French and other Continental readers recognize Jules Verne’s attention to scientific method, his concern for technical accuracy, and his ability to work wonders with facts and figures. Is the same true for American readers?
In my recent Vernequest, I have discovered several things about the “Creator of Modern Science Fiction” and the “Man Who Invented the Future” and published these recent blogs detailing those findings:
- Jules Verne inspired many world renown inventors and explorers through his novels : https://frenchquest.com/2020/10/13/jules-verne-the-man-who-invented-the-future/
- Verne’s original manuscripts are available in virtual form on Gallica BNF website: https://frenchquest.com/2020/10/16/twenty-thousand-leagues-original-manuscript-by-jules-verne/
- There are many discrepancies between Verne’s original manuscripts and intentions of his novels and the censorship of the final Hetzel publications: https://frenchquest.com/2020/11/08/hidden-treasures-the-manuscripts-of-twenty-thousand-leagues-under-the-sea/
Perhaps the most disturbing finding in my Vernequest comes from Arthur Evans journal article, “Jules Verne’s English Translations”, in which he posits: “Many of Verne’s most popular novels were severely abridged, simplified, and ideologically censored in their English-language version…As a result, most anglophone readers have never had the opportunity to read the real Verne (Abstract).” This would include me!
Jules Verne actually knew that his work was being poorly translated. In a correspondence with an Italian friend shortly before his death, Verne remarked, “I am not surprised that the translations are bad…But we can do nothing about it, absolutely nothing(124)”.
After reading Evans article, I asked myself: “How important is knowing the real Verne? Is it enough to gain a sense of adventure and some knowledge of the underworld sea through these “watered down abridged versions which chopped out most of the science and longer descriptive passages (20-40%)”(80)?
My answer: Yes and No. It IS extremely important to me to know the REAL Verne and his real intentions of telling his stories. It IS NOT enough for me to just read the censored versions of British and American translators who omitted the original scientific and geological data of these novels in order to appeal more to young readers.
Consequently, how would one know which are the best French-English translations of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea? Evans published a Bibliography of Verne’s English Translations in terms of completeness, accuracy and style of all Verne’s novels (Thank you!). From this list, the following are the best translations of Vingt Mille Lieues Sous les Mers (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea):
- 1993 The Definitive Unabridged Edition Based on the Original French Texts Annapolis: US Naval Institute Publishers, translation by Walter James Miller & Frederick Paul Walter
- 1998 Oxford Press translation by William Butcher
- 2001 Project Guttenbergtranslation by F.P Walter
- 1976 Annotated Jules Verne: NY Crowell translation by Walter James Miller
- 1992 The Complete Bloomington, IN Press translation by Emanuel J. Mickel
We owe much of the realization that Verne’s English translations were inadequate to the French translations to Walter James Miller (see Annotated translation above). Miller was the first to compare the standard English translations of the 1960’s and 70’s against their French originals. He quickly understood why Verne’s reputation in Great Britain and America was so different from how he was known in France and most other countries.
Miller stated that “all the world regards Jules Verne as the first real popularizer of the romance of science fiction”. However, the French and other Continental readers recognize Verne’s attention to “scientific method, his concern for technical accuracy, and his ability to work wonders with facts and figures”(81). Americans, unfortunately, have based their opinions on “slashed and slapdashed” versions which were rushed to print. “The English-speaking world has never had a fair chance to know the real Jules Verne” (Forward).
As a translator of texts, this aspect is very intriguing to me. One of the worst crimes as a translator is to betray the integrity of an author’s texts with linguistic incompetence. Even more criminal is the ideological censorship which took place in Verne’s translations. A number of Verne’s novels were “rewritten to adhere to a pro-anglo political agenda”(91).
In addition, translators often have difficulty conveying an author’s style. According to Evans, “The French Verne is intelligent, humorous, witty, theatrical, socially aware, and surprisingly self-reflexive as a writer”(96). Anglophone critics do not see this in the translations and therefore have labeled Verne as “shallow, one-dimensional, melodramatic and naïve”. While it is true that we must remain scrupulously faithful to the original text and intent of the author, it is important that we, as translators, create an aesthetic effect in our target language. Was this considered in the earlier translations of Verne’s novels? It appears not.
In conclusion, for Young Readers of Science Fiction, the English translations of Verne’s works are a good start. They are easier to read, shorter, have great illustrations and are a great introduction into adventures of the mind. I am currently reading a compilation of Verne’s novels from Barnes and Nobles Fall River Press to my grandson George. This has created a great bond between us for all things “Captain Nemo”!
My grandson Georges illustrating our favorite story!
For this seasoned reader, I will continue my Vernequest with my French edition Voyages Extraordinaires par Jules Verne: Vingt Mille Lieues Sous Les Mers (collection Hetzel) and look forward to comparing it with the 1993 The Definitive Unabridged Edition Based on the Original French Texts!!
Copyright 2020 by Robyn Lowrie. May be quoted in part or full only attribution to Robyn Lowrie (www.frenchquest.com)
Born, Franz. (1963). Jules Verne: The Man Who Invented the Future. Translated from the German by Juliana Biro. Prentice Hall Publishers.
Butcher, W. (2005) “The Manuscripts of ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues’”. Science Fiction Studies. Retrieved December 1, 2020 from https://www.jstor.org/stable/4241320
Voyages Extraordinaires par Jules Verne: Vingt Mille Lieues Sous Les Mers (collection Hetzel) French edition. 72 rue de Rochechouart, Paris. 2019