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F. P. Walter (Albuquerque, NM) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Journey to the Center of the Earth/Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea/Round the World in Eighty Days (Everyman's Library (Cloth)) (Hardcover)
When French novelist Jules Verne climbed onto the bestseller lists in the 1860s, British publishing houses rushed translations of his works into print. Three publishers competed with particular energy for this Verne-in-English market: Sampson Low ... Ward, Lock ... and George Routledge. All of their texts have been in the public domain for decades, though the latter's, for some reason, haven't been reprinted as frequently.

This new collection features Routledge versions from the 1870s of three Verne favorites, an anonymous translation of JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH plus renderings by Henry Frith of TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and ROUND THE WORLD IN EIGHTY DAYS. Of course these novels are available in appealing modern translations, but this Everyman threesome has its points, particularly for specialists. For one thing, it's elegantly typeset and bound in real cloth. For another, these texts offer both historical interest and - sometimes - considerable narrative punch.

In fact I prefer Routledge's edition of JOURNEY (1876) to any of its Victorian rivals - it's respectful, good-humored, essentially complete, and doesn't embroider like its 1877 competitor from Ward, Lock. Of course its language is quaint, and there are a few blunders (those "3,000 square miles" on p. 153), yet it does the work real justice. On the other hand Routledge's 80 DAYS (1878) is less valuable. Its translator was juvenile author/adaptor Henry Frith, who reworks Verne's French into idiomatic Victorian English but streamlines specifics: when Fogg dines, Frith leaves out the condiments ... if Verne describes Japan's military in 70 words, Frith cuts them in half ... during a rollicking acrobatic performance, Frith skips the climax of the warm-up act. Yes, the work remains intact and entertaining, but its textures are thinner and its depths shallower.

20,000 LEAGUES, with its focus on nautical engineering and marine biology, is a translating challenge of fearsome difficulty. It received three Victorian renderings: Louis Mercier's (Sampson Low) appeared in 1872, is heavily cut, clogged with errors, and widely regarded as one of the poorer Verne translations of that era; two additional renderings appeared in 1876, an anonymous version published by Ward, Lock and this one by Henry Frith. Both texts are fuller and less accident-prone, but these virtues are only relative, and neither can be recommended as reliable or responsible - for that we must look to modern translators. Meanwhile Frith's attempt condenses the biological passages, garbles the coordinates at the head of II xx, shrinks an ice barrier to a single iceberg, turns a giant squid into a hybrid of cuttlefish, octopus, and calamary, and omits substantive and poetic details on nearly every page. Today's readers can do better.

So this volume will be more valuable for Verne scholars and collectors. It's good to have these rarer texts in such handy form, though the book's anonymous editor is wrong to claim that these translations have been "out of print for many decades" - Routledge's 80 DAYS is one of the earlier Kindle editions, and their JOURNEY has been available in Bantam, Dover, and Modern Library paperbacks since 2006.

Oddly, the volume's editorial and scholarly work sometimes lets us down in this way, with carelessness in both the introduction and critical materials - e.g., Lidenbrock's compass wasn't "remagnetized" in a volcanic eruption ... Fogg didn't "waive" Passepartout's gas bill ... Verne's expanded edition of JOURNEY didn't premiere in 1871 ... 20,000 LEAGUES wasn't serialized in "Le Temps" ... MYSTERIOUS ISLAND wasn't published in 1873 ... a westbound balloon trip wouldn't face "insuperable winds" across Africa, since the trades blow west ... etc. As for the introduction by Oxford lecturer Tim Farrant, it's a general appreciation that contains plot spoilers. The anonymous bibliography is full of opinions but ignores the vast number of U.S. translations and editions, suggesting that the book is aimed chiefly at British readers.

As noted, this new Everyman entry can be easily recommended to Verne specialists - but what about the rest of the planet? Luckily, today's readers can find accurate, inexpensive translations elsewhere on Amazon. William Butcher has produced stylish renderings of all three of these novels for Oxford UP, complete with stimulating notes (search Books on "William Butcher"). Other enjoyable translations of 20,000 LEAGUES and JOURNEY are by Bonner and Miller (search Books on "Anthony Bonner" and "Ron Miller."). If you'd like all three novels in a single volume, the only modern omnibus is my own, entitled AMAZING JOURNEYS (search Books on "Frederick Paul Walter"); I daren't beat my own drum, but there's a "Look Inside" feature; you be the judge.
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