LC Information Bulletin, Vol. 55 No. 18 (October 21, 1996)

LC Holds Largest Jules Verne Collection Outside France

Brian Taves

Voluminous Verne

LC Holds Largest Jules Verne Collection Outside France

The renowned 19th century French science fiction novelist Jules Verne (1828-1905) has remained a favorite of American readers for more than a century.The Library of Congress holds the most comprehensive Verne collection of any institution outside the writer’s native land.

This collection encompasses books, magazines, plays and movies, in many languages.

The core of the Library’s Verne collection is some 400 rare Verne volumes donated by Willis E. Hurd (1875-1958). In 1940 Hurd founded the American Jules Verne Society, the first such group organized in the United States, and willed his Verne collection to the Library upon his death.

Hurd was the first collector to realize that most of Verne’s 65 novels had been translated into English several times over the years. The translations varied greatly in quality. Hurd also discovered that publishers often issued the same Verne novel under different titles. So he decided to gather every variant Verne translation and title ever published, noting in each book how and when it was acquired. Today, the Library’s diverse Verne collection reflects the wide-ranging success of Hurd’s search.

Hurd also used his fluency in French to produce English versions of a number of Verne’s untranslated stories. One of these was “Gil Braltar,” a satire of British imperialism. Hurd arranged a privately published English-language edition in 1938, and the Library has the only surviving copy.

Sadly, many of Hurd’s papers disappeared during the lengthy disposition of his estate. These include his English-language version of Le Village Aérien (The Aerial Village); only the Library has Hurd’s copy of the original French text, with his Nov. 18, 1946, inscription noting that “its pages are those that I translated into American manuscript.” Fortunately, tucked away in a number of Hurd’s books were some of his hundreds of letters from various Verne authorities around the world, and these have been found and filed over the years by the librarians in the Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

Even before receiving the Hurd collection, the Library had acquired, through copyright deposit, some of the early English-language editions of Verne stories. These included a complete set of the George Munro Company’s early Seaside Library volumes, fragile paper-cover books that were usually the first editions of most Verne stories in the United States.

The Library also holds copies of three 1852 and 1853 journals—Sartain’s Union Magazine of Literature and Art, The Working Man’s Friend and Family Instructor and Graham’s Magazine—where some of Verne’s earliest short stories were first published in English, long before he had acquired a reputation in his native France—and 11 years before the publication of his first novel.

The Rare Book and Special Collections Division holds the only extant copies of the earliest American appearances of one of Verne’s earliest novels, From the Earth to the Moon (1865), in both a serial (New York Weekly Magazine of Popular Literature, 1867) and a book edition (American News Company, 1869).

In addition, the Library has a number of the magazines in which Verne’s stories first appeared in France. One of these, Le Figaro illustré, was used in 1993 by Oxford University Press in publishing the first English-language translation of Verne’s only fairy tale, Adventures of the Rat Family, which was also the first edition in any country to reprint all of the story’s original color magazine illustrations (see LC Information Bulletin, Jan. 10, 1994).

Among the most unique aspects of the Library’s collection are the plays adapted from Verne’s works. These were received as copyright deposits during the 19th century, and many have been retained. Verne’s greatest theatrical acclaim came in the 1870s with his stage adaptations of his novels Around the World in Eighty Days and Michael Strogoff. Direct translations of the playscripts were published, along with many pirated versions adapted by various playwrights. Some of the theatrical presentations of Verne’s plays in the United States were by the contemporary masters of stage spectacle, the Kiralfy Brothers, Bolossy and Imre.

In addition to the scripts of the authorized Kiralfy adaptations of the Verne plays, the Library’s Prints and Photographs Division has many theatrical posters promoting the productions. Plays adapted from Verne stories continue to be produced into modern times, and the Library’s collection includes Orson Welles’s 1946 script for his play Around the World in Eighty Days, with music and lyrics by Cole Porter.

The Library’s collection of Verne adaptations in the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division (MBRS) is even more impressive. The Library has preserved the only surviving print of the first feature-length screen adaptation of a Verne story, the 1914 version of “Michael Strogoff.” Also preserved at the Library is a later, sound version of the same novel, called “The Soldier and the Lady” (1937). This film was one of several versions of Michael Strogoff made by Russian émigré filmmakers, who used Verne’s adventure novel to portray a positive image of Czarist Russia.

Other film and television adaptations of Verne stories range from animated versions to such little-known but foreign productions as the Mexican film “800 leguas por el Amazonas” (“800 Leagues over the Amazon”) (1960) and the Franco-Italian comedy “Les tribulations d’un chinois en chine/ L’uomo di Hong Kong” (“Up to His Ears”) (1965). Because the size and scope of the Verne collection in MBRS make it the largest in the world, a festival of Verne films is planned for the Library’s Pickford Theater.

Only in Europe, at particularly the museums at Verne’s birthplace at Nantes and his home in Amiens, can one find collections that match the range of the Verne material at the Library of Congress.

Brian Taves (Ph.D., University of Southern California) is on the staff of the Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division and is a member of the Société Jules Verne.

This article is based on information in The Jules Verne Encyclopedia (Scarecrow Press) by Brian Taves and Stephen Michaluk Jr. The research for the volume heavily utilized the Library’s Verne collection.

Copyright © Zvi Har’El
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