The Golden Volcano: The First English Translation of Verne’s
Original Manuscript (Bison Frontiers of Imagination)
Translator: Edward Baxter. Editor: Edward Baxter. Preface: (to French edition) Olivier
Dumas. Lincoln, Nebraska. University of Nebraska Press, 2008. xvi+340 pages, ??
Hardcover — ISBN-10: 0803296339, ISBN-13: 978-0803296336
Softcover — ISBN-10: 0803296355, ISBN-13: 978-0803296350
Over a dozen years ago, newspapers around the globe heralded the discovery of a
long-lost Jules Verne manuscript among the family heirlooms. Paris in the 20th
Century was quickly published in France and translated into many languages,
including English. However, the literary cache that journalists reported was only
a single nugget of the unearthed ore.
What was described by the press as the product of happenstance on a single day was
instead the result of years of research among the Verne papers. In fact, several
unpublished books by Verne had been found, along with novelettes and short stories
(some have yet to be translated into English; details can be found at the North
American Jules Verne Society’s web site at najvs.org, under “The Work
to be Done”). These were all published in France in the late 1980s and early
1990s, as well as an equally important but more complex “discovery.”
When Verne died early in 1905, he had a number of books ready or nearly ready for
publication, and it fell to his son Michel to bring his father’s legacy to
readers. With only his editor’s awareness, Michel altered all of his father’s
stories as he brought them to print, transforming them in minor and major ways.
He added or changed subplots, characters, and shifted subtexts, in some cases originating
works in his father’s name. With the discovery of these original manuscripts,
scholars are now debating the merits of Michel’s variations, keeping in mind
that Verne often drastically rewrote his books at the point of seeing the proofs.
The first of these books to appear in English was Magellania (Welcome Rain,
2002), which Michel had expanded into the epic The Survivors of the Jonathan.
In that case, Michel’s intervention seems to have enhanced the literary merit
of the sketchy novel his father bequeathed, even while changing its ideological
bent. By contrast, the reverse seems to have been true of The Meteor Hunt,
one of the four “rewritten” novels to be published in their original
form by University of Nebraska Press (others are Lighthouse at the End of the World
and the forthcoming The Secret of Wilhelm Storitz).
The latest in the Nebraska series is The Golden Volcano, the only one of
the novels Michel inherited that was of two-volume length, its serialization filling
the entire final year of the fabled Magasin d’Éducation et de Récréation
in 1906. With Verne’s series of “Extraordinary Journeys” aiming
to explore “World’s Known and Unknown,” the Klondike gold rush
of 1897 could not fail to intrigue the writer. He had already discussed the foolhardy
quest for riches in other novels, particularly The Meteor Hunt. As in the
latter, nature intervenes in The Golden Volcano to snatch the precious
metal from those seeking it. The Meteor Hunt tells how an object made of
gold hurtles from space and lands on earth, only to tumble into the sea. The prospectors
of The Golden Volcano are dismayed by the climax of each of the two parts
of the book, forming a perfect symmetry. At first their claim is submerged in an
earthquake, and at the close an Arctic volcano they have discovered erupts and spews
its treasure of nuggets into the ocean instead of on land.
Like many of Verne’s novels, The Golden Volcano is rich in geographic
lore, the first volume largely recounting the journey of two cousins from Montreal
to the wilds of the Yukon. Unfortunately, from a plot standpoint this portion lacks
conflict, and it is to address this problem that Michel made his primary change,
introducing an active female character and romantic interest.
While the first half of The Golden Volcano may be literally as much tough
sledding for the reader as for the characters, the second half is far more exciting
and imaginative in its search for a remote volcano said to be dormant and filled
with gold. Volcanoes were pivotal sites in many Verne stories, whether creating
or destroying islands, offering entrance and escape from the center of the earth,
or refuge on a comet swirling far out into the solar system (Hector Servadac).
The rousing conclusion of The Golden Volcano offers Verne at his best,
integrating social satire, imaginative but plausible science, and rousing adventure.
In only one way may this edition be faulted: its lack of a map. All of the Nebraska
editions of the original Verne manuscripts have avoided any of the original illustrations
in the French editions. These have been vividly utilized in Wesleyan University
Press’s modern translations of Verne books, the primary other series currently
in progress. Many of Wesleyan’s publications are from texts that were published
during Verne’s lifetime, but which, for political reasons, English and American
publishers at the time chose not to translate.
One of the overlooked books that Wesleyan issued, The Invasion of the Sea,
was also translated by Edward Baxter, who has expertly and faultlessly rendered
The Golden Volcano into English. Baxter is the only Verne prose translator
working today who has also brought one of the writer’s plays into English,
Journey Through the Impossible (Prometheus, 2002). In fact, Baxter’s
career as a Verne translator began in the 1980s when he was commissioned by the
Canadian Translation Grant Programme to produce fresh translations of two of Verne’s
other novels set in that country, Family Without a Name and The Fur Country.
Baxter was set to undertake The Golden Volcano next, but the government
changed its policy to include only Canadian writers. However, at that time the original
manuscripts had not been discovered. Thanks to the wait, Baxter is now able to bring
us The Golden Volcano as Jules Verne left it. Baxter’s regional expertise
has also corrected many of the geographical errors that had crept into Verne’s
manuscript and had not been noticed by the modern French publishers, making this
English edition, by these annotations, an improvement on its French counterpart.
-- Review by Brian Taves, Fiction Reviews: The Golden Volcano. SFRA Review,
No. 285 (Summer 2008), 31-32.
review obtained 12 Jan 2009
Here one of our other members offer a different perspective on this edition.
The unusual subtitle of this work, “The First English Translation of Verne’s
Original Manuscript,” warrants some explanation, since it constitutes the
very raison d’être of the book. When Jules Verne died in 1905, he
left behind several unpublished novels (titled and untitled, in various states of
completion, including Paris in the Twentieth Century [c.1863], which had
been rejected by his publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel over forty years earlier), a
number of short stories, a few plays, and some autobiographical and historical writings.
The author’s last will and testament clearly stipulated: “I hereby declare
all my manuscripts, books, maps, library and papers, without exception, including
notes, preliminary drafts, etc. to be the exclusive and immediate property of my
son Michel Verne” (Martin 252). Michel, acting as executor of the estate and
knowing that they were intended to be part of his father’s collection of Extraordinary
Voyages, made arrangements with Verne’s publisher (Hetzel fils) to
have most of these novel manuscripts published posthumously. They subsequently appeared
in print from 1906 to 1919. One of them, The Golden Volcano (1906), tells
a tale about the Klondike gold rush and the quest of two brothers to locate a mythical
gold-filled volcano on the edge of the Arctic Ocean. Not viewed as an especially
important novel in Verne’s oeuvre, the first and only English translation
of this work, by I.O. Evans (no relation), did not appear in print until 1962, in
two volumes called The Claim on Forty Mile Creek and Flood and Flame.
In 1978 during a conference celebrating the 150th year of Jules Verne’s birth,
respected collector and Verne scholar Piero Gondolo della Riva, who personally owned
copies of many of Verne’s first-draft manuscripts, dropped a bombshell into
the world of Verne studies when he claimed that Michel had purposefully altered—sometimes
massively—his father’s posthumous works before their publication. Comparing
the published versions with the first-draft manuscripts, he showed how Michel had
not only corrected inconsistencies and fixed errors in Verne’s texts but had
also added new chapters, invented characters and episodes, modified plots, reworked
style, and actually rewritten his father’s first drafts in order to make them
richer and more interesting. Among other changes to the manuscript version of The
, for example, were the addition of four chapters including
a longer conclusion with a happier ending, a new Irish “servant” character
named Patrick, and the replacement of two nuns by two female prospectors who now
occupy a more central role in the plot. (Surprisingly, the first name of one of
the two principal protagonists of the novel—Summy Skim—was not
changed to Sammy, as one might expect.)1
In the three decades since Gondolo della Riva’s revelations, reaction among
Verne scholars has been mixed. Many purists have called Michel’s tampering
with Verne’s posthumous works a reprehensible betrayal of trust, one that
severely compromised the integrity of Verne’s Extraordinary Voyages.
Olivier Dumas, avid Verne collector, president of the Jules Verne Society in France,
and editor of its journal Bulletin de la Société Jules Verne,
has been most vociferous in his denunciation of these “tainted” editions.
From 1985 through the early 1990s, in order to set the record straight, Dumas and
his Society published all available first-draft manuscripts of these works. Each
edition features a preface by Dumas strongly condemning Michel’s revisions
and proclaiming that Verne’s first-draft manuscripts are the only true, authentic
versions of these stories. Frederick Paul Walter and Walter James Miller, members
of the North American Jules Verne Society, in their own foreword to the “First
English Translation of Verne’s Original Manuscript” of the novel The
Meteor Hunt (2006), echo this same refrain as they unilaterally denounce
the first published version of this novel as a “fraudulent pastiche,”
“a semiforgery,” and a “grotesque distortion” (vii) of Verne’s
Other Verne scholars disagree. They point out that the manuscript versions of these
works are, at best, of inconsistent quality and that Michel’s changes (if
they were all indeed by Michel) often served to improve the readability of his father’s
rough drafts. French Verne expert Daniel Compère, for example, argues that
since the elder Verne always did extensive revisions directly on his proofs, Michel’s
revised versions are probably much closer to what Jules himself would have produced
had he been alive to rewrite his first drafts (62). During the final decade of his
life when his eyesight was rapidly failing, Jules often asked Michel to collaborate
with him to help bring several of his later novels to publication. So, at least
in some cases, it is certainly possible that father and son discussed specific revisions
to these works before Verne’s death. Such is the opinion of Verne’s
grandson Jean Jules-Verne, who immediately took issue with Gondolo della Riva’s
claims and argued that, for the text of The Golden Volcano,
We have no serious reason at all to affirm that the rewrite is by Michel. And yet
you do so “ex cathedra” when it can only be an hypothesis.
That the initial manuscript was modified for the better is not in doubt. But by
whom? By Jules who often proceeded in this way or by Michel after some conversations
that he had had with him?
And which manuscript was submitted to Hetzel? Surely not the first.... (90)
Further, as noted Verne biographer and translator William Butcher has stated, “Michel’s
action in revising the works would seem justified by the standards of the time”
(Jules Verne 298). And in his introduction to the “First English
Translation of Verne’s Original Manuscript” of Verne’s Lighthouse
at the End of the World (2007), Butcher offers his own assessment of the
Jules vs. Michel controversy, saying: “Most critics have taken on trust Dumas’s
claim of the literary superiority of Jules’s version[s]. However, his arguments
have often been one-sided and indeed tendentious.... [I]n the case of Lighthouse,
I consider ... Michel’s changes on balance [to be] improvements of the book”
The preface included in The Golden Volcano presently under review is a
translated reprint of Olivier Dumas’s preface to the French edition, published
in 1989. In it, as one might expect from the above, Dumas uniformly castigates Michel’s
revised version of the novel and praises the efforts of the French Jules Verne Society
for rescuing Verne’s true voice: “Today Jules Verne can finally express
himself, cleansed of the slag that disfigured his work” (xiii). Reading the
first-draft manuscript, according to Dumas, “restores the novel’s power
and beauty, and all its purity” (xiii). It is clearly evident that Dumas’s
preface does not (and has no desire to) present an objective comparison of the two
versions of this story. Unrelentingly hyperbolic and one-dimensional in its judgments,
Dumas’s preface is also prone to silly statements such as the following:
At the end of the eighteenth [sic] century, when getting rich was the goal of the
entire middle class, it required a certain audacity to attack the Golden Calf, the
capitalists’ god. This burden probably compelled Verne to postpone the publication
of his novel and explains some of the changes introduced by his son and Jules Hetzel,
who were frightened by the writer’s contempt for the “vile metal”
and afraid that it might have a negative effect on book sales. (ix-x)
Apart from the (translator’s) error in writing “eighteenth” for
“nineteenth,” Dumas’s blithe generalizations about the nature
of fin-de-siècle French society and his ensuing assumptions about
the personal motives of Verne, his son, and Hetzel regarding the novel’s content
and its publication schedule are obviously a preposterous stretch.
Also difficult to reconcile is Dumas’s repeated insistence that Verne’s
first draft “did not need to be corrected or altered. But that was the fate
in store for it. The manuscript of The Golden Volcano is a finished text”
(viii-ix). Especially when Dumas then goes on to reassure the reader later in the
same paragraph that “We have corrected mistakes as the author would have done....
This new edition has been revised and corrected” (ix). There is a fundamental
inconsistency in an argument that condemns all changes to Verne’s original
manuscripts as inherently sacrilegious and then takes credit for making certain
corrections to them.
The “inconvenient truth” of the entire matter boils down to this: some
of Michel Verne’s modifications to his father’s posthumous works were
good, some were bad, and some were bad because they were too good.
On one level, “good” and “bad” can be defined according
to whether the changes were editorial or authorial. If Michel had limited himself
to editing Verne’s manuscripts—correcting errors, polishing style, reducing
inconsistencies and repetitions, and perhaps even adding a (brief) passage or chapter
to flesh out an existing theme or character (as Jules no doubt would have done himself
during his proofing)—then the blow-up about the authenticity of these works
would never have occurred. It was when Michel chose instead to replace his father
as author of these stories—changing plots, adding characters, shifting
the ideology, or (as in the case of the short story “In the 29th Century:
The Day of an American Journalist in 2889” and even perhaps The Thompson Travel
Agency) attributing to his father a story that Michel himself had written
in its entirety—that the problems begin. After all, in his publishing contract
with Hetzel, Michel had agreed to “make the revisions and corrections that
were necessary to each of these volumes and to do his best to preserve the character
that his father had given to these works in order to maintain the series
for the use of Jules Verne’s public” (Gondola della Riva 76; emphases
added). Judged from this point of view, Michel’s sin was to change the basic
character of Verne’s final narratives.
If all this is true, then one might argue further that many of the revisions authored
by Michel were too good to be late Verne. In my opinion, the eccentric
scientist-inventor Zephyrin Xirdal (despite his admittedly unVernian sci-fi ray-gun)
and the malapropism-prone servant Mrs. Mitz are wonderful comic additions to an
otherwise rather dour The Meteor Hunt. Most readers would agree that Michel’s
version of The Survivors of the Jonathan (1909) is an infinitely better
novel (despite its contradiction of the conservative political and religious leanings
of the aged Verne) than the manuscript-based version called Magellania
(2002). Of the latter, Verne scholar Brian Taves reports that it “reads like
an outline rather than a polished book.... Too often the narrative is told, rather
than shown through characters and events—and Michel’s determination
... to ‘flesh out’ these limitations of the novel is understandable”
(233). And in the case of the newly translated manuscript-based The Golden Volcano
under review here, I was disappointed to see the intelligent and strongly feminist
characters of Jane and Edith Edgerton disappear from the story (replaced by two
pathos-producing nuns), the humorous native guide Neluto reduced to the stereotype
of the taciturn and “eagle-eyed” Indian scout (xii), and the conclusion
of the novel made to end all too abruptly, as if Verne had suddenly become tired
of telling the tale or had simply run out of creative gas. As Piero Gondolo della
Riva himself observed in 1978 when describing the dramatic differences between Verne’s
late versus posthumous novels:
The issue of the authenticity of Jules Verne’s posthumous works first arose
because of reasons of style. When reading in chronological order the Extraordinary
Voyages ... one could not help noticing that several of them from 1895
to 1905 often exhibit a certain sluggishness, an absence of action or of originality....
[Some] are almost unreadable today and, to the readers of the time, they must have
already seemed less interesting than those that preceded them.
On the other hand, when reading Jules Verne’s posthumous works, one is immediately
struck by the richness of the ideas and themes to be found therein. (73-74)
So, in this case, Michel’s sin was not only in supplanting the authorial voice
of his father and in changing the basic character of his works; it was also in daring
to write better
than Verne père. There is some irony to this state
of affairs. But, of course, in literary studies as well as in the collector’s
marketplace, the quality of the writing will always be trumped by the authenticity
of the writer. Even a poorer story that is “pure” Verne will invariably
be perceived as having more value (canonical, economic) than a richer story that
is “hybrid” Verne. There can be no compromise.2
Apart from a few glitches here and there, the translator of this edition of The
Golden Volcano, Edward Baxter, does a fine job of rendering Verne’s
(sometimes négligé) prose into readable narrative. The Notes
at the end of the volume, however, are quite disappointing and rarely add useful
information. Most are tediously descriptive rather than analytical—pointing
out repeated errors in Verne’s spelling or his many lapses in plot coherence
or how he incorrectly calculated distances, etc.
As can probably be surmised from the above, I have to admit to being deeply ambivalent
about this book. As a scholar of Verne, I must recommend this version of The Golden
. As a reader of Verne, I cannot. Having read both versions, I must
confess that I prefer the “tainted” one, the “un-PC” one,
the one that has already begun to be systematically excised from the Verne canon.
(See the up-to-date Jules Verne Bibliography on the most respected website devoted
to the author at <http://jv.gilead.org.il/biblio/voyages.html
of Verne’s posthumous novels have now been expunged from
the “official” list of his Extraordinary Voyages
.) As the first-draft
manuscripts rapidly become the standard versions for these novels in Verne’s
oeuvre, it is not hard to predict that Michel’s originally published editions
will soon be forever doomed to a dark corner of literary history. When the cleansing
is complete, some will surely proclaim, “Justice has been done!” I will
quietly sigh, “More’s the pity.”
1. The most important changes made to the other posthumous works (when compared
to the first-draft manuscripts) are as follows:
- The Meteor Hunt (1907): four new chapters added and at least one
- The Danube Pilot (1908): three new chapters added, one new character,
and a new title (original: The Lovely Yellow Danube);
- The Survivors of the Jonathan (1909): sixteen new chapters added,
along with many new characters, episodes, and a new title (original: In Magellania);
- The Secret of Wilhelm Storitz (1910): rewritten to take place
in the eighteenth century instead of at the end of the nineteenth, with a different
- Yesterday and Tomorrow (1910): most of the short stories appearing
in this collection were substantially altered; one of them, “In the 29th Century:
The Day of an American Journalist in 2889,” was authored entirely by Michel
(with his father’s help) and published in the British magazine The Forum
in 1889; another, “Eternal Adam,” a posthumous story (original title:
Edom), was no doubt a product of their collaboration as well;
- The Amazing Adventure of the Barsac Mission (1919): the “final”
novel of the Extraordinary Voyages series, written entirely by Michel from
his father’s notes for a novel to be called Study Trip.
Although it is suspected that the posthumous novel The Thompson Travel Agency
(1907) may have been entirely the work of Michel, it seems that the first-draft
manuscript (by Jules? by Michel?) does not differ greatly from the published edition.
2. Or can there be? While they do not hesitate to condemn the Michel versions of
Verne’s posthumous works as “fake” (see Dumas’s 1997 article
in his Bulletin entitled “Do you prefer the true or the fake Jules
Verne?”), these hard-core Vernians do not raise the same concerns over those
novels that Jules Verne himself rewrote from manuscripts that were authored by André
Laurie (aka Paschal Grousset) and that were published in his Extraordinary Voyages:
The Begum’s Millions (1879) and Star of the South (1884).
And they certainly do not mention how father Jules revised and then republished
(in French, under his own name) the short story “In the 29th Century: The
Day of an American Journalist in 2890” (emphases added), a text authored
by his son Michel and published in English (under his father’s name
and with his blessing) the preceding year. Obviously, the question of author “authenticity”
as it applies to the published works of Jules Verne is a bit more complex (and less
“pure”) than many Vernians are willing to admit.
Butcher, William. “Introduction.” Jules Verne. Lighthouse at the End
of the World. Trans. and ed. William Butcher. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P,
————— Jules Verne: The Definitive Biography.
New York: Thunder’s Mouth, 2006.
Compère, Daniel. Jules Verne: parcours d’une oeuvre. Amiens:
Dumas, Olivier. “Preface to the French Edition.” Jules Verne, The Golden
Volcano. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2008. vii-xiv.
————— “Préférez-vous le vrai ou
le faux Jules Verne?” Bulletin de la Société Jules Verne
122 (1997): 11-15.
Gondolo della Riva, Piero. “ À propos des oeuvres posthumes de Jules
Verne.” Europe 595-96 (novembre-décembre 1978): 73-82.
Jules-Verne, Jean. “Lettre de Jean Jules-Verne.” Europe 595-96
(novembre-décembre 1978): 89-93.
Martin, Charles-Noël. La Vie et l’oeuvre de Jules Verne. Paris:
Michel de l’Ormeraie, 1978.
Taves, Brian. “Jules Verne: Magellania.” Extrapolation
43.2 (Summer 2002): 232-34.
Walter, Frederick Paul, and Walter James Miller. “Foreword.” Jules Verne.
The Meteor Hunt. Trans. and ed. Frederick Paul Walter and Walter James
Miller. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 2006. vii-xxi.
Zvi Har’El’s Jules Verne Collection. 13 Nov. 1995. 18 Aug. 2008 <http://jv.gilead.org.il/>.
-- Arthur B. Evans, “Protesting Too Much: The Jules vs. Michel Verne Controversy,”
Science Fiction Studies, 36.2 #108 (July 2009): 321-26.
review obtained 21 Jun 2011