27 August 2017

Jean Jules-Verne: Jules Verne (1973; trans. and adapted by Roger Greaves 1976)

Jean Jules-Verne, the only surviving child of the marriage between Jeanne and Michel Verne (who was Jules Verne's only child), only knew his grandfather for twelve years, although (failing other candidates) he must certainly be one of the best people to give a first-person biographical account of his knowledge of Jules Verne. But as Jean Jules-Verne spent his working life in the legal profession, I'm a little sceptical about his qualifications to talk about the quality of the books of Jules Verne, and furthermore this is a translated work, which to some extent complicates things.

But then, translation of a 'non-fictional' book (if that means much) is surely preferable, and much less dubious, than a translation of a work of fiction? Usually, yes, although I refuse to mention any more of my obsession with Howard Parshley's almost criminal interference with Simone de Beauvor's Le deuxième sexe. Mercifully, Roger Greaves's book has no resemblance to that horrific monster. This is a considered, developed, and apparently generally well-written text: if some of the time it reads a little clunkily, that may well be because that's the way people used to speak.

It isn't my purpose here to speak of the author's impressions of Jules Verne's more famous works, such as  Voyage au centre de la terre (1864) (Journey to the Centre of the Earth), Vingt mille lieues sous la mer (1870) (Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea), or Le Tour du monde en quatre-vingt jours (1873) (Around the World in Eighty Days).

No, what I found most interesting was the obscure L'Île à hélice (1895) (trans. as both The Floating Island and Propellor Island), which appears in part to predict the internet, and I love the idea of reading a (fictional, still) work in chocolate print on rice paper which can be eaten after reading, and available in formats for readers with either diarrhoea or constipation.

Also fascinating, I found, was the reference to Verne's Le Rayon Vert (1882), which immediately got me thinking (quite correctly) of any possible relationship between this book and Éric Rohmer's film of the same name (1986).

And then there's the posthumous Les Naufragés du Jonathan (1909) (The Survivors of the Jonathan), in which an anarchist is forced (paradoxically) to take the lead.

Occasionally I don't understand how Jean Jules-Verne arrives at a conclusion – how, for instance, can he possibly interpret Jules Verne's opinion of Johann David Wyss's Swiss Family Robinson as an implication of weakness on the basis of the flimsy information we're given here? Or does the fault lie in the translation of Jules-Verne's text?

Whatever the faults, here we have a somewhat dysfunctional family, with a wayward son (Michel) and dull wife (Honorine), ruled over by a failed stockbroker with a passion for sailing, an apparent passion for an unnamed mistress in Asnières, but an obsession for a hobby (writing) which brings him in a lot of money. And surprisingly, perhaps, Jules Verne was definitely a kind of anarchist.

A venerable book on a man about whom no doubt much more research has been done in later years, but I shall discover that in time.

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