SCIENCE-FICTION STUDIES, VIII #23 (March, 1981): 104-106.

Books in Review

Marc Angenot

Jules Verne in Rumania, Germany, France, and Québec

Ion Hobana. Douazeci de mii de pagini in cautarea lui Jules Verne Bucarest: Editura Univers, 1979. 237p. Lei 12.50—Ion Hobana is a well-known scholar of SF. His last book, Tuenty-Thousand Pages in the Work of Jules Verne, is an excellent biography and monograph on the famous French writer and a testimony for the worldwide influence of his work. Besides, it is not the first book on Verne published in Rumanian, and Hobana

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pays tribute to his major predecessor, Dinu Moroianu (Romanul lui Jules Verne, 1947 and Jules Verne, 1962). In the same vein as Jean Chesneaux, some of whose theses he discusses, Ion Hobana sees most of all in Verne the “hidden revolutionary” who drew from three major sources: the emancipators’ spirit of 1848, Saint-Simonian utopian socialism, and libertarian individualism. It is in this light that Hobana discusses Verne’s institutional position as a writer for youth: he suggests that one should consider this status as a deliberate choice on Verne’s part and not a cultural constraint that Verne would have been unable to get rid of. He links such a choice to the secret political and social criticism that Verne sought to transmit to the younger generation. Hobana elaborates on this particularly in connection with A Castle in the Carpathians (whose plot is set in now Rumanian Transylvania), and Hobana’s chapter on Castle is also suggestive of the way Verne takes advantage of his sources (notably Elisée Reclus) and often takes liberties with them.

Ion Hobana was also a special editor for the “Jules Verne” issue (no. 207) of Secolul 20, 4 (1978), the journal of the Rumanian Writer’s Union (Lei 7.00).

Thomas Ostwald. Jules Verne: Leben und Werk. Braunschweig: Graft, 1978. 299p. DM 12.80.—There have been several studies of Verne published in Germany before this one. In fact the first monograph in German, that of Max Popp, was published as early as 1909. Thomas Ostwald provides some interesting data and documents about Verne’s reception in Germanic countries. The present study, abundantly illustrated and offering some previously unpublished documents, draws on some valuable information but not much on recent French scholarship; clearly its goal is not to account for its critical revaluation. Ostwald’s approach is at the same time vivid and conventional: a good biography, content analysis of each narrative, traditional data on Verne’s reception and literary fortune. This is a good introductory monograph from an enthusiastic and reasonably critical reader who does not however look beyond the dominant themes.

Bruno-André Lahalle. Jules Verne et le Québec (1837-1889): Famille-sans-nom. Sherbrooke, Québec: Naaman, 1979. 189p. $12.00—It seems to me that there is a fundamental methodological mistake in dividing Verne’s opus (or any work that one may consider) into SF vs. non-SF—such a division being usually made on the basis of commonsensical but controversial criteria. In Verne’s work there is an all-encompassing vision of science, progress, society and political struggles, which it is not convenient to compartmentalize. M. Lahalle devotes his monograph to Verne’s major “historical novel,” Famille sans nom (A Family Without a Name) whose plot is set in Lower Canada (now Québec) during the 1837-38 Revolt of the “Patriots.” The author patiently reconstitutes all the sources that Verne used and discusses the way he reinterprets them. Sometimes unfaithful to historical facts, Verne, a liberal ideologist, considers with favor the major national uprisings of the 19th century, although he also dreams of a Québec freely associated with the great American Republic. The analysis of this novel, quite revealing of Verne’s political thought and sympathies, is conducted with great accurateness and perspicacity.

François Raymond and Simone Vierne, eds. Jules Verne et les sciences humaines. Paris:10/18, Union générale d’édition, 1979. 443p. $6.95.—This is a collection of contributions to a colloquium organized in 1978 by the international “Centre culturel” of Cérisy in France. It bears testimony once again to the present, often muddleheaded, revaluation of Verne. You’ve got to pick and choose what to believe: Verne makes people talk, no doubt; he therefore makes an excellent topic for colloquium organizers: economists and sociologists, psychoanalysts and Marxists, academic erudites and eccentrics are being gathered in a Vernean communion that might end up raising some suspicion. No doubt one will find in this book some quite suggestive hypotheses: Verne as a perverter of adult science and an accomplice of the ill-at-ease teenager; Verne as a poet of taxonomies and nomenclatures; Verne as a clandestine theoretician of literary writing, theories hidden behind the fiction they engender, etc. Two types of hermeneutics are at stake here, although they sometimes are mingled with eclecticism: the socio-critical and the psychoanalytic. Verne and the major French figure of psychoanalysis, Jacques Lacan, have at least this in common: their extreme propensity for puns and conundrums and their common interest in the productive role of the “calembour” in literary texts. The Lacanians

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in the colloquium are therefore working on the “signifier” with delight; hence a lot of mers mortes that might have been mères mortes; hence cryptographic studies of a work that is truly full of cryptograms. Apart from that, one takes interest in reading several papers, on Verne and Robida (D. Lacaze), on Le Village aérien (A Village in the Treetops; A. Buisine), on Verne’s Darwinism and reinterpretation of scientific schemes (Françoise Gaillard), on trompe-l’oeil as rhetorical device in his work (Simone Vierne).

Copyright © Zvi Har’El
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