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The Extraordinary Libraries of Jules Verne Arthur B. Evans T HE MOTIF OF THE LIBRARY in Jules Verne’s massive opus of the Voyages extraordinaires is both pervasive and richly poly­ valent. Not only does it tie together a wide range of thematic, ideological, and narratological features shared by the 60-odd novels in this series, but it also serves to highlight the fundamentally oxymoronic character of the “ roman scientifique” itself. Because of its essentially dualistic function in Verne’s narratives, I shall discuss the role of the library—both real and imaginary—in these works in two phases: first as a tangible locus of the intended didacticism of the Vernian text, and second as a purely novelistic device used to enhance the fictional (as opposed to the scientific) verisimilitude therein. Although at first glance a seemingly incongruous element in novels geared toward adventure and scientific discovery, the persistent presence of the library in these texts must first be understood as an emblem of their overall pedagogical intent. Each such library serves as a recurrent “ mise-en-abyme” reminder of the original social function of this series. The expressed goal of the collection, as outlined by Verne’s publisher Pierre-Jules Hetzel, was to “ résumer toutes les connaissances géo­ graphiques, géologiques, physiques, et astronomiques amassées par la science moderne, et de refaire, sous [une] forme attrayante et pittoresque [...], l’histoire de l’univers.” 1 Perhaps overly ambitious, these words nevertheless clearly identify the two-fold nature of Verne’s literary project: to be pragmatically educational on the one hand, fictionally entertaining on the other. Or, as Hetzel later goes on to say, “ l’instruc­ tion qui amuse, l’amusement qui instruit...” (ii). While it was Jules Verne who had originally conceived of this new type of narrative which he called a “ Roman de la Science” —a novel where the discoveries and innovations of modern science would act as the mainspring to the plot—it was Pierre-Jules Hetzel who insisted that Verne’s narratives maintain a high level of didacticism: i.e., that they be oriented toward the instruction of science as well as its fictional applica­ tions. A fervent positivist, political activist, and firm believer in the Republican ideals of 1848, Hetzel viewed his society as severely lacking in the rudiments of scientific knowledge—a lacuna he saw as the direct VO L. X XVIII, NO. 1 75 L ’E spr it C réa te u r result of the outdated anti-science curricula of the Catholic-controlled French public schools. As early as 1850, Hetzel began consistently to shift his publishing efforts toward literary works which would address this specific social need. In late 1862, he reviewed a newly completed manuscript entitled Cinq semaines en ballon by a certain Jules Verne and concluded that a series of such works could be a very effective fictional vehicle for sup­ plementing the French public’s scientific awareness. Verne agreed to Hetzel’s close supervision and collaboration (some would say censorship) in this project, and a long-term contract was signed for two additional “ utile y dulce” works of the same type each year—to be collectively called the Voyages extraordinaires. Appearing first in feuilleton format in Hetzel’s bi-monthly family journal the Magasin d ’Education et de Récréation and then published separately as individual novels, Verne’s scientific-adventure “ travel” narratives enjoyed an immediate and con­ tinuing success. Viewed from this pedagogical perspective, Verne’s entire collection of “ romans scientifiques” might reasonably be defined as a kind of fic ­ tionalized library to Science, a literary “ monument” to the late 19thcentury ideals of positivism. For the positivists, the physical and (even non-physical) universe resembled a vast but uncatalogued library: i.e., an ordered and taxonomically reducible assemblage of phenomena—un­ changing in its essence, rational in its composition, quantifiable in its scope, hierarchical in its structure, and codifiable into a circumscribed and systematized body of human knowledge. Such is the ideological pre­ supposition upon which a majority of the Voyages extraordinaires were constructed.2 And such is the implicit metonymic message of the great number of libraries, museums, and other repositories of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 75-86
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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