Jules Verne Forum



Re: A possible origin for the harfang...

From: Terry Harpold <tharpold~at~english.ufl.edu>
Date: Sun, 24 Apr 2005 05:30:18 -0400
To: Jules Verne Forum <jvf~at~gilead.org.il>

On Wednesday, April 20, 2005, Ian Thompson <ithompson~at~geog.gla.ac.uk> writes:

>The idea of using a wild bird of prey as an
>important character, indeed a determining character in the denouement of the
>plot, is so imaginative that it is perhaps just possible that reading
>Nadier's account (which was published in a handy pocket sized volume) put
>the seeds of the idea in his head.

I have always thought that the passages describing the harfang's flight over the still waters of the underground lake -- in the climactic scene, when Nell calls the bird down from the vault of the cavern, foiling Silfax's plan to explode the "grisou", and in the closing paragraph -- "on chante encore dans les veillées écossaises la légende de l'oiseau..." -- might represent a sort of conceptual kernel of the novel: in a sense, the novel is "about" the spectacle of this fearsome bird on the wing.

Férat's wonderfully creepy portrait of Nell and the harfang (ch. xv) confirms this, I think, and represents something unique in the illustrations. The two, a matched pair, look directly out of the page with uncannily empty eyes. The portrait is unique in the Voyages. Other depictions in the Hetzel editions of the Vernian hero (Aronnax, Fogg, Jean[ne] de Kermor, Barbicane, etc.) show her or him alone or with one or two close companions. Typically, the portraits are highly stylized, and the appearance and demeanor of the hero match details of the textual passage in which she or he is introduced ("Impey Barbicane était un homme de quarante ans, calme, froid, austère, d'un esprit éminemment sérieux… [DL ii]). That a smiling Nell is shown standing calmly beside the bizarre Harfang, perched to her right, wings spread and talons clenched – a staging of girl and bird not mentioned in the text – suggests that the engraving is kind of blason or herald: a representation of two aspects of the same, ambiguous
(erotic) agency.

Contrasting with this strange dual portrait is Riou's first portrait of Hatteras (CH I, xii). His dog Duk stands at his side. Both in the same direction (north?), out of the frame. They are companions, Duk is inseparable from his master, but they are not visually and ethically unified in the way that Nell and the Harfang are clearly shown to be.

The depiction of Harry's struggle with the Harfang, only a few pages before Nell and the Harfang's portrait (IN xiv), also illustrates their shared identity: Harry holds the swooning Nell in one arm and stabs with an upraised knife at the attacking bird with the other. Nell's hand swings emptily in the lantern light. The Harfang strikes at Harry, its outstretched wings merging with the blackness above. Harry is caught precisely between them: that is, between her as-yet unawakened, passive sexuality, and the Harfang's violent, appetitive menace.

Terry Harpold
Assistant Professor
Department of English
University of Florida


"Reading in no way obliges you to understand."
Received on Sun 24 Apr 2005 - 12:30:33 IDT

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