Volume 1 of the Palik Series, published in conjunction with the North American Jules Verne Society
Jules Verne is the acclaimed author of such pioneering science fiction as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Journey to the Center of the Earth. Yet he also wrote much more, including stories never before translated into English, which will be presented for the first time in the Palik series, under the auspices of the North American Jules Verne Society.
Foreshadowing such classics as Around the World in 80 Days, this inaugural volume focuses on two of Verne’s earliest humorous stories, The Marriage of Mr. Anselme des Tilleuls and Jédédias Jamet, or The Tale of an Inheritance. Translation is provided by Edward Baxter and Kieran O’Driscoll, two of the leading Verne experts; critical commentary examines both stories, and scholars explore why some of the author’s stories were overlooked for so many years.
Foreword by Brian Taves; Introduction by Walter James Miller; The Marriage of Mr. Anselme des Tilleuls translated by Edward Baxter, with a preface and notes by Jean-Michel Margot, afterword by Edward Baxter; Appendix: Jédédias Jamet, or The Tale of an Inheritance translated, and with a preface and annotations, by Kieran M. O’Driscoll.
Reviewed by Donald M. Hassler
“The Rescue of Jules Verne the Writer,” Extrapolation 53.3 (Fall 2012): 379-382.
Here are four new volumes published under the auspices of and with the support of The North American Jules Verne Society. They are the most recent product of a remarkable two decades of scholarly activity in English with Verne texts that has ranged from a rather abortive start by the University of Nebraska Press with a 1998 edition through some excellent editions afterwards by Nebraska, by Oxford University and Wesleyan University Presses, and by Prometheus Books. Brian Taves describes this overall scholarly activity well in his opening essay to the first installment. The publisher for all four volumes is BearManor Media located in Albany, Georgia; the copyright is held by The North American Jules Verne Society. The series, which has more volumes projected, is named in honor of a late benefactor of the NAJVS, Edward D. Palik. The editorial team includes distinguished translators and scholars of Verne. The whole project to date has not only produced these beautiful and thorough books but also opened up again the scholarly treasure chest of puzzles about how to translate Verne and what to make of the important writings of his that are not yet in English. I think that every library and every serious student of Verne, sf, and French literature needs to get these four volumes and to sign up for what is yet to come. The work here, and the scholarly activity behind it, tells us how misunderstood this very popular writer has been. Taves presents a major literary mapping of what is important to us as we try to sort out the relation of genre sf to mainstream literature.
In another part of the scholarly apparatus to the first volume, translator Edward Baxter writes, "According to an article published in the Swiss newsweekly Hebdo in May, 1989, the three most widely translated literary works in the world are, in order, the Bible, the writings of V.l. Lenin, and the novels of Jules Verne" (83). Clearly, Verne was very popular for his massive mix of "boy story" and early sf so that to meet the demand the number of translations referred to by Baxter proliferated and, what is more, defined the writer. This current project by the NAJVS, as well as the work coming from the university presses mentioned above, has the clear intention of redefining the writer that Verne was. Every text published here is new in English translation. But even the French study of Verne and the French awareness of his literary accomplishment will be somewhat shaped again by these efforts since even some of the French manuscripts are new discoveries that had been locked away in trunks and not used during Verne's career as a writer. Taves, who is the prime editor for each of these new volumes, titles his opening essay "The Mission of the Palik Series" and writes, "[W]e have assembled scholars and translators, 'the Jules Verne rescue team,' as we have been dubbed by our dean, Walter James Miller" (1).
One set of literary effects that has been rescued in the first volume is Verne the fledgling writer before he discovered the 1856 Baudelaire translation of Edgar Allan Poe stories titled by Baudelaire Histoires extraordinaires. Poe became the model for the Verne Voyages extraordinaires that set his popular career on the road to its popular status with Lenin and the Bible. But the early short stories are not in this mode at all. The principal fiction revived in the first volume is a story titled in translation "The Marriage of Mr. Anselme des Tilleuls," which was written at some point in the 1850s. It was not published until 199 1 in Switzerland. Baxter's translation is its first appearance in English. I think Taves and his fellow scholars do a fine job trying to unravel the bibliographic mystery of the manuscript and its publication history (one scholar has said that all of Verne is a "bibliographic nightmare"). More importantly, this new NAJVS volume begins the discussion of effects in the story. It is a comic and "filial" story not only about a funny marriage but also about generational allegiance and the past. It is grounded on Latin grammar and etymology and offers a wonderful, even uncanny, premonition of how sons and fathers interact. I say premonition because the most interesting line of Verne scholarship in our time has to do with the ways in which his son, Michel, changed (and added to) his work after his death so that the Vernian library of texts extends far into the twentieth century with discoveries we have made in the twenty-first century. This early story, in any case, is deep with resonance and highly literary in its effects - and very comic. The latter point, to me especially, suggests origins for a comic response to sensawonder adventure and science that continues in Verne's well-known work.
In addition to Poe as well as Latin grammar, the young Verne paid close attention to what could be read and mined by writers from the tradition. Like many students of the eighteenth century, he valued Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (17 19) immensely; but Verne actually thought (again in a sort of filial way) that the later derivative by Johann Wyss, The Swiss Family Robinson (18 12), was the more important model because it included family context. The second volume in the Taves set includes the rejected manuscript of Marooned with Uncle Robinson in addition to some prefaces hitherto unpublished in English to his Robinsonades. Here again the fate of the last of Verne's Robinsonades, The Eternal Adam, is unclear since we do not know, from the evidence thus far, how much was changed by Michel after Verne's death. That mysterious story is told in this second volume with the conclusion that, regardless of authorship, "critics are agreed that [The Eternal Adam] is a masterpiece" (17). The translator of Marooned with Uncle Robinson is Sidney Kravitz, who also recently did the translation and the fine, critical edition of the fiction that Verne reworked from "Marooned" titled The Mysterious Island. The wonderful Ray Harryhausen movie adaptation of the latter text is well-noted in the Taves volume, and just as in all four volumes, the reproduced illustrations both from printed texts and from the film are an added bonus.
Another literary mode that tends to be ignored in Verne studies when his "boy story" adventures predominate is the drama. For Georges Sand, Robert Browning, and others in nineteenth-century literature, the theater was an arena in which they wanted to excel even if their reputations were built in other writing modes. In fact, one of the early scholarly revivals of a Verne text that anticipates this Palik Series is the scholarly edition published by Prometheus Books in 2003 of Edward Baxter's translation of Journey Through the Impossible. The text for this drama was only discovered in 1978 in the archives of the Censorship Office of the Third French Republic. Now the Palik Series brings to English readers four additional new plays by Verne that range from comedies to considerations of evolutionary dynamics; again included are magnificent reproductions of nineteenth-century illustrations. The final volume of the four initial Palik Series books is an historical romance, closely researched by Verne and in the tradition of Walter Scott and Dumas père. Taves's introduction to the volume, "Verne's Forgotten Swashbuckler," is a probing essay on another mode of writing that we had not often associated with Verne. Baxter is the translator again. Several other scholars are involved in the apparatus. It is a rich pleasure to read all four of these new volumes, and I am certain they will contribute to much more scholarly and critical work on the remarkable Jules Verne.
The Marriage of a Marquis
& Shipwrecked Family
from Yellowback Library (June, 2015)
After reading both these volumes I think the reading public owes a debt of gratitude to a great number of individuals. First off to Dr. Brian Taves for his informative and incisive introductions. Next off to that Jules Verne maven, the late Edward D. Palik who made this project possible and after whom this series is named. To The North American Jules Verne Society who spearheaded this endeavor in the first place. To the many translators who labored over the original French to make these stories accessible to English speaking readers. To Bear Manor Press who is dedicated to issuing these volumes for our benefit. And lastly of all to Jules Verne, the author we THOUGHT we all knew. As it turns out, we don’t at all.
The Palik series is a collection of Jules Verne material never before available to the general public. These are stories that got swept under the rug, all but unknown even to the advanced scholar, and a dedicated cadre of academics have exhumed them for our collective reading pleasure.
Volume One, The Marriage of a Marquis, is a humorous novelette that opened my eyes to the vast possibilities of Verne material looming on the horizon. When it was written by the young author is not known but 1855 or shortly thereafter has been suggested. It is by turns pithy and appealing, not a science fiction tale at all but one that needs to be read and savored if one wishes to know more of the Jules Verne canon. You will certainly enjoy it as I did. The book is fleshed out with a fragment, Jededias Jamet, that would have been something of a travel novel. I think that unfinished Verne is better than no Verne at all and so there is undoubtedly something to enjoy in this short exercise in spite of its brevity. If anything our creative juices can be put to work, managing the machinery of figuring out how Verne might have concluded it. The editor offers some convenient notes along those lines.
Volume Two is more typical Verne, the Verne we all love and admire. It is a Swiss Family Robinson-themed story based on the situation but with a different cast of characters. According to Dr. Taves’ indtroduction to the tale it was a favorite theme by Verne and when completed it would have been a triple decker. At 24 chapters though it is merely the first volume of a projected three-parter and was abandoned mid-stream apparently due to the publisher’s objections. As it stands it is a template for the later Mysterious Island, one of the most popular of all the Verne books. The long arm of coincidence reaches through into these pages however. The precious amadou with which to ignite a fire is conveniently discovered in Mr. Clifton’s pocket, and a grain of wheat with which to plant a field of grain is unearthed by the young daughter Belle in her dress. This however will not deter in any way from the satisfaction of the reading experience. The story is short on plot (who knows how Verne would have continued it) but strong on situation and one is swept along to see how the Cliftons will overcome challenge after challenge. I am reminded of a Pearl White serial; you will encounter a host of unresolved issues that cannot be cleared up. When you reach the end of the final chapter you will know exactly what I mean. Shipwrecked Family is a Robinsonade, one that will captivate you. Whether or not you like castaway stories this tale should appeal to you and we marvel yet again on Verne’s apparent in-depth knowledge of the natural sciences. If it were me deserted on that unknown land I would have perished long ago.
In conclusion if you are a fan of 19th century escapist literature of the exotic adventure and fantasy genre, if you like Edgar Rice Burroughs, or perhaps Rider Haggard, you owe it to yourself to log into this series. It will not disappoint you. Some tales you may respond to more positively than to others yet all are pleasurable reading taken on their own merits. And we haven’t even mentioned the host of period illustrations that enliven each and every chapter, something for which BearManor Fiction needs to be congratulated. And heartily. Even if your tastes do not run in Verne’s direction and prefer Proust or Camus or James Joyce, purchase these books anyway as the brilliant introductions and forewords to each volume tell us how such a project as this needs to be handled: tipping the hat not only to the academicians but to the casual and curious reader as well. Jules Verne is indeed fortunate; he has a loyal and devoted fan club.
Here’s to Jules Verne. May he continue to thrive well into this century and beyond. We look forward to as many future volumes in the Palik Series as this publishing house can possibly “bear.”