Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Verne on Verne

So, as I continue to make my way bit by bit through Lottman's biography of Verne, I think the following is going to be my favorite quote from the book:

Mr. Jules Verne is the creator of a new genre 
and has earned a place of his own in 
contemporary literature. A lively storyteller, 
the equal of our finest novelists, he is at the same
 time one of the best scientific minds of our time. 
No one has endowed fiction with greater realism; 
in reading his books one wonders whether they 
are really the product of the imagination.*

The author of this paean to Verne's work is, it turns out, Verne himself. That is, the words above are Verne describing his own work, taken from a circa 1866 blurb he wrote to accompany one of his early novels. I tried to imagine one of the Inklings writing this about his own work and drew a blank  (Wms might think it but I don't think even he wd say it in print).

I think the biggest surprise, to me, is Verne's relationship with his publisher, which was closer to Elvis's with Col. Tom Parker than Tolkien's with Allen & Unwin.  I wd even go so far as to describe most of Verne's writing as Work For Hire. The publisher kept Verne on a retainer, paying him a yearly income that was later re-arranged into a monthly stipend. The copyrights belonged to the publisher, not the author, and the publisher also had great influence over the stories' contents. Sometimes Verne wd pitch a book to his publisher for inclusion in his ongoing series EXTRAORDINARY VOYAGES (in which almost all his books appeared), only to have the publisher reject it. Sometimes the publisher (M.Hetzel) demanded the ending of a book be re-written; in a few cases he assigned Verne a topic (generally it seems for his non-fiction works).  One of Verne's great ambitions, never realized, was to be made a member of the French Academy; I wonder if rumor of his arrangements with his publisher got out and counted against him (given that bias against work-for-hire continues to the present day).

In any case, pecking away at the biography has made me think I really shd at some point read up a bit on the Franco-Prussian war and the resulting Commune. It's also convinced me it's time to re-read one of the classics: TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA. Here's hoping I can find a good-quality Kindle edition.

--John R.

*JULES VERNE: AN EXPLORATORY BIOGRAPHY by Herbert R. Lottman (1996), p. 119


Paul W said...

I highly recommend Geoffrey Warwo's work on the Franco-Prussian War. It is very much an understudied conflict in the English speaking world, but is more influential on world miitary affairs, IMO, than our own Civil War was.

John D. Rateliff said...

Dear Paul W.

Thanks for the recommendation; I'll check it out.

John D. Rateliff said...

Hi Paul

Just wanted to add that I've since gotten the book (on Kindle) and read it straight through in just three days. Very readable and informative. I now know what I wanted to know, and have a basic understanding of the conflict and its role in the period.

Ironically enough, reading this book made me realize how much the game DIPLOMACY reflected the way the leaders of the most powerful countries in the world saw themselves in the period between the fall of Napoleon and the outbreak of The Great War.

--John R.