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THE COMPARATIST JULES VERNE IN TRANSYLVANIA Roxana M. Verona Des blancs sur les cartes, tant de côtes à tracer, de points à relever! Les "Voyages extraordinaires" en sont pleins, de ces espaces "inconnus", offerts en pâture aux plus audacieux explorateurs . . . (Chelebourg 149) So many blank spots on the map, so many lines to trace and points to discover! The "Extraordinary Travels" are full of these "unknown" spaces that lure the most audacious explorers. Jules Verne had a geographer's ambition to fill in the blank spots on the world's maps. His imagination created a literary map that is the point of departure for my reading of Le château des Carpathes (The Carpathian Castle),1 one ofVerne's so-called "Romanian novels" (Pourvoyeur 197). Indeed, a number of his novels show a deep interest in the people and territories that belonged, at the end of the nineteenth century, to Transylvania and the Romanian Principalities.2 The setting of The Carpathian Castle, originally published in 1892, is Transylvania, which was also the birthplace ofMathias Sandorf, hero of the eponymous novel (1884-85). The lower segments of the Danube river and its delta form part ofthe setting ofLe Beau Danubejaune (The Beautiful Yellow Danube), a novel published posthumously in 1905 by Verne's son. Moreover, the Romanian-inspired characters Kinko and Klorka appear in Claudio Bombarnac (1864), while the characters of Kéraban le Têtu (Kéraban the Stubborn) (1883) travel around the whole perimeter of the Black Sea basin, including the Romanian Dobroudja. Certainly an interest in the lesser-known parts ofthe European East was not new for nineteenth-century French writers in search of raw material and sources of inspiration. This was the case for Charles Nodier 's Smarra (1821), Prosper Mérimée's La Guzla (1827), and Alexandre Dumas's Les mille et un fantômes (1849), a story set against the backdrop of the Carpathian Mountains. Works like these inaugurated a literary tradition in which Eastern Europe is a setting inhabited by strange creatures and their strange obsessions. Indeed, the connection between the "wild East"3 and dark plots and frightening apparitions takes such root in the Western collective imagination that it becomes difficult to separate reality from fiction. In the course of the nineteenth century, the landscape ofthe lower Danube turns into the home ofa Gothic literature, and Transylvania becomes the definitive home for Dracula. IfJules Verne's Castle is part of the same tradition, he complicates it in interesting ways by mapping the Gothic onto Transylvanian geography .4 Here is another ofVerne's "voyages extraordinaires"—the generic title for most of his oeuvre—that this time leads to the limits of the Vol. 28 (200V: 135 JULES VEKNEIN TRANSYLVANIA European continent or, as the novel suggests, to "Barbaria." This 'Terra Incognita" of wild forests and mountains bears the same name as a region in Tasmania, named by the island's first cartographer Thomas Scott in 1830. When Ken Gelder brings forth this information—a perfect introduction to Europe's Transylvanian vampires—it is to underline the similarities between two regions at opposite ends of the globe, both, as their name indicates, beyond reach (in Latin, trans-sylva, the land beyond the forest). And Gelder adds that one speaks today in Australian literary studies of a "Tasmanian Gothic" to emphasize "the sense of Tasmania's peculiar 'otherness' in relation to the mainland, as a remote, mysterious and self-enclosed place" (2). By the time Verne writes his novel, the other, East European Transylvania was already well-anchored in the European imaginary as Vampireland—a "red zone" that signals a mixed-race frontier region always in turmoil—whether in conflicts between the big empires or in rebellions ofits numerous ethnic groups. In short, Transylvania is a perfect location for Verne's Gothic story. But, while most readers take Transylvania as another of Verne's Fantasylands, some, such as many of the novel's Romanian readers, constantly praised Verne's "accurate" depiction of the "real" region, and they have done so since the novel's first translation in 1897. The split in the novel's reception provoked by the unusual combination offiction and reality, of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-0887
Print ISSN
0195-7678
Pages
pp. 135-150
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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