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Mistress Branican and San Diego

From: <roger.showley~at~uniontrib.com>
Date: Wed, 22 Dec 1999 11:00:03 -0800
To: jvf~at~math.technion.ac.il (Jules Verne Forum)



In today's editions of The San Diego Union-Tribune, we're running my story
on "Mistress Branican." You and your members might like to read it.
-- Roger Showley

        
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A Jules Verne S.D. adventure
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Obscure 1891 novel portrays city, which author never visited By Roger M.
Showley UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER December 22, 1999 Jules Verne, the
19th-century French novelist, is known for his tales of adventures under the
sea, to the moon and around the world in 80 days. But among all his
adventures, one that has become nearly forgotten holds a special place for
San Diego. The 377-page novel "Mistress Branican" was fairly popular when
first published in 1891, but has become one of the rarest of Verne's 66
novels. For any San Diego reader, the book carries a surprise beyond the
adventure woven through its pages. Virtually the entire first half is set
here and includes detailed descriptions of the town of 16,000 and its
history. And that creates a mystery that even Verne couldn't imagine would
unfold more than 100 years after the book's publication. How was it that
Verne -- who never visited San Diego -- had such a clear familiarity with
the local scene? The long-forgotten book -- unavailable at local libraries
-- recently came to light when a Union-Tribune reporter researching an
assignment on the region's history came across a reference to it in a San
Diego literary publication of the 1890s. When asked about the book, San
Diego historians and librarians said they had never heard of it. "Mistress
Branican" is about Dolly Branican's 15-year search for her sea-captain
husband, John, who left on a trading visit from San Diego to Calcutta in
1875 and within a few months was reported missing. The tale involves
several trans-Pacific search parties, a villain trying to cheat Dolly out of
her inheritance and a grueling trek into the Australian outback. Not only is
John Branican rescued, but the reunited couple discover a teen-age son they
never knew they had. "Mistress Branican," said The New York Times in a Dec.
21, 1891, review, appeared "just in time for the holidays to tempt those who
are looking for a book full of adventures to give to a boy." The
Union-Tribune located a copy of the hard-to-find novel via the Internet at a
Santa Cruz bookseller, who sold it to the newspaper for $325. (The paper is
donating the book to the San Diego Public Library's California Room
collection at the downtown Central Library, and photocopies will be given to
the San Diego Historical Society and San Diego Maritime Museum archives.)
How, why San Diego? There is no clear-cut answer as to how Verne
(1828-1905), who spoke only French and never visited this part of the world,
obtained information about the area and why he picked San Diego as a setting
for the novel. A clue may lie in a fragile copy of the June 1891 Golden Era
local literary magazine stored at the San Diego Historical Society's
research archives in Balboa Park. In a notice headlined "Jules Verne and
San Diego," publisher Harr Wagner reprinted a letter from Verne to Rosa
Meyer Cave, the French-born wife of San Diego's first dentist, Daniel Cave.
He had been president of the San Diego Chamber of Commerce, and also was
from France. "The photographs you had kindly sent me aided me materially in
describing this beautiful city," Verne wrote Rosa Cave. Any correspondence
from the French author would most probably have been forwarded to the
French-speaking Caves. Not only were the Caves fluent in French, but as
chamber president in 1885-86, Dr. Cave would have been a person
knowledgeable about San Diego, its economy and geography. Another bit of
correspondence preserved in the French national library included Verne's
request that a copy of the finished book be sent to Mrs. Cave. The San Diego
Public Library board minutes of 1892 and catalog of 1895 indicate that the
book was donated to the library. The book, however, is no longer in the
collection. These brief references, Verne scholars say, offer proof for the
first time that the author corresponded directly with sources around the
world to collect information about places he never visited. Apart from
writing the adventure story, Verne indirectly played into the hands of local
boosters eager to place San Diego on the world map. "From all countries in
the Old World, as from all points of the New," Verne wrote in the novel,
"let not tourists hesitate to visit this young and lively capital of Lower
(Southern) California; they will be hospitably welcomed by its generous
inhabitants, and they will not regret their trip, save perhaps that they may
think it too short." Clue may lie in Arctic rescue While the book fits
Verne's mission to take readers to faraway places, it remains a mystery as
to why he chose San Diego. Until now, researchers thought the city would be
a logical starting place for a trans-Pacific trading mission. But a more
direct connection came to light last September, just after the Verne-Cave
correspondence came to light. The feature films unit of the National
Geographic Society called the Union-Tribune's library to inquire about local
newspaper coverage of an ill-fated U.S. Army expedition to the Arctic in
1881-84. A library researcher checked the newspaper archives and found that
Henrietta Nesmith Greely, then living in San Diego, had mounted a national
campaign through The San Diego Union and in Congress to rescue her husband
and his party, who had become stranded. The dramatic rescue of Adolphus
Washington Greely and members of his party was reported around the world.
Verne, it was known, had a keen interest in polar exploration and most
likely followed the rescue closely. (Greely, a Medal of Honor winner, later
led the Army Signal Corps and, as an Army officer, restored order to San
Francisco following the 1906 earthquake.) Verne, therefore, easily could
have settled on San Diego because of its prominence in the efforts to rescue
the Greely explorers. This is all speculation because the author destroyed
most of his correspondence before his death, and the Chamber of Commerce
minutes and index to The San Diego Union do not include any references to
Verne's interest in the city. Like all Verne books, the first French
edition of "Mistress Branican" was lavishly illustrated with some plates in
color, including one showing San Diego Bay. Illustrator Leon Benett
evidently used the photographs Verne obtained from San Diego, or perhaps
other sources, to depict rather accurately Point Loma, the Gaslamp Quarter
and Middletown. Even before Verne's San Diego connection came to light, the
North American Jules Verne Society had scheduled its June 2000 convention in
San Diego. The new information about "Mistress Branican" may provide a focus
for the three-day gathering, according to James Keeline, manager of the
Prince and the Pauper bookstore in Normal Heights and the Verne collector
organizing the convention. San Diego plays a minor role in another, more
readily available Verne novel, the 1895 "Propeller Island." The satire on
technically dependent billionaires tells the tale of a group of musicians
who are detoured on a trip to San Diego to visit a man-made,
propeller-driven island populated by the rich. Arthur B. Evans, professor
of French and a Verne scholar at DePauw University in Indiana, called the
new information about "Mistress Branican" significant for students of the
famous author. He said Verne is enjoying something of a revival within the
literary community, among the general public and in Hollywood. "My personal
theory," Evans said, "is that we are going through a similar period of
accelerated social change in terms of technology and in our daily lives. . .
. These films and novels address this kind of thing -- an intrinsic sort of
alienation -- but turn it toward entertainment." Verne's writing has been
criticized as being too geared toward children, but Evans said that the
author's work has suffered from poor translations and editing. He hopes that
new translations that he is overseeing during the next decade will elevate
Verne's standing among critics. Whatever opinion is held of his literary
merit, Verne ranks as one of the world's 10-most translated authors,
according to a UNESCO survey.

 <<...>> Copyright 1999 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Received on Wed 22 Dec 1999 - 21:09:27 IST

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