As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I am currently reading my way through Jules Verne. I did read both Around the World in Eighty Days and Journey to the Centre of the Earth 20 years ago, but in abridged, English versions (as a side comment — who the hell came up with the concept of abridged literature? urgh), in the “Children’s Classics” style. I started reading Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea kind of more as a joke — James and I had to sit for hours in the Indian Visa Bureau in Sri Lanka and my iPhone was out of battery, so I browsed his for something to read and the title caught my attention after our weekend of diving.
After James left Sri Lanka, I downloaded it onto my own phone, in French, and never looked back. It was a fantastic book and I loved it, although I confess there are pages and pages of scientific descriptions of fish which did make my eyes glaze over. When I finished it, I moved on to Journey to the Centre of the Earth, which was NOTHING like I remembered — completely thrilling! and it made reading this article on a crazy hidden volcanic tunnel all the more compelling. I read it fairly quickly and then dashed back to iBooks for more of Verne’s “Voyages Extraordinaires”.
I started reading The Mysterious Island, but then when I reached the description of the main protagonists, I suddenly got a bit stabby. The obvious hero of the 5 characters is Cyrus Smith, a dashing smart engineer, blonde “tending towards red”. He has a devoted
slave, Nab (or Neb, in the English translation), a “negro” who was freed by Smith, and who basically would die for him — within the first paragraph introducing him, it is explained that he travels across the States and gets himself caught during the Civil War so that he can be imprisoned alongside his dear Master.
So The Mysterious Island has Nab/Neb, Journey to the Centre of the Earth has Islandic Hans, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea has Conseil, and of course Around the World in Eighty Days has Passe-Partout. More than anything else that features in these books, the only thing that I find hard to suspend my disbelief for is the concept of these men who are so devoted to their Masters that they will follow them on the most dangerous and foolhardy missions… I wouldn’t mind if they were more “bro-mance” type relationships, but it’s always very clear that the Hero is a noble gentleman and that his manservant has skills (hunting; classification of species; dressing Monsieur) but is still a very Common Person who just happens to get his jollies by sacrificing himself for Monsieur. Monsieur is occasionally touched by his fidele compagnon‘s dedication or impressed by his unsuspected talents, but the devotion is very much one-way.
There are 54 novels in the series — and Jules Verne, according to Wikipedia, is one of the most popular and translated authors of fiction in the world (second only to Agatha Christie, apparently) — but if all of them require me to put up with a corny set-up like this (and I’m pretty sure they do), I’m afraid the liberal, democratic part of me will have to abandon Jules Verne, because it annoys and distracts me so much! I trust H G Wells will fill the gap — I read The First Men in the Moon last summer and whilst being a lot darker than Verne… I don’t recollect any ridiculous manservants.