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.

Notes and Links

* I just yesterday got back from a brief trip to see family for the holidays, during which I had a chance to read a few things, among which were:

Tom Holland's Dynasty, about the House of Caesar. It's very uneven in style, and at times unnecessarily vulgar, but the latter is not so out of place dealing with the likes of Caligula and Nero, and the whole is quite a readable account of how a bunch of autocrats managed to become indispensable and imperial despite, in principle, having no formal office, and managed to strip Roman citizens of their liberty while nonetheless remaining quite popular. I found the parts about Augustus to be particularly good. The whole has the refreshing tendency to avoid the false tone of just-the-facts objectivity that has come to infect works by historians; it's quite clear that the bulk of what we have about the August Household is gossip, and it salvages what it can of objectivity by recognizing various points of view in the gossip. You can ignore almost all of the reviews for the work, I think; none that I have seen are very good or even very accurate, probably because reviewers for history are addicted to trying to assess history texts in terms of arbitrary standards of relevance 'for our times'.

Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda, the founding novel of the popular nineteenth century genre of Ruritanian Romance, is a short, quick, and rollicking read. I don't think I've ever read it before, but it was excellent. It doesn't have any pretensions as great literature, and yet it has the distinctive characteristic of great literature, that it never ceases to delight. Hope apparently wrote a more tragic sequel, Rupert of Hentzau, as well some other, more loosely related, Ruritania works, which I will eventually have to look up.

Jean Paul Sartre's The Words is a writer's autobiography, although perhaps one should say it's an elaborate fakery of an autobiography. Everyone I have seen discuss it reads it as a straight autobiography of Sartre's early life, but there are too many signs that this can't be the whole story: his repeated tying of literature to imposture and illusion, the careful tuning of his memories to meet psychoanalytic expectations, the endless (but indirect and subtle!) flattering of the reader as a reader. In reality, I think it should be seen as a literary exploration of Sartre's own experience of reading and writing, draped loosely and somewhat artificially over a chronological frame of Sartre's childhood.

* I saw Aquaman in 3D. It lacks some of the charm of Wonder Woman, but is more consistent story-wise. Despite being a DC offering, it's OK as a movie. As a 3D movie, however, it is splendid; they obviously put a lot of thought into the visual aspect of the movie, and unlike a lot of movies where they mostly just use the 3D to spruce up some fight scenes, practically every scene of this movie is enriched in some way by it. If you like 3D, this is one to see. Even if you aren't interested in 3D, this is a great movie for visual spectacle -- wide, sweeping ocean scenes and the like -- and so probably worth a splurge for theater viewing.

* Thony Christie discusses internalism vs. externalism in historical writing and The Seven Learned Sisters.

* Kenny Pearce compares Ibn Sina and Descartes on the nature of body.

* David Evans discusses how the gospel of Mark draws on the Old Testament to construct a Christology.

* C. S. Lewis, Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus

* Nathaniel McCallum, Inherited Guilt in Ss. Augustine and Cyril. I've noted before that reatus is often broader than 'guilt', being something more like 'liability'; so we always have to be careful, as McCallum notes, to take the context into account.

* Timothy Larsen on John Stuart Mill's religious views.

* Roger Scruton, The Fury of the Modernists.

* A journalist from Der Spiegel by the name of Claas Relotius was tasked with reporting on rural America in the age of Trump, and wrote a piece on the little town of Fergus Falls. He was caught manufacturing lies to spice up the story with rural American stereotypes for his German readers by a couple of local reporters -- fictional persons, fictional stories, events that could not possibly have happened. He eventually was fired, and a number of other articles written by him have been shown to have fabricated information. Given that some of the manufactured stories won awards, it would be worthwhile for Der Spiegel and the journalistic community in Germany to contemplate why they were taken in so completely by stories that read like crazy caricatures; Relotius got away with what he did because he was giving people what they wanted to read. That reflection will, of course, not happen. But it's a good example of how absolutely crucial local journalists on local beats are to the journalistic ecosystem.

* The PNC Christmas Price Index jumps up a bit due to a surge in the price of geese and in wages for entertainers.

* Eduard Habsburg on how to make a Hungarian pörkölt:

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Two New Poem Drafts


Lift up your father, Aeneas;
the wrath on the temples is burning.
Stir up your blood, Aeneas;
your road courses West unreturning.
Step by step runs the path you will travel;
seas will be crossed ere the end;
pyres will burn to bright heaven;
down shall your highway descend.
Great is your name, Aeneas,
mighty the call that you hear.
Troy shall be joined to the wolf cubs,
nations shall tremble with fear.
Lupa pepercit their motto,
eagles on high guide their way;
slaughter shall be their true genius;
God's very Son they shall slay.
Hold not your hand from the matter,
the sword of the ages to wield.
for ever by fate are you favored,
but never to fate shall you yield.
Lift up your father, Aeneas,
your destiny seize, keep it pure.
Turn yourself homeward, Aeneas:
all good comes to those who endure.

I Know Not How

I know not how the world was born,
yet born it was.
I know not how the veil is torn,
yet torn it is.
I know not how God gives His grace,
yet this He does.
I known not how worlds formed in place,
and yet they are.
I known not how planets can endure;
they travel still.
I known not how stars meet their fate,
and yet they will.

I known not how the mighty suns
that brightly shine
in burning vessels swiftly run
through space and time,

nor know I how your love has come
upon my heart,
nor how this is, nor how it ends
or even starts,
and yet it like the wind descends
to blaze like stars.

I know not how you can be,
and yet you are.

Music on My Mind

Today is the Feast of St. Stephen the Proto-Martyr, traditionally a day for doing charity to the poor. The most famous of all St. Stephen's Day carols:

Loreen McKennitt, "Good King Wenceslas".

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

And Shall I Silent Be?

by George Herbert

The shepherds sing; and shall I silent be?
My God, no hymn for Thee?
My soul's a shepherd too; a flock it feeds
Of thoughts, and words, and deeds.
The pasture is Thy word: the streams, Thy grace
Enriching all the place.
Shepherd and flock shall sing, and all my powers
Outsing the daylight hours.
Then will we chide the sun for letting night
Take up his place and right:
We sing one common Lord; wherefore he should
Himself the candle hold.
I will go searching, till I find a sun
Shall stay, till we have done;
A willing shiner, that shall shine as gladly,
As frost-nipped suns look sadly.
Then will we sing, and shine all our own day,
And one another pay:
His beams shall cheer my breast, and both so twine,
Till ev'n His beams sing, and my music shine.

Due Festive Show

Christmas Without Christ
by Bl. John Henry Newman

How can I keep my Christmas feast
In its due festive show,
Reft of the sight of the High Priest
From whom its glories flow?

I hear the tuneful bells around,
The blessèd towers I see;
A stranger on a foreign ground,
They peal a fast for me.

O Britons! now so brave and high,
How will ye weep the day
When Christ in judgment passes by,
And calls the Bride away!

Your Christmas then will lose its mirth,
Your Easter lose its bloom:
Abroad, a scene of strife and dearth;
Within, a cheerless home!

December 25, 1832.


Prima Luce, "Gaudete".

Monday, December 24, 2018

Brought for Us So Low

Christmas Eve
by Christina Rossetti

Christmas hath darkness
Brighter than the blazing noon,
Christmas hath a chillness
Warmer than the heat of June,
Christmas hath a beauty
Lovelier than the world can show:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low.

Earth, strike up your music,
Birds that sing and bells that ring;
Heaven hath answering music
For all Angels soon to sing:
Earth, put on your whitest
Bridal robe of spotless snow:
For Christmas bringeth Jesus,
Brought for us so low.

Music on My Mind

Cimorelli, "Silent Night".

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Let Us See Our Lamps Are Lighted

For Advent
by Christian Rossetti

Sweet sweet sound of distant waters, falling
On a parched and thirsty plain;
Sweet sweet song of soaring skylark, calling
On the sun to shine again;
Perfume of the rose, only the fresher
For past fertilizing rain;
Pearls amid the sea, a hidden treasure
For some daring hand to gain; –
Better, dearer than all these
Is the earth beneath the trees:
Of a much more priceless worth
Is the old, brown, common earth.

Little snow-white lamb, piteously bleating
For thy mother far away;
Saddest sweetest nightingale, retreating
With thy sorrow from the day;
Weary fawn whom night has overtaken,
From the herd gone quite astray;
Dove whose nest was rifled and forsaken
In the budding month of May; –
Roost upon the leafy trees;
Lie on earth and take your ease;
Death is better far than birth:
You shall turn again to earth.

Listen to the never-pausing murmur
Of the waves that fret the shore:
See the ancient pine that stands the firmer
For the storm-shock that it bore;
And the moon her silver chalice filling
With light from the great sun's store;
And the stars which deck our temple's ceiling
As the flowers deck its floor;
Look and hearken while you may,
For these things shall pass away:
All these things shall fail and cease;
Let us wait the end in peace.

Let us wait the end in peace, for truly
That shall cease which was before:
Let us see our lamps are lighted, duly
Fed with oil nor wanting more:
Let us pray while yet the Lord will hear us,
For the time is almost o'er;
Yea, the end of all is very near us;
Yea, the Judge is at the door.
Let us pray now, while we may;
It will be too late to pray
When the quick and dead shall all
Rise at the last trumpet-call.

Music on My Mind

Clamavi De Profundis, "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen".