It is interesting to discover national perceptions of Verne by looking at obituaries i.e. the summing up of a life's work rather reviews of individual books. With this in mind I compared yesterday obituaries in Glasgow's two main newspapers...the Glasgow Herald and the Evening Times. The obituary in the Glasgow Herald 25th March 1905 was provided by a Reuters Correspondent filed from Amiens. It is on the whole a sympathetic and well-informed piece as the following extract shows;
"Although the dreamer entered largely into Verne's stories there was nevertheless an immense amount of genuine information and everything he wrote came to be regarded with a scientific as well as imaginative interest.
In appearance he was fairly stout, with silvery hair and beard, and restless brown eyes full of humour and kindness - an altogether commanding personality".
We can compare this with an extract from the Evening Times of the same date;
" M. Jules Verne, who died yesterday at the advanced age of 77 was not a literary man. While his medium was fiction, he did not create any great characters, or write any novel for which we can prophesy permanence, or wield a style to secure for him the admiration of adult readers of cultured taste.
During more than thirty years he made himself indispensable to that section of the reading public which is perhaps the most difficult to please. The Human Boy is the most exacting and the most honest of literary critics"
Admittedly, the Evening Times was a paper for the masses as compared with the more sophisticated Herald and would possibly not have employed the highest calibre of literary journalists. Even so, the obituary in the Evening Times indicates common perceptions of Verne in Scotland.Firstly that he was essentially a writer of science fiction and a children's author, and more specifically a writer for boys (perhaps reflecting the inclusion of pieces by Verne in the Boy's Own Paper). Secondly, the obituary did not include reference to any of Verne's books suggesting that his specific work was generally not known, especially in untranslated form.Thirdly, in both obituaries there is no trace of Verne's relationship to Scotland...his visits and the books based on his first hand experience. Admittedly Voyage à Reculons was not to appear in English until 1992 and on his second voyage in 1879, although by then world famous, he managed to travel relatively incognito.
This ignorance of Verne's travels and of his "Scottish" novels still persists here and the most common perception is of a writer of science fiction and/or a children's author. The most common, and sometimes only volumes to be found in Glasgow's many public libraries are Around the World in Eighty Days, Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea...all the subjects of popular films.
Finally, the Evening Times author would not have won any prizes for predicting the future...."not a literary man" "did not create any great characters" "cannot prophesy permanence (for his novels)" "(his style) cannot secure for him the admiration of adults readers of cultured taste". One wonders if he actually read any Verne!
Received on Wed 26 Apr 2006 - 12:32:15 IDT