Verne, Jules. The Kip Brothers. Trans. Stanford Luce. Ed. Arthur B. Evans. Introduction and Notes by Jean-Michel Margot. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2007. 508 pp. Jacketed cloth. ISBN 978-0-8195-6704-8. $29.95.
Verne, Jules. The Mysterious Island. Trans. Sidney Kravitz. Ed. Arthur Evans. Introduction and Critical Material by William Butcher. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 2001. 728 pp. Paperback. ISBN 978-0-8195-6559-4. $24.95.
The Wesleyan University Press's Classics of Science Fiction series produces complete translations of non-English language classics of fantastic fiction, and in many cases, they are either the first translations or the first complete translations, introducing both the already famous and the somewhat more obscure texts of respected authors to English-language readers. Jules Verne's The Kip Brothers and The Mysterious Island represent both ends of the spectrum with The Kip Brothers being a more obscure offering and The Mysterious Island somewhat better known, at least in abridged editions. (The other Verne novels in the series, The Begum's Millions, Invasion of the Sea, and The Mighty Orinoco, fall into the more obscure category.) As an avid reader of fantastic fiction and a scholar of the genre, I cannot sing the praises of this series too loudly!
The series is valuable for many reasons. First, it offers complete translations of the fictional works, revealing much about the authors' techniques and conceptual frameworks that disappear in heavily edited and abridged translations. Second, the first translations of more obscure works by well-respected authors give readers and scholars fuller pictures of these authors' careers, providing both links between titles and elaborations on the authors' literary trajectories. In Verne's case, this aspect is particularly valuable, and it is hoped that more of his titles will make it into print. Third, the editing, critical framework of essays, careful indexing, and useful annotations are a delight to scholars for whom a great deal of background work is no longer necessary.
With the publication of The Kip Brothers and The Mysterious Island, it is no longer possible to dismiss Verne as a "children's author" (despite the fact that he was advertised as such in turn-of-the-century France and Anglo-American contexts). Revealing the sociological, scientific, historical, and geographic breadth of his vision, these titles provide room for critical speculation for years to come. Each work presents both the unabridged text and the illustrations of the early publication format for his French editions--illustrations derived from Verne's own travels and the work he did on non-fictional travel titles for his demanding French publisher, Hetzel. While it is true that these are scholarly editions and will be more of interest to specialists than general readers, their publication is a necessary step in exposing the non-French speaking world to the breadth of Verne's work.
The Kip Brothers, a story of murder and false imprisonment on one of France's more notorious penal colonies in Australia, is rather grim. It incorporates Verne's lifelong interests in sailing and travel and reflects the political and social acumen--conservative as it was--that characterized his public life. The eponymous Kips are two Dutch brothers, Karl and Pieter, who are picked up by the ship, James Cook, after having been shipwrecked. They are destitute but impress the captain with their honesty and willingness to work for their passage home from the Australian and New Zealand islands where the ship is traveling. The first part of the book chronicles this journey until the ship stops at Karawara Island in the Bismark Archipelago (near New Zealand) to visit friends, and Captain Harry Gibson is killed by some men who are thought to be the Kips. The reader already knows that it was sailors Flig Valt and Vin Mod who actually kill the captain and who lie to convict the unfortunate brothers. …