Danielle Clode and Christele Maizonniaux
Telling true stories through fiction: Exploring intertextuality in Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues and French Pacific travel narratives
Jules Verne’s classic adventure story Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea (1870)  was first published as a novel in Pierre-Jules Hetzel’s Bibliothèque d’éducation et de récréation. Hetzel’s intention was to provide reliable educational information in an entertaining and accessible form for older children as well as adults. Verne’s initial titles were so successful that Hetzel launched a new series, Voyages Extraordinaires exclusively for Verne ‘to outline all the geographical, geological, physical, and astronomical knowledge amassed by modern science and to recount, in an entertaining and picturesque format that is his own, the history of the universe’ (Hetzel 1866: ii). In the course of the fifty-four novels produced for the series (in addition many other works besides) Verne could be argued to have done just that, gaining considerable popularity in his time, particularly among children and readers from less affluent backgrounds (Heywood 2013: 58).
Verne’s early work was not only popular with readers, but also garnered critical acclaim. George Sand declared that she and her children loved them, and his work was praised by scientists and literary critics alike for its technical veracity and engaging characters (Evans 2000). But despite the international acclaim for Verne’s earlier works, his popularity declined over the course of his career. Later books sold poorly and after his death, his classics were often abridged and a proliferation of poor quality English translations damaged his reputation among Anglophone critics (Derbyshire 2006). Even in his home country, Verne was ‘shunned by the French intellectual elite, because he wrote children’s literature, considered to be a minor genre’ (Heywood 2013: 58). Emile Zola, for example, described Verne as ‘an amiable popularist’ whose works were derivative of Perrault’s fairytales and of no importance to literature, while Charles Lemire derided him as an ‘entertainer of schoolboys’ with ‘pseudo scientific pretensions’ (quoted in Evans 2000: 14-17). For many years, Verne was absent from discussions of French literature.
In the mid-twentieth century, however, Verne underwent something of a ‘critical renaissance’ (Heywood 2013)  gaining the attention of writers who had perhaps grown up with these childhood classics, such as Foucault, Barthes and Butor. Here, the very appropriation of classic texts of which Zola was so critical, was recognised as an innovative and experimental literary technique. Today, Verne’s use of intertextuality, from literary and scientific narratives, is one of the hallmarks of his work (Unwin 2000), and an intriguing precursor to the modern literary collage (such as David Shield’s Reality Hunger 2010), merging the boundaries between fiction and non-fiction through unacknowledged textual appropriation.
As an author ‘so cavalier in the plundering of other people’s writing’ (Unwin 2005: 215), it is ironic that Verne’s books should have been so ‘travestied, reappropriated in alien contexts, misrepresented, and adapted for purposes he did not intend’ (Unwin 2005: 215). A century and a half of adaptation and repetition have made much of Verne’s original work so familiar as to be clichéd, disguising the fact that in his own time he was a highly experimental and original writer.
Verne’s appropriation of literary sources is well-studied. Jean Chesneaux (2005) describes Verne’s writing as having a ‘polyphonic richness’. Evans (1996) documents a rich array of literary intertexts in Verne’s work, including classic and contemporaneous French, English and German writers. Evans notes Verne’s close connections with Baudelaire, Walter Scott and Edgar Allan Poe. Similarly, Kaplan (1998) notes the inspiration for Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Such literary lineages are particularly apparent in Verne’s ‘sequel’ to Poe’s Narratives of Arthur Gordon Pym with An Antarctic Mystery (1897) as well to Johann Wyss’s Swiss Family Robinson, with The Castaways of the Flag (1900).
Verne’s intertextuality also extends to his own previous works. For example, several characters in Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea subsequently appear in The Mysterious Island (1875). Not only do characters and storylines connect across Verne’s works but so too do the books themselves, with characters in later books referring to early stories by Verne as part of their literary milieu. These references are ‘intratextual’ rather than specifically intertextual (Unwin 2005: 141), but both function to blur the fictional boundaries of Verne’s stories by giving fictional characters and events equivalent status with those of history.
Evans argues that this ‘narrative recipe’ of appropriating both his own and other authors’ work into his stories serves to ‘anchor his narratives to a recognizable cultural tradition, and thereby broaden Verne’s own literary authoritativeness by identifying his novels more closely with those of the canonical literature(s) of his time’ (Evans 1996: 171). Not all of Verne’s appropriations were familiar to his readers, though. Compère suggests that although Verne’s literary appropriations are generally well-assimilated into his novels, his nonfiction sources retain a level of exoticism: an ‘aspect étranger’ (Compère 2005: 171), which Evans also regards as a deliberately exotic ‘otherness’ (Evans 1988a: 104). It was this innovation, above all else, which led to Verne’s pioneering contribution to the romans scientifiques, science fiction or even scientific fiction. Perhaps, having helped birth such a vigorous mutant genre, Verne also excluded himself from the inherently conservative cloisters of the French literary canon. Indeed, even today, attempts to resuscitate Verne’s literary reputation are achieved only by redefining ‘science fiction’ so as to exclude Verne on the grounds that his science is too realistic (Butcher 2006) .
Verne made a feature of his scientific exoticism. Technical information makes frequent incursions into Verne’s stories, from long descriptions of fish in Twenty Thousand Leagues to the recitation of the history of Australian exploration in In Search of Castaways. Théophile Gautier argued that the inclusion of so many true and accurate details in The Adventures of Captain Hatteras completed the illusion of the story. For this contemporary reviewer, ‘the maritime, mathematical and scientific technicalities employed, print such a stamp of veracity on this fantastic Forward that we are persuaded that he himself has completed this voyage of exploration’ (1866, quoted in Evans 2000: 12-13, our translation).
Verne was well known for his extensive collection of technical information. Mortelier notes that Verne ‘assiduously read the accounts of the explorers of his time: those which would, indeed, feed his fictions; and which he remembered long after they had ceased to be discussed in the newspapers’ (Mortelier 1997: 590, our translation). A contemporary visitor (Belloc) described Verne’s library as:
A partial estimate of this library lists over 700 volumes of works of literature, as a well as sizeable collections of scientific and mathematical studies (66 volumes), humanities monographs (61 volumes), biographies and memoirs (34) and subscriptions to many of the leading scientific and literary periodicals (such as Bulletin de la Société de Géographie, La Nature and Les Gaietés de l’année). The collection of geography and voyage accounts was also considerable, running to at least 76 titles (Dehs 2011; Kiszely 1995).
Verne’s libraries, personal, public and virtual, were essential to his writing process as well as a recurring motif within his books, reminding readers of the educative nature of reading (Evans 1988b). Evans suggests that Verne incorporated this rich seam of nonfictional material into his novels for several reasons: to ‘increase the authoritative credibility’ (1996: 171) of his books, to ‘bolster the verisimilitude of his fictional plot-structures’, and to ‘experiment stylistically with the juxtaposition of scientific and literary terminology’ (1996: 171). Such appropriation of scientific and nonfictional texts produces a distinctive literary effect: a ‘vast patchwork of data’ (Unwin 2005: 52) through the juxtaposition of contrasting language. As Foucault describes Verne’s writing: ‘The storytelling text continually breaks off, changes signs, reverses itself, moves away, comes from elsewhere, as if from a different voice’ (Foucault 1966: 138).
Verne’s stylistic ‘fête du savoir’ (or knowledge-feast, to use Barthes’ apt term) may have been unrecognisable as literature to his contemporaries but his ‘plays on words … complex juggling of narrative voice and point of view, his revolutionary creation of technological and scientific exoticism’ (Evans 2000: 17) made him a writer of the future, rather than of the past.
Verne’s ‘calculated interleaving of fictional and nonfictional realms’ is also apparent his illustrations and maps, which Harpold (2005: 21) argues are structured so as to persuade the reader that Verne the author is also an actor in the story: for example, Verne is named as the illustrator of the maps of the voyages of Captain Hatteras. This same device is employed in Twenty Thousand Leagues, where the opening map – allegedly of Dr Aronnax’s journal – is labelled ‘by Jules Verne’ rather than by a fictional character or unlabelled.
The technology of Verne’s stories, far from being predictions of future innovation, were almost always based on published accounts of nineteenth-century developments. For example, the ‘ultra X rays’ of Professor Friedrich of Elbing, mentioned in The Will of an Eccentric, have been traced back to an article in the Revue Scientifique (de Vries-Uitterweerd 2011). Similarly, the Journey to the Centre of the Earth can be seen as a ‘fictionalized paleontological treatise’ foreshadowing a range of paleoanthropological debates based on the work of Humphry Davy (Debus 2006: 420). The possible source material for Verne’s descriptions of submarines has been extensively documented in an appendix to Butcher’s translation of Twenty Thousand Leagues (Butcher 2009). More significantly, scientist and writer Louis Figuier’s Les Merveilles de la science and Articulés, poissons, reptiles et zoophytes, mollusques have been identified as the source of biological material in Twenty Thousand Leagues (Breyer & Butcher 2003).
More challenging, perhaps, is the task of mapping the voyages of Verne’s characters on a real map (Faivre 1955) or the path of a real voyage; despite being the ‘geographic consciousness’ of his generation, even small specific locations may prove elusive. Margot (2012) relates the debates around the precise location of the Great Eyry in Verne’s last novel, Master of the World, set in the North Carolina Appalachian mountains. Mortelier (1997) argues that primary inspiration for Verne’s Mysterious Island was a little known account of castaways by Francois Edouard Raynal, published in 1866 and translated into English as The Castaways of the Auckland Islands.
And yet the precedents of Verne’s most beloved voyage, that of the Nautilus over twenty thousand leagues are well documented, not least by Verne himself. His expertise in global exploration was demonstrable in his authoritative three volume nonfiction book Celebrated Travels and Travellers: The Exploration of the World (1878-80). Verne had family and friends in the Pacific region and had read extensively in the area (Faivre 1955). In addition, he was personal acquainted with Jacques Arago, artist on Louis de Freycinet’s Pacific voyage (1817-20) and author of a highly successful travel narrative of the journey. The Nautilus itself steadfastly follows in the wake of France’s most famous naval explorers of the day, Jean-François de Galaup Lapérouse and Jules Sébastien César Dumont d’Urville. The achievements, voyages and tragedies of both these men reverberated through French culture before and during Verne’s lifetime and, aided by his stories, continue to do so today.
Lapérouse and Dumont d’Urville
The voyages of the French navigators Lapérouse and Dumont d’Urville were both well known to Jules Verne, featuring extensively in the second and third volumes Verne’s own non-fiction study of great explorers (Celebrated Travels and Travellers, 1878-80). Verne had at least one volume of Dumont d’Urville’s Voyage to the South Pole in his personal library (Dehs 2011). Dumont d’Urville features in several of Verne’s novels including: The Children of Captain Grant (1868), Dick Sands the Boy Captain (1878), Propeller Island (1895) in addition to Twenty Thousand Leagues as well as (in passing) From the Earth to the Moon (1865), Round the Moon (1870) and The School for Crusoes (1882).
There is a clear geographic link between the underwater journey of the Nautilus and the earlier voyages of the Astrolabe and the Zélée. Both Nemo and Dumont d’Urville travel to Vanikoro and search for the missing expedition of Lapérouse. They both traverse Torres Strait to the north of Australia, where both Nemo’s Nautilus and the d’Urville’s Astrolabe run aground. And both explorers visit Antarctica where their respective ships become stuck in ice. The narrative accounts of Dumont d’Urville’s voyages provide valuable source material for Verne’s own fictional voyage. Not only does Dumont d’Urville provide a detailed narrative chronology of events for both voyages, but the associated atlases (cartographic, ethnographic, zoologic, botanic, etc) provide a rich source of visual and textual material (thirteen and twenty-three volumes respectively: Clode & Harrison 2013) for Verne to plunder.
Given Verne’s propensity to utilise intertextual resources in his fiction and given the obvious similarities between Twenty Thousand Leagues and Dumont d’Urville’s two final voyages, we explore the extent to which Verne explicitly make use of this maritime record? Does he do so for the purpose of authenticity or for aesthetic or stylistic purposes and how does this intertextuality inform the textual richness of Verne’s story?
For this analysis we compared the three sections of Twenty Thousand Leagues (Verne 2013 ) that correlated most closely with events from Dumont d’Urville’s narratives (Dumont d’Urville 1830-35 and 1841-54). In particular, we compared the descriptions of Vanikoro and the exploration of the Lapérouse shipwreck in Verne, Part 1, ch18 (Quatre mille lieues sous le Pacifique) and Part 1, ch19 (Vanikoro),with sections from the Voyage of the Astrolabe (v5, ch34, 22 Feb 1828-17 March 1828: 142-206). We then compared the grounding in the Torres Strait in Verne, Part 1, ch20 (Le detroit de Torres) and ch21 (quelques jours à terre)with Voyage to the South Pole and Oceania (v9, ch68, 1 June 1840-9 June 1840: 219-237). Finally, we compared the accounts of being stuck in Antarctic ice from Verne’s Part 2, ch13-16 with Dumont d’Urville’s Voyage to the South Pole and Oceania (v2, ch10-16, 13 Jan 1838-6 April 1838: 37-115; v8, ch59, 1 Jan 1840-1 Feb 1840: 123-78). For in-text referencing purposes the two Dumont d’Urville texts will be designated as VA and VSPO respectively. In addition, we also considered Verne’s Part 2, ch22 (la foudre du capitaine Némo) in relation to descriptions of Dumont d’Urville.
In all cases, we are comparing the original French texts of all narratives as cited in the references and have provided our own English translations of these texts for this article. Published English translations, of Verne in particular, are often abridged or highly inaccurate and may not include the examples we have used in this article.
Direct textual similarities
Within the geographic and historical plot points connecting these texts, there are several striking textual similarities (highlighted in bold below). Verne frequently uses lists in his novels, and many of these are similar to those found in Dumont d’Urville, such as these items from a shipwreck:
Such lists may simultaneously be regarded as extraneous (and removed in abridged modern versions – Heywood 2013: 61) or be considered by others to be extraordinarily poetic in their resonance (Stoltzfus 2011: 71).
Both writers use similar language to describe how the natives refuse to give up information about the shipwreck, presumably for fear of reprisals.
Both Verne (Part 1, ch19) and Dumont d’Urville (VA, v5: 147) comment in similar ways on the islanders’ fear of retribution from the French. Both authors use similar phrases to describe the erection of the ‘cénotaphe à la mémoire’ or ‘mausolée de La Pérouse’. In both cases, the construction consists of a ‘pyramide quadrangulaire’ [quadrangular pyramid] on a coral base with no ‘ferrure’ [metalwork] to tempt the ‘cupidité’ [greed] of the natives.
As Aronnax is explicitly recounting Dumont d’Urville’s version of this particular event such similarities are hardly surprising. Nonetheless, Verne does stray from the d’Urville narrative. For example, Verne provides more information about Peter Dillon’s role in the discovery of the wreck of Lapérouse expedition than Dumont d’Urville (VA, v5: 143, 149). An element of French national pride may have underpinned Dumont d’Urville’s desire to be the first to verify that the shipwreck was indeed that of the Lapérouse expedition, although Dillon was subsequently rewarded by the French state for his discovery. Verne also gives a different date for Dillon’s arrival in Vanikoro (7 July 1827 instead of 13 September 1827). Other amendments include minor name changes (from Païou Reef to Pacou Reef) and the simplification of tasks from particular individuals to ‘the crew’.
Although Verne frequently shortens and simplifies events described at length in Dumont d’Urville, in general the similarities remain striking. For example, Verne describes the Nautilus running aground in Torres Strait (pt1, ch20) under conditions similar to those affecting Dumont d’Urville (VSPO v9: 220, 224). Both ships run aground with a shock or a jolt and both lean to port. Naturally, both ships must await the tide to lift them off their ‘bed of coral’.
Similar parallels can be found between the two authors in their Antarctic descriptions. Verne describes polar environments in a number of his books, including A Winter amid the Ice (1855), The Adventures of Captain Hatteras (1866) and The Fur Country (1873). In these books, and in Twenty Thousand Leagues, Verne recycles not only descriptions of the ice, weather and climate from d’Urville but also his impressions of the environment and the influence of the environment on the men. D’Urville’s descriptions are a way of orienting oneself in this specific environment and stress the importance of meteorology, although there are no long descriptions of the ice in Verne like there is in Dumont d’Urville.
Verne uses many similar phrases to Dumont d’Urville in his description of the icebergs, most particularly through the metaphor of a city. Verne writes that there would have been enough ice to build a ‘ville de marbre’ (pt2 ch13) [a marble city] . Dumont d’Urville describes the icebergs as forming ‘une grande cité … avec ses maisons, ses palais, ses fortifications et ses clochers.’ (VSPO v2: 50, see also 57) (pt2 ch13) [a great city … with houses, palaces, fortifications and towers] and even appearing as an ‘immense ville en marbre blanc’ (VSPO v8: 61) [A vast white marble city] .
Verne also uses strikingly similar imagery to Dumont d’Urville for the icebergs:
Both writers stress the fact that nobody has explored this part of the world before: ‘ces mers que l’homme n’a jamais sillonnées encore’ (Verne pt2 ch13) [these seas that man has never yet crossed]. Both lay territorial claims to their newly discovered lands. Nemo theatrically plants a flag at the South Pole claiming the entire continent in his own name, subverting, even mocking, such territorial pretensions in the absence of any capacity (military or colonial) to uphold them. Dumont d’Urville’s account is similarly grand, yet also ambivalent and considerably less theatrical, in tone. He quotes from officer Dubouzet’s journal:
Both authors were required to include explicitly pedagogical information in their narratives (by Hetzel’s educational imperative for Verne and the naval instruction to document new knowledge for d’Urville). While Verne faced the challenge of incorporating this pedagogical information within the narrative of a two-volume story (roughly 100,000 words), d’Urville was able to keep much of the drier scientific information out of his ten-volume histoire du voyage and atlas pittoresque, and confine it to the additional twelve specialist scientific volumes and their five technical atlases (of his final voyage).
As a result, a much stronger scientific metadiscourse runs through Verne’s novel. Verne’s commitment to the superiority of scientific progress is evident in one of the few overtly political comments remaining in the novel (most of which were removed at the request of his editor and publisher, Butcher 2005):
Verne frequently introduces such pedagogical information in through explanatory periphrasis or additional sentences such as:
In this way, he shares scientific information on the ocean depths and their fish, on saltwater and the role of salt (ch18), on the value of sago (ch21), on coral madrepores and limestone (ch19) and the polar night (ch14). Such information is not simply educational, but has also been argued to have a poetic function (Clamen 2005), like his use of lists and scientific and exotic names (Freligni 2004).
Verne mimics the scientific discourse of the d’Urville’s atlases and their focus on taxonomic classifications and identification of new species, by exhorting Conseil (and the reader) to note the distinguishing characteristics of different seals, sea elephants and walruses. This level of detail and scientific language sometimes slows the rhythm of the story and may impede, rather than educate, the young reader. But in other cases, Verne builds layers of knowledge more gradually. Compère documents the progressive introduction of a literary reference to the work of Rabelais. Firstly, it is noted that Ned Land speaks the vulgar language of Rabelais. Later Aronnax sees Rabelais’s book on the bookshelf. Further on, a situation reminds Aronnax of Gargantua (Compère 2005: 170). Verne uses the same technique to introduce travel narrative references. He first speaks of Dumont d’Urville, then uses a map by one of Dumont d’Urville’s men, he then follows Dumont d’Urville’s route and encounters similar difficulties as Dumont d’Urville.
Dramatising true stories
Verne is not constrained to follow Dumont d’Urville’s route precisely. The Nautilus follows its own path, intersecting with historical reference points but also charting new fictional territory. Verne appears to interchange descriptions and events that Dumont d’Urville documents from Vanikoro in the Solomon Islands to the events in the Torres Strait and New Guinean islands. Dumont d’Urville himself noted the striking similarity between New Guinea and Vanikoro (VA, v5: 146), allowing Verne to justifiably use this information for his description of the island Gueboroar. Both describe the forest vegetation as ‘admirable’ with a similar range of plants. While much of the action on Vanikoro in Verne’s text takes place in recount and underwater, the subsequent events in the Torres Strait and New Guinea (above water) bear a striking similarity to Dumont d’Urville’s accounts of Vanikoro. In Dumont d’Urville, the Vanikorans come on board for trade but the relationship is often tense and confrontational. Verne presents the Torres Strait islanders as a more direct and aggressive threat and in both cases the potential for conflict overshadows the departure of the ships.
The narrative forms used for both texts are naturally very different. Verne’s novel is a third person dramatic story, while Dumont d’Urville’s is a journal, essentially a daily series of recounts. The episodic nature of d’Urville’s narrative is punctuated by calculations of longitude and latitude, weather, soundings depths and substrate composition as well as detailed descriptions and scientific explanations. The presumed knowledge of the reader is very different for both authors and the placement or assumption of knowledge has a major impact on the narrative dynamic of each work (Vierne 1973).
Character and narratorial voice
One of the most dramatic structural differences between Dumont d’Urville and Verne’s narratives is the role of the narrator. Dumont d’Urville’s narrative is written in first person: the narrator is Dumont d’Urville himself, although, like Verne he sometimes explicitly refers to recounts of others. As Dumont d’Urville heads the expedition, his account explains his way of directing men, the difficulties of doing so and the necessity of making compromises. As Dumont d’Urville himself put it:
Dumont d’Urville’s account is often human and emotional, while at the same time presenting himself as the only one who has an objective and realistic view of the situation. Annoyed by the loss of the corvette while seal-hunting, he despairs at the naivety of young men (VSPO v1: 86) and about the recklessness of the officers (87). He disagrees with some of the decisions of Jacquinot, the captain of La Zélée, and argues fiercely with the surgeon Leguillou who disapproved of the final assault on the Antarctic. This was Dumont d’Urville’s third and final voyage to the Pacific. He was a very experienced navigator and, at the age of fifty, by far the oldest officer on the ship, well known for his physical toughness and his brusque and tactless personality (Rosenman v1: xlvi- xlviii). As an essentially objective, yet autobiographical account, Dumont d’Urville does not have the opportunity to fictionalise his own character overtly in his narratives, although he is knowingly writing himself into history and undoubtedly tries to present himself in a positive light.
In Verne, the narrator is Aronnax, a professor, who is an observer, not a commander. In this way, Verne splits Dumont d’Urville’s role as narrator and scientist (Aronnax) from that of commander (Nemo). While we are aware of Dumont d’Urville’s motivations and the internal challenges he faced as commander, Nemo’s thoughts and motivations remain mysterious and critics have argued that his depiction as a commander is a caricature, lacking in psychological depth. Nonetheless, separating Nemo from the narrator also allows us a more objective view of Nemo’s actions. The split role also allows Verne to increase the tension as the reader sees the gap between Nemo’s and Aronnax’s perspectives. Aronnax’s lack of control over events also increases the fear of conflict and danger. Verne’s narrative choice also contributes directly to interpersonal tension, as there is a clash of personality and opinion.
Dumont d’Urville is more than just a source material for Verne – he is also a character in Verne’s fiction, just as Verne uses Poe as both a source of The Mystery of Arthur Gordon Pym (1897) and a character in it. Verne explicitly references Dumont d’Urville as the source for the maps used in Twenty Thousand Leagues (pt1 ch20). His name occurs regularly as part of a broader network of explorers, who all appear in relation to geographical references in Verne, following the convention in exploration narratives of acknowledging the achievements of previous explorers. Verne mimics this nonfiction device in a fictional context by referencing itineraries from fictional voyages in his own novels. For example, in The Mystery of Arthur Gordon Pym (1897) the captain has the book The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (Poe 1837) in which he finds indications for the itinerary of the voyage (Menegaldo 2005).
Nemo himself describes Dumont d’Urville in the following terms:
But despite d’Urville’s significant achievements, Nemo has, inevitably, done better:
And, of course, in a better ship:
While Dumont d’Urville is largely confined to the facts as he knows them, Verne is able to close off open-ended aspects of the story in a more satisfactory manner. For example, while Dumont d’Urville is unsure which members of Lapérouse’s expedition survive to build a smaller ship, Verne decides (pt1 ch19) that Lapérouse himself escapes Vanikoro with a group of his men, and Nemo finds the proof of this. Thus Nemo is not only a talented captain; he is also a hero who solves historical enigmas that baffled even the great Dumont d’Urville who, at this time, was idolised as a French naval hero. According to Menegaldo (2005: 376), Verne uses this same process of inventing a new ending to suit his fiction in Le Sphinx des glaces (1879).
Verne employs considerable dramatisation and exaggeration in his novel, including highly emotive appeals, to increase the dramatic tension of his story. For example, Verne gives a fascinating and realistic view of a shipwreck in (pt1 ch 18), including an affecting scene with a dead mother and her child. Interestingly, Verne foreshadows this motif in chapter 12 where a dead mother whale is also described with her dead baby.
Verne also exaggerates numbers. Clamen (2005: 156) argues that Verne uses more and larger numbers, and more detail, that might usually be found in fiction, perhaps in order to impress young readers with very concrete images. According to Clamen, these numbers form a poetic element while also creating some fictional events in the plot and driving action. For example, when Dumont d’Urville is threatened by Vanikorans on his ship prior to departure, there are only half a dozen local men aboard. A similar scene in Verne (pt1 ch22) in the Torres Strait involves five or six hundred people.
Verne uses many more superlatives, referring to incommensurable quantities, abundance and giganticism in relation to the South Pole (pt2 ch14). He writes of a world of birds and myriad fish, of life abounding, of schools (troupeaux) of marine mammals and of empires of wildlife. His animals are frequently gigantic. Verne describes a sooty albatross with a 4 metre wingspan: in reality their wingspan is around 2.2 metres. He describes seals with ‘têtes de bulldog, circonférence de 20 pieds, longueur de 10 mètres’ [heads like bulldogs, 20 feet in circumference and 10 metres long]. In reality, the largest of the Antarctic seals, the male southern elephant seal grows to between 4-6 metres long.
Relationship with nature
D’Urville’s narrative is essentially a ‘man against nature’ conflict, while Verne’s is a ‘man against man’ narrative. Nature in Verne (as described in pt1 ch21) is very generous. In this, Verne shares much in common with robinsonnades, a genre which Verne further developed over his career in The Mysterious Island (1874-1875), The School for Crusoes (1882), Two Years Holiday (1888) and Second Fatherland (1900). The abundance provided by nature in Verne and the many superlatives he uses in his descriptions contrast with the difficulty Dumont d’Urville recounts finding and storing food and fresh water or the monotonous dinners on board (with the exception of some good fishing). In general, there is a much greater and richer variety of food available in Verne. While nature in Verne is generous and all providing to its robinsonnade castaways, Dumont d’Urville’s voyage is a realistic and constant battle against nature – weather, disease, hunger, thirst and damage. Nature is the antagonist, not other people.
Verne’s decision to set his narrative as man against man has unfortunate consequences for his depictions of other cultures. Unlike for Dumont d’Urville, native people are not individuals for Verne. He does not invite them on board, learn their names, ask their advice and assistance or seek to understand their customs and habits. Verne’s natives are feared stereotypes, not potential partners or collaborators. It is clear, given the highly sophisticated level of ethnographic information Dumont d’Urville brings to his own factual and fictional narratives, that this is a field of scientific knowledge which Verne has made no attempt to utilise. He has set up his narrative as enlightened people against barbarians (of both ‘civilised’ and ‘primitive’ varieties). Dumont d’Urville’s narrative (as explicitly stated in the instructions of most French voyages of the time) is one of understanding and helping other cultures – of sharing knowledge and learning on a more equivalent basis.
Verne’s simplification is not restricted to native characters though. Verne’s British Canadian whaler, Ned Land, is a comparable figure to the whaler Hambilton (or Hamilton) taken on by Dumont d’Urville first in Sydney and then on Tikopia (Rosenman, v2: 602). While Ned Land is a caricature, a hunter and an animal killer, Hambilton is useful for approaching local people and collecting information from them. In this way, Verne stereotypes his characters in order to increase conflict. While the tensions experienced by Dumont d’Urville are complex and interpersonal, Verne creates tension between relatively simplistic philosophical positions, which might be more readily interpreted by a broader audience. In this instance, Verne has sacrificed knowledge for a conventional plot device which, ironically, deprived him of the opportunity to provide a more nuanced socio-political discussion (Butcher 2005).
It may be that less sympathetic and less complicated studies of foreign character suited Verne’s milieu in the New Imperialist period of French colonial expansion. Certainly, Verne’s writing has often been seen as part of a pre-colonial rhetoric. Siskind, for example, argues that Verne’s oeuvre systematically ‘remapped the world in an epistemology of adventure and exoticism’, effectively globalizing the novel and releasing the bourgeois European imagination to conquer the world. ‘The power of Verne’s narratives to promote and reinforce the discourse of globalization must have been huge’ (Siskind 2010: 343). Similarly Letourneux (2013) argues that Verne brought the ‘aesthetic’ adventure novel to France allowing the next generation of authors to go from a discourse of knowledge (Verne) to a logic of colonial propaganda (Louis Boussenard, Alphonse Brown and Paul d’Ivoi).
Both narrative drive and brevity constrains the amount of detail Verne can include in his story. Verne’s chapters are short. His editions were deliberately cheap, to appeal to the widest demographic. D’Urville’s narratives were long, expensively illustrated and bound tomes, available only to the wealthy and largely given away as prestigious state gifts. Their immediate audiences could not have been more different.
Verne had to abridge Dumont d’Urville’s accounts, even when he is recounting directly. For example, Verne simplifies and reduces the story of constructing the monument to Lapérouse, considerably to increase the pace of the story. In the original text, Dumont d’Urville needs to leave Vanikoro before more of his men fall ill and to make use of seasonal weather, but also can’t leave because of sickness and bad weather (VA v5:196, 205-206), or because the memorial needs to be built and difficulties finding a way out between the reefs. Such complexities are absent from Verne’s text.
Verne doesn’t mention Gressien’s efforts to find a safe exit against strong currents, or the role of Nelo or the interview with the old man of Manevai. It is not that these events are not dramatic – indeed these very same events have been used explicitly to raise tension in Voyages to the South Seas (Clode 2007) – but Verne’s underlying plot choice of man against man, rather than man against nature, precludes their use in his story.
The way in which Verne changes his source material is as revealing as the similarities themselves. He positions his text within historical and geographic realities and yet exaggerates, dramatises, simplifies and expands on his factual foundations. Naturally, as part of Hetzel’s educational remit, Verne’s Voyages Extraordinaire were pedagogically implanted with factual scientific information and such ‘scientifically didactic discourse’ was common among many late 19th and early 20th century French authors, such as d’Ivoi, Le Rouge, Robida and Rosny Aîné (Evans 1988c). And yet Verne also uses both the implanted information, and the literary devices commonly used by informational texts, to great literary effect.
There is little doubt that by using recounts of exploration voyages, Verne adds credibility or verisimilitude to his own work. Precision isn’t crucial, however; Verne has both a literary goal and an informative goal. He does not follow strictly Dumont d’Urville’s itinerary and at the same time he goes further. Verne’s hero can do better than Dumont d’Urville. Verne extrapolates beyond his reading of Dumont d’Urville, as he does for all the contemporary scientific and technological frameworks of his stories. He finds what is useful and fascinating in Dumont d’Urville, reusing, remaking, referencing and recycling people, places, events and words. In other areas, Verne does much less than Dumont d’Urville. The simplicity and crudity with which Verne represents indigenous people, particularly in contrast with the nuanced and complex portraits of his source material, is certainly worthy of further socio-political discussion and investigation.
Such scientific scaffolding frees Verne to further imaginative flights. Ponnau argues that
Foucault argues that the artifice Verne uses, that of a shifting point-of-view, is one that has become unpopular and unfamiliar to modern readers but was common at the time, particularly in theatre, where Verne began his writing career. Behind the main characters of Verne’s stories ‘there reigns a whole shadow theatre, with its rivalries and its nocturnal contests, its jousts and its triumphs. Bodyless voices jostle each other to recount the fable’ (Foucault 1966: 159). These voices – literary, scientific, authoritative and unreliable – provide variable levels of information not available to the main characters, but which are necessary for the story to be understood. These voices are not just those of the author, but are even more exterior to the story – what Foucault calls technical discourse:
Thus while Verne’s novels contain factual ‘educative’ material, their fictional message is quite contrary. The world is unchanged by the revelation of truth – the scientists and their discourse retreat back to the world of knowledge, sealed off from reality, while the dumbstruck ignorant protagonists must return to the flawed and disordered world of human society (Foucault 1966: 144).
Barthes too, perhaps, speaks to a similar conflict within Verne’s books. He sees Verne’s Nautilus as a metaphor for the safety of the womb, a safe ‘home’ from which to view the external world. Barthes argues that instead of encasing oneself in the security of the known world, or science, the writer should instead, throw themselves at the mercy of the elements, stepping out into the reality of chaos and the unknown (Barthes 1957).
Gramsci wrote that:
Such ‘continuous oscillation between a Positivistic and a Romantic treatment of science’ is characteristic of Verne’s oeuvre (Evans 1988a: 103).
Verne’s novels speak to the modern challenges of science communication not just as a model for adaptation and appropriation and effective cultural transmission of new ideas, but also, in and of themselves, as a metaphor for the difficulties such scientific language and discourse has in finding a place in the story-telling forms of popular culture. Verne illustrates the challenges of assimilating factual and scientific information into popular stories, retaining authenticity yet maintaining human interest. Science, technology, and even history, does not always tell the stories that humanity wants to hear. Science fiction has long been the genre which documents, overwhelmingly, our fears for our own seemingly relentless progress (Clode & Stasiak 2014). Understanding the way in which writers like Verne adapt and translate ‘knowledge’ into ‘story’ at both a thematic and textual level, provides the scientist, scholar and/or writer (see Clode & Maizonnaiux 2015) with valuable tools for taking us all on much needed imaginative flights into the future.
 The original (French) publishing dates and accepted English title translations for all of Verne’s books have been taken from the Evans (1966: 173-8). The English titles have been used for convenience, but any textual analysis and discussion refers to the original French publications. Abridged English language versions may not include all the references discussed in the text. return to text
Barthes, R 1957 The Nautilus and the drunken boat mythologies, Seuil, Paris return to text
Belloc, MA 1895 ‘Jules Verne at home’, The Strand Magazine, 206-213: http://jv.gilead.org.il/belloc/ (accessed 9 August 2013) return to text
Breyer, J & W Butcher 2003 ‘Nothing New Under the Earth: The Geology of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth’, Earth Sciences History 22: 36-54 return to text
Butcher, W 2005 ‘Hidden Treasures: The manuscripts of Twenty Thousand Leagues’, Science Fiction Studies 32: 43-60 return to text
Butcher, W 2006 Jules Verne: the definitive biography, Avalon, New York return to text
Butcher, W 2009 ‘Appendix: Sources of ideas on submarine navigation’, in J Verne, The Extraordinary Journeys: Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Oxford University Press USA, New York: 382-4 return to text
Chesneaux, J 2005 ‘Entretien’, Télérama hors série- centenaire Jules Verne, Telerama, Paris return to text
Clamen, M 2005 ‘Jules Verne et les chiffres’, Revue Jules Verne 19-20: 156-161 return to text
Clode, D 2007 Voyages to the South Seas, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne return to text
Clode, D & CE Harrison 2013 ‘Precedence and posterity: patterns of publishing from French scientific expeditions to the Pacific (1785-1840)’, Australian Journal of French Studies 50: 361-379 return to text
Clode, D & CO Maizonniaux 2015 ‘Terres Australes: Rewriting Australia’s French history (with the help of Jules Verne)’, Writing the Ghost Train: Rewriting, Remaking, Rediscovering, 20th Conference of the Australasian Association of Writing Programs, Melbourne, Victoria: http://www.aawp.org.au/publications/writing-the-ghost-train-rewriting-remaking-rediscovering/ (accessed 9 August 2016) return to text
Clode, D & M Stasiak 2014 ‘Fictional depictions of climate change’, International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses 5: 19-29 return to text
Compère, D 2005 ‘La coquille sénestre, ou le voyage extraordinaire de Jules Verne dans la littérature’, in J-P Picot & C Robin (eds) Jules Verne, Cent ans après, Terre de Brume, Dinan: 241-263 return to text
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Dumont d’Urville, JS-C 1830-5 Voyage de la corvette l’Astrolabe, exécuté par ordre du Roi pendant les années 1826, 1827, 1828, 1829, sous le commandement de M. Jules S-C Dumont d’Urville, vols 1-13, Tastu et Cie, Paris return to text
Dumont d’Urville, JS-C 1841-54 Voyage au Pôle Sud et dans l’Océanie, sur les corvettes l’Astrolabe et la Zélée exécuté par ordre du Roi pendant les années 1837, 1838, 1839, 1840 sous le commandement de M. Jules Dumont d’Urville, Capitaine de vaisseau, vols 1-23, Gide et Cie, Paris return to text
Evans, AB 1988a Jules Verne Rediscovered: Didacticism and the scientific novel, Greenwood Press, Westport Connecticut return to text
Evans, AB 1988b ‘The extraordinary libraries of Jules Verne’, L’Esprit créateur 28, 1: 75-86 return to text
Evans, AB 1988c ‘Science Fiction vs. Scientific Fiction in France: From Jules Verne to J-H Rosny Aîné’, Science fiction studies 15, 1: 1-11 return to text
Evans, AB 1996 ‘Literary intertexts in Jules Verne’s Voyages Extraordinaires’, Science fiction studies 23, 2: 171-187 return to text
Evans, AB 2000 ‘Jules Verne and the French literary canon’, in EJ Smyth (ed) Narratives of modernity, Liverpool University Press, Liverpool: 11-39 return to text
Evans, IO 1966 Jules Verne and his work, Twayne Publishers, New York return to text
Faivre, J-P 1955 ‘A propos d’un cinquantenaire: Jules Verne (1828-1905) et le Pacifique. Contribution à l’étude de l’exotisme océanien au XIXe siècle’, Journal de la Société des océanistes: 135-147 return to text
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Foucault, M 1966 ‘Behind the fable’, reprinted and translated in JD Faudion (ed) 1998 Aesthetics, method and epistemology, The New Press, New York: 137-145 return to text
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Hetzel, P-J 1866 ‘Avertissement de l’Editeur’, in J Verne Voyages et aventures du capitaine Hatteras, Hetzel, Paris: ii return to text
Heywood, S 2013 ‘Adapting Jules Verne for the baby-boom generation: Hachette and the Bibliothèque Verte, c. 1956-1966’, Modern & contemporary France 21, 1: 55-71 return to text
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Letourneux, M 2013 ‘Jules Verne’, in I Nières-Chevrel & J Perrot (eds) Dictionnaire du livre de jeunesse, Editions du Cercle de la librairie, Paris return to text
Margot, J-M 2012 ‘Où donc situer le Great-Eyry?’, Verniana: Jules Verne studies / Études Jules Verne 5: 1-14 return to text
Menegaldo, G 2005 ‘La filiation Poe, Verne, Lovecraft: l’imaginaire du pôle sud’, in J-P Picot & C Robin (eds) Jules Verne, Cent ans après, Terre de Brume, Dinan return to text
Mortelier, C 1997 ‘La source immédiate de l’île mystérieuse de Jules Verne’, Revue d’histoire littéraire de la France 4: 589-598 return to text
Ponnau, G 1977 ‘Edgar Poe et Jules Verne: Le Statut de la science dans la littérature fantastique et dans la littérature de science-fiction’, in J-M Grassin (ed) Mythes, images, representations, Didier, Paris: 359-367 return to text
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Silverberg, R 2014 ‘Was Jules Verne a science fiction writer?’, Asimov’s Science Fiction (July): 6-8 return to text
Siskind, M 2010 ‘The globalization of the novel and the novelization of the global: A critique of world literature’, Comparative literature 62: 336-360 return to text
Stoltzfus, B 2011 ‘Ekphrasis in Magritte and Verne: Voyages extraordinaires to the Center of Art’, The Comparatist 35: 68-84 return to text
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Verne J 2013  Vingt mille lieues sous les mers, Edition Libraire Générale Française, coll. Le Livre de Poche, Paris return to text
Vierne, S 1973 Jules Verne et le roman initiatique: Contribution à l’étude de l’imaginaire, Sirac, Paris return to text
Danielle Clode is the author of several literary non-fiction books, including Voyages to the South Seas (MUP 2007). She is currently a senior research fellow at Flinders University writing historical fiction based on the French voyages to Australia.
Christele Maizonniaux is a lecturer in French at Flinders University with particular research interests in children’s literature and creative writing in a foreign language.
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Vol 20 No 2 October 2016
General Editor: Nigel Krauth. Editors: Kevin Brophy & Enza Gandolfo