explicitly a sequel to
7. Autour de la lune 4. De la terre à la lune
10. Le Pays des fourrures 2. Voyages et aventures du capitaine Hatteras
12. L'Île mystérieuse 5. Les Enfants du capitaine Grant,
6. Vingt mille lieues sous les mers
15. Hector Servadac 7. Autour de la lune
29. Robur-le-Conquérant 18. Les Cinq Cents Millions de la Bégum
34. Sans dessus dessous 4. De la terre à la lune,
7. Autour de la lune,
15. Hector Servadac,
22. L'École des Robinsons
44. Le Sphinx des glaces Edgar Allan Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket
47. Seconde Patrie Johann David Wyss's The Swiss Family Robinson
49. Les Histoires de Jean-Marie Cabidoulin 2. Voyages et aventures du capitaine Hatteras
53. Maître du monde 29. Robur-le-Conquérant

While the most famous ones are quite deserving of their fame, some of the lesser known works are nice in their own right -- probably not what most readers expect from a Verne book, although fun if given a chance to be their own story rather than having to meet prior expectations. I'd mentioned that Un billet de lotterie was already one of my favorites. Other lesser-known works that I found fun were Les Tribulations d'un chinois en Chine, Les Indes noires, and Le Rayon vert. But all of the works were at least interesting in one way or another.

Reading so much Verne all together really brings home a number of things.

(1) Verne's fiction is fundamentally (as one could perhaps expect from the title of the series) geographical fiction. It's a commonplace of Verne scholarship that Verne was interested in geography, but it becomes almost overwhelming when reading a lot of it. Verne is interested in new technology, but while he has an eye to other uses, his primary interest is almost always the new geographical adventures that the technology opens up; he is interested in scientific discovery, but the primary kind of scientific discovery that interests him is the kind that involves a scientific expedition or journey of some kind or another.

(2) Verne doesn't put a lot of effort into the openings of most of his books. In doing the notes, I quoted the openings of the books, but these are often not very representative of the work as a whole. He does like putting us immediately into the middle of the story, but his philosophy seems to have been to do that in any way that he could, rather than put much emphasis on the opening itself. Perhaps this is due to the particular way in which his books were originally serialized -- we should perhaps think of 'the beginning' as a much larger chunk of the story than just the opening paragraphs. And Verne over the course of the series breaks just about every 'rule' that people give to beginning writers about how to open their stories: he'll introduce characters that we never meet again and who have no actual importance to the story, he'll dump a lot of exposition, he'll build very slowly up to the actual story, he'll leave us completely unclear about what is going on for several paragraphs, etc. But for all that, it always works in the overall context.

(3) It is notorious that English translations of Verne are often bad. I knew that going into the project, but I was taken aback by the sheer scale of the badness. Many of the translations are just plain awful as translations; they often descend to mere paraphrase (trying to punch up his beginnings or cut down his expositions or make the story more relatable to some imaginary audience in the translator's head); they are sometimes sloppy about scientific and geographical details in ways that Verne himself certainly is not; they sometimes change the very tenor of the story itself. It is truly an awful situation.

There are twelve Voyages I did not manage to fit in, mostly later works where English translations are hard to find. Without worrying too much about it, I think I'll try to get those done in the next two years; that shouldn't be too grand a task to complete.

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