Despite Greaves’s illustrations and notes, Jules Verne may cause some difficulties for American readers. Certain aspects of French culture are never explained, such as the belle époque (the period from roughly 1890 to 1910 characterized by extravagance and materialism on the part of France’s upper classes). It is hard to understand the idealistic Verne’s frustration with the society of this time when the reasons for his annoyance are never fully explained.
Occasionally, Greaves translates French expressions such as revenons à ces moutons (equivalent to let us get back to business) so literally that they become puzzling: “let us return to our muttons.” Calling Verne a quarante-huitard, or “forty-eightist” also confuses, as the term is neither translated nor defined. (It refers to Verne’s lifelong belief in the democratic principles of the rebellion of 1848.) Fortunately, such difficulties are not numerous.
The biography has been revised primarily for British readers by Greaves, which sometimes makes his adaptation confusing for Americans. One such difficulty regards the discussion of Verne’s The Mysterious Island. In Verne’s original French, as well as in British translation, the leader of the band of castaways is named Cyrus Smith. For unknown reasons, the same character is called Cyrus Harding in American editions. Again, the title of Robur-le-conquérant (1886)...
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Jules Verne continues to be widely read as a popular writer in English, French, and many other languages. Fans of Verne often point to the many twentieth century phenomena that he predicted: lunar flights (From the Earth to the Moon Direct in Ninety-seven Hours Twenty Minutes, and a Trip Round It), submarines and deep-sea exploration (Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea), helicopters (Robur the Conqueror), and even motion pictures (Le Château des Carpathes, 1892; The Castle of the Carpathians, 1894). Yet, even when Verne’s characters undertake adventures that have nothing to do with modern technology, as in Voyage au centre de la terre (1864; A Journey to the Center of the Earth, 1872), readers still enjoy the vivid action of the novels.
Beside the enjoyment of the novels themselves, an examination of Verne’s writing reveals much about the type of literature that he helped to originate. Verne used his fiction to illustrate his ideas of human nature. Such a focus on ideas remains important in much twentieth century science fiction. Discovering Verne’s treatment of the issues of his time helps young adult readers to understand the similar activities by modern science-fiction writers.
The exploration of Verne’s cultural environment in Jules Verne also provides a useful study of the society of nineteenth century France. Verne’s ideas and his readers’ reactions to them reveal much about nineteenth century French perceptions of both France and the world. High-school students of French history and culture may find the book interesting for the insights to that culture that it provides.