Thursday, November 09, 2006

Jules Verne reexamined

Okay, your answers were pretty much what I expected to see: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea for Verne and War of the Worlds for Wells, with a smattering of other titles. The Time Machine made a stronger showing than I expected, only because I expected it to make no showing at all.

Two interesting things about Jules Verne. (These are some factoids of the sort that I run across all the time while doing research, that I can't use in the actual article I'm writing, but that are just too good to leave unmentioned.) The first is that, while yes, Verne was an enormously successful author, 54 novels and uncounted short stories published during his lifetime, reprinted world-wide, loved by millions, yadda yadda yadda, it was the stage performance rights to Around the World in 80 Days that made him rich.

See? I told you: it's all about who controls the rights.

(Hmm. Verne lived long enough. I wonder if he ever saw Georges Méliès movie, A Trip to The Moon? While this very early silent is generally considered the first special-effects driven sci-fi film, it's also another important milestone: the first inferior adaptation of a much better print work for which the author of the print work was paid jack diddly squat.)

The second interesting factoid about Verne is that he's known in the English-speaking world primarily through the 19th Century translations that were done by some Anglican clergyman named Mercier, who took it upon himself to cut the books down to a more manageable size by removing all the "objectionable" parts, including all the anti-British sentiment that reportedly permeates most of Verne's novels. For example, in the original French, Captain Nemo is a Hindu, whose motivation is a direct result of the massacre of his family by British troops during the Sepoy Mutiny.

Huh. Didn't know that. Guess I owe the folks behind The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen an apology. Maybe. Just a little one.

Anyway, here's today's question. A project was reportedly begun in the 1980s to produce new and complete English translations of Verne's work. Has anyone here seen any of these translations, and have you had a chance to do a comparative read? Alternately, can anyone here read French well, and can you comment on the differences between the French- and English-language versions of any Verne books?