Journey to the Centre of the Earth

By Jules Verne; William Butcher | Go to book overview
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IN France, Jules Verne is not the same person as in Britain. South of the Channel, Verne is recognized as an authentic, nineteenth-century writer with a proper set of Collected Works. Since the 1960s, any surprise, condescension, or irony at reading or studying the Voyages extraordinaires has disappeared, even among those who never actually buy any books. Balzac, Stendhal, Verne, Zola: the odd man out, the least integrated into Gallic national culture, is the Italianate Stendhal.

But in the English-speaking countries it is rare to meet adults who will admit to liking Verne. He is a children's author, a writer of science fiction, a poor stylist, at best responsible for films starring James Mason. His works may be fiction, but certainly don't count as literature. He is short-trousered, not really French, and has nothing to say about the 'human condition'.

One reason for such a disparity must be the generally atrocious English 'translations'. The overwhelming majority of books by 'Djools' Verne are leaden or wooden, and possibly infringe the Trade Descriptions Act. They have lost up to half their contents, but have gained instead some wonderful howlers. There is no equivalent here to Baudelaire's Poe or to Scott Moncrieff's Proust, with their textual 'thickness' and their sense of overall belonging.

Journey to the Centre of the Earth itself has been translated more than ten times, but many are very poor indeed. The best-known version is still the atrocious 1872 one, which rebaptizes. Axel as Harry and Lidenbrock as Hardwigg, makes them both Scottish, and finishes each paragraph with at least one totally invented sentence.

But this novel hardly deserves such treatment. It was the first unqualified critical success of Verne's--and the first to be completed under the close monitoring of his publisher and mentor Hetzel. Journey to the Centre ofthe Earth


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