French Studies, Vol. 47, Part 3


Jules Verne: Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Translated and edited by william butcher. (The World's Classics). Oxford-New York, Oxford University Press, 1992. xxxviii + 234 pp. Pb £4.99.

Horrid crimes and misdemeanours of idiomatic incompetence ('a little everywhere'), cultural ignorance ('Old Smoky', for Edinburgh), both ('let us return to our muttons'), pre-metrication literalism ('four twenty-fifths of a square inch', for a square centimeter), and unannounced curtailment have long been visited by Anglo-Saxon translators on Jules Verne's Voyages extraordinaires. In entering into an ongoing commitment, the publishers have correctly entrusted the undertaking to a polymath with a safe pair of hands, a virtuoso exegete of the onomastic clues and ciphers of Verne's name that lie buried in the text. No less a Mentor will suffice for the reader wishing to undergo the initiate's induction into the daunting realms of mathesis and taxinomia -- geology, palaeontology, cryptography, etc. -- favoured by the author. As Dr Butcher points out (xii), Verne fits more comfortably into the category of a writer of travel and adventure stories than of science fiction. Moreover, in so far as Axel's hallucinatory vision (pp. 152-53) reflects the author's own attempts to reconcile science with the literal truth of Genesis, his position vis-à-vis the epistemè, or configuration of contemporary knowledge, was not that of a progressive. A fascinating maverick none the less, and it is a pleasure to handle an edition that allows proper endnoted indication of textual variants between the 1864 and 1867 editions, and elucidation of all manner of inconsidered Vernian trifles, even ones of linguistic interest. Here, the translator's command of Scandinavian tongues is more reliable, and a notorious misprision of vowel mutation can be resolved, with the long-suffering Gräuben at last undergoing cosmetic surgery on her Umlaut. Announced to follow is Around the World on Eighty Days; then if we had a personal preference, it would be for that cornerstone of castaway intertextuality, The Mysterious Island, to take its place among the World's Classics. The list of incidental intellectual satisfactions to be derived from the œuvre is endless, but one might wonder, in spite of the lifetime's work that undoubtedly lies ahead of a Verne translator, if the purest satisfaction in a job well done may be obtained from his alternately flat and fevered prose.

University of Glasgow Geoff Woollen