The title "Sans dessus dessous" is probably best translated as "Topsy Turvy,"
in English, at least if one considers the contents of the novel and the
glaring contrast it represents to his earlier and more famous works. Here,
Barbicane, Maston and the Gun Club decide to alter the Earth's axis with a
massive cannon blast in order to uncover vast mineral wealth hidden beneath
oceans and the ice cap (and to claim the new land for the USA). Despite
warnings that such an explosion would flood most seaside cities of the world,
kill millions of people, raise other lands to new altitudes where it would
now be impossible to live, etc., these hubris-filled scientists decide to
complete their project nevertheless. In a classic "deus ex machina" ending,
when the cannon fires and nothing happens, it is discovered that a bolt of
lightning had struck when Maston was doing his algebraic computations--causing
him to make an error in the Earth's circumference, and thereby dooming the
project to failure. The conclusion to the novel intones: "To change the
conditions by which the Earth moves is an effort well beyond those permitted
to humanity. Man cannot alter the order of the Universe as established by
This novel is only one of several written by Verne after 1886 which portray
either dangerous or insane scientists who attempt to use technology for
selfish reasons (and who are usually chastised by Providence). As I say in my
book, "Verne's pessimism becomees much more palpable in this latter novels. His
science turns increasingly misanthropic and his technology often verges on the
satanic. And the idealistic Byronic romanticism of his work becomes progress-
ively tinged with overtones of Baudelarian `spleen,' of Huysmanesque
introversion, and of Jarryesque derision. ... Verne's treatment of the `hero'
scientist closely reflects this evolution. From saint to titan to angel of
death, the metamorphosis of the scientist in the VOYAGES EXTRAORDINAIRES says
a great deal about Verne's changing ideological stance concerning the basic
relationship of science to human values."
SANS DESSUS DESSOUS is but one of many later novels which seems to almost
purposefully undercut the positivistic idealism of the earlier ones. And
recycling the same protagonists (as in MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, as in MASTER OF
THE WORLD), Verne drives the point home even more. He seems to be saying:
"Be careful. Science can corrupt even the most heroic."
Any comprehensive and balanced treatment of Jules Verne must take into
account this more pessimistic side of him (present from the beginning--just
look at PARIS IN THE 20TH CENTURY), and it is only after Hetzel's death that
we begin to see it clearly in his later works.
So the title of SANS DESSUS DESSOUS ("Topsy Turvy") is one that is highly
Received on Sat 30 Mar 1996 - 20:41:39 IDT