A Journey to the Centre of the Earth Essay - Critical Evaluation

Jules Verne

Critical Evaluation

English-language readers of A Journey to the Centre of the Earth initially contended with extremely corrupt translations of the work. The first such translation was published in the United Kingdom in 1871 by Griffith and Farren and reprinted by numerous American publishers from 1877 onward. A much better translation was serialized in the Philadelphia Evening Telegraph in 1874, but the 1877 publishers chose the earlier, corrupt version. This version substituted “Jack” and “Professor Hardwigg” for the names of the two main characters and distorted the text out of all recognition, to the extent of improvising melodramatic incidents absent from Jules Verne’s text and entirely out of keeping with his project. Several other variants appeared subsequently on both sides of the Atlantic, most of them abridged but not otherwise corrupted; the best and fullest translation was made by William Butcher for the Oxford University Press edition of 1992.

Meanwhile, the second French edition of the text, issued in 1867, was revised and expanded from the original. Much of the scientific information contained in the first edition was borrowed, sometimes almost verbatim, from Louis Figuier’s La Terre avant le déluge (1863; The World Before the Deluge, 1866), but Figuier issued a new edition of his book in 1867 that took account of recent developments and controversies in paleontology occasioned by discoveries of ancient human bones and artifacts by Jacques Boucher de Perthes and by the work of the English geologist Charles Lyell. Whereas the first edition of Figuier’s book had located the origins of humankind in the Garden of Eden, the second substituted an evolutionary account in which primitive humans equipped with stone tools lived alongside mammals that had since become extinct; this led Verne to add the scene involving the giant humanoid herdsman to his novel.

Figuier, who was later to edit La Science illustrée—a popular science magazine that also featured a good deal of early science fiction—made no objection to Verne’s borrowings and seems to have been delighted that his popularizing work was being reproduced and amplified. However, a plagiarism suit was launched against the first edition of Verne’s novel by Léon Delmas, who had published a story about a subterranean descent provoked by a cryptogram in the September, 1863, issue of La Revue contemporaine; the suit was eventually abandoned.

A Journey to the Centre of the Earth was the second volume of what eventually became an extended series of voyages extraordinaires (extraordinary voyages) penned by Verne and published by P.-J. Hetzel, who had put him under contract to produce approximately a quarter of a million words per year to be published in a new...

(The entire section is 1154 words.)