This article was first published in Babel, pp. 131-6, Vol. 40, No. II, 1994, under the title “Journey to the Centre of the Text”. This revised version appears here with acknowledgements to Babel.Some sort of connection between Jules Verne's poor reputation in the English-speaking countries and the generally inadequate translations to date would seem indisputable.1 The aim of the present piece is to provide a brief account of some of the problems and pitfalls of translating Voyage au centre de la Terre (Journey to the Centre of the Earth, OUP, 1992).
With time, our man gets bolder. Every word of Chapter XLI, describing “Harry's” bird-nesting in the crags of an old castle, is invented from beginning to end. Was the budding author perhaps paid by the word? Probably not: his scalpel is just as devastating as his transplants. He unfeelingly cuts the four-page “decoding” scene where Axel accidentally demonstrates his love for his cousin—Freud would have been fascinated, but generations of English-language readers have never suspected the depths of the young man's passion. Also excised are Verne's acerbic allusions to the theory of evolution. Was the progenitor of such subterranean monsters a suppressed clergy(wo)man? This might explain such gems as “his back raised like a cat in a passion” (for “buttressed on its enormous legs”), or the wonderful Freudian idea of a mastodon employing “his horrid trunk” to “crush the rocks to powder” (poor Verne could do no better than “uses his tusks to break up the rocks”). In sum, a massacre.
“Hardwigg” Verne OUP Looking back to all that has occurred to me since that eventful day, I am scarcely able to believe in the reality of my adventures. They were truly so wonderful that even now I am bewildered when I think of them.
My uncle was a German, having married my mother's sister, an Englishwoman. Being very much attached to his fatherless nephew, he invited me to study under him in his home in the fatherland. This home was in a large town, and my uncle a professor of philosophy, chemistry, geology, mineralogy, and many other ologies.
Le 24 mai 1863, un dimanche, mon oncle, le professeur Lidenbrock, revint précipitamment vers sa petite maison située au numéro 19 de Königstrasse, l'une des plus anciennes rues du vieux quartier de Hambourg.
La bonne Marthe dut se croire fort en retard, car le dîner commençait à peine à chanter sur le fourneau de la cuisine.
On 24 May 1863, a Sunday, my uncle, Professor Lidenbrock, came rushing back towards his little house, at No. 19 Königstrasse, one of the oldest streets in the historic part of Hamburg.
Martha the maid must have thought she was running very late, for dinner had hardly begun to simmer on the kitchen range.