Edited Transcripts

Verne! With Baron Klaus Wulfenbach

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: My apologies for my lateness. Guten Abend, and welcome everyone. Our scheduled speaker had a family emergency and was not able to present today. That is kind of all of you. As you can see, you have plenty of gifts to take home with you today. I hope you enjoy them and the talk. Do let me know if there are any permissions issues with any parts. Hence my delay, trying to get this all together in time, ja.

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: I am not going to introduce myself, I think you know well enough by now. Let me start right in. As I was preparing this talk, I went to our excellent R.F. Burton Library over in Babbage Canals and found the volumes boxed here at the foot of the stage gathered under the heading ‘Steam Precursors’, although in this case, it is more the Steam mindset than the actual machinery. For all the fascinating inventions of our ancestors, it was Verne’s creations of the mind during the second half of the 1800s which inspired some of the greatest leaps of human technology.

Verne started his adult life in the study of the law, was distracted by the theatre, made a living as a stockbroker but ended as a great novelist. Let us start with 1862, and a story quoted by the Museum: There is the legend that he stood on the steps of the Paris stock exchange and declared to his associates there, “My boys, I believe that I’m about to desert you. I had the kind of idea Emile Girardin says every man must have to make a fortune. I’ve just written a new kind of novel, and if it succeeds it will be an unexplored gold mine. In that case, I’ll write more such books while you’re buying your stock. And I think I’ll earn the most money!” When his friends laughed at his comments, he replied, “Laugh, friends, we’ll see who laughs longest. “Indeed. There are many Verne works, more than most realize, and a very useful aether-site to explore both his work and writings about Verne is Zvi Har’El’s Jules Verne Collection at http://jv.gilead.org.il/. What I shall do here is touch on his most notable works in chronological order and let you do further exploration at your own pace.

We start with his first novel. 1863: ‘Cinq semaines en ballon’, or in English ‘Five Weeks in a Balloon, or, Journeys and Discoveries in Africa by Three Englishmen’ was Verne’s first presentation of his dramatic trio: The Professor, the Manservant, and the Adventurer. Modelled after the explorations of Burton, Speke and Barth, the dramatic interior of sub-equatorial Africa unrolls before the reader in lush detail — mostly accurate — as the Englishmen travel from west to east encountering all sorts of perils. In the Paris daily ‘Le Figaro’ a review read, “Is Dr. Fergusson’s journey a reality or is it not? All we can say is that it is bewitching as a novel and as instructive as a book of science. Never have the serious discoveries of celebrated travelers been summed up as well. This set the standard for what was to be expected from this new, fascinating author: Science of the day, applied to fantastical situations around the world.

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: I should note between volumes here that many of Verne’s works were republished in different size formats, lavishly illustrated. I did not have enough time to procure illustrations to share with you today, but the Gutenberg Library often has copies available to borrow.

1864: ‘Voyage au centre de la Terre’, translated variably as ‘A Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ and ‘A Journey to the Interior of the Earth’, follows the explorations of Professor Otto Lidenbrock, his nephew Axel, and their guide Hans attempting to wind their way through volcanic tubes from the Icelandic volcano Snæfellsjökull, eventually emerging all the way down in Italy’s famed Stromboli. The genre of subterranean fiction already existed long before Verne. However, the present book considerably added to its popularity and influenced later such writings. For example, Edgar Rice Burroughs explicitly acknowledged Verne’s influence on his own Pellucidar series. It would not surprise me at all if many future geologists and other earth studies scientists were impressed by this story in their youth. In turn, the novel was inspired by Charles Lyell’s ‘Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man’ of 1863, and includes some of the fantastical thoughts of lost Edenic environments hidden in a partly-hollow planet — as when the Professor’s party encounters dinosaurs, pre-historic mammals and even a anthropodic being which they speculate could be a very early Man. Due to the imaginative scenery — volcanoes, vast caves, an underwater sea, groves of dinosaurs — this has been a popularly acted entertainment, appearing in many forms — not always adhering to the original material. Added romance, Fraulein Ember. That seems to be the most persistent edit.
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach chuckles

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: 1868: After a polar exploration novel, one of the ‘Voyages Extraordinaire’ series, Verne wrote and published ‘De la terre à la lune’, the remarkable ‘From the Earth to the Moon’; and in the following year, ‘Autour de la Lune’, ‘Around the Moon’. These books are a favourite of those who wish to demonstrate how scientifiction can anticipate a future reality. The novel describes the efforts of a group of American weapons enthusiasts, the Baltimore Gun Club, to create a large enough cannon to launch three men all the way to the moon. The club deals with raising sufficient funds for the project, debates over the perfect location for the launch, and considers the issues of acceleration on human payload. Verne made solid attempts at creating calculations for all of the aspects of the launch despite not being an engineer or mathematician himself.

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: It is far more entertaining to compare the novels and derive what he got right compared to the Apollo space programme: The novel’s launch location was ‘Stone’s Hill, Tampa Town, Florida’. The Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral, Florida, is on the opposite coast of the peninsula, only 120 miles almost due east.

* The novel suggested Americans would create this as a private project; Americans did create a moon launch, as a governmental effort.
* The novel has the passenger capsule made of aluminium; the Apollo Command Model was made of an aluminum honeycomb-sandwich bonded between sheets of aluminum alloy. The process to make it a much more common material was not developed until 1886, and before then was rare enough that plate armour of aluminium was made only for kings.
* The novel had a chemical carbon dioxide removal mechanism; the Apollo capusules and lunar landers used lithium hydroxide cartridges to do the same.
* The novel has the trip to the moon take five days; the Apollo vehicle took three, due to better calculations. It is still an excellent estimate.
* The novel has the capsule approach the ‘neutral point’ balancing the gravities of the Earth and the Moon; this was later designated as L1 of the five Lagrangian points possible between any two large bodies. The Lagrange points mark positions where the combined gravitational pull of the two large masses provides precisely the centripetal force required to orbit with them. The maths were discovered by Leonhard Euler and Joseph-Louis Lagrange in the late 1700s.
I believe I saw mention of artificial satellites set into exactly this same point for technical purposes.
* Lastly, for our purposes: The novel has the returned capsule land in the ocean and be retrieved, all hands in good condition, by a US Naval vessel on patrol; the practice of the American space programme had always been water landings — Gemini largely in the Atlantic, Apollo in the Pacific — with Naval retrieval. Not bad for a law student.

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: We jump ahead just a bit for the next title.1869-70: ‘Vingt mille lieues sous les mers: Tour du monde sous-marin’ or ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas: A Tour of the Underwater World’ appeared first in a serial format in Pierre-Jules Hetzel’s periodical, the ‘Magasin d’Éducation et de Récréation’, later published in a lavishly illustrated format.

Herr Hetzel was Verne’s publisher and confidant through much of his career.
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Submarines were a new technology in Verne’s time, and although they had actually seen combat in the American Civil War, they were rare craft indeed with similar technical problems to those of Verne’s space-capsule. To have most of an exciting adventure take place on a lavishly-equipped and luxuriously-furnished boat was a look into the future.

Once again, we have Verne’s stalwart trio, literally thrown into the sea for their encounter: Professor Pierre Aronnax, a French marine biologist and narrator of the story; Canadian whaler and master harpoonist Ned Land; and Aronnax’s faithful servant Conseil. Their rescuer, host and antagonist is the mysterious Captain Nemo — Latin for ‘no man’, as he has renounced his previous life for vengeance — who seems lost into a great maelstrom by the last sight the protagonists have of him.

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Nemo and his world took inspiration from many real-world scientists and adventurers: Oceanographer Commander Matthew Fontaine Maury; Jean-François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse, a famous explorer who was lost while circumnavigating the globe; Dumont D’Urville, the explorer who found the remains of Lapérouse’s ship; and Ferdinand Lesseps, builder of the Suez Canal and the nephew of the sole survivor of Lapérouse’s expedition.

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: The travelers witness the real corals of the Red Sea, the wrecks of the battle of Vigo Bay, the Antarctic ice shelves, the Transatlantic telegraph cable and the legendary submerged land of Atlantis. The travelers also use diving suits to hunt sharks and other marine life with air-guns and have an underwater funeral for a crew member who died when an accident occurred under mysterious conditions inside the Nautilus. And, of course, the giant squid. Or octopus. It depends on the translator and the crew who build the puppet for the stage play.
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: (That seems to be everyone’s favourite part.)
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach chuckles

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: More of Nemo’s story is shared in ‘L’Île mystérieuse’, but his origin was purely the work of Verne’s publisher. Nemo’s original Polish origin and resentment of the Russian Empire was not politic for a French novel. Hetzel’s urgings had Verne change Nemo to a Muslim prince of Mysore, done badly by the British East India Company and the devastation of the Indian Mutiny of 1857.

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: The 20,000 leagues, incidentally, is the distance travelled, not the depth to which the Nautilus plunged – which would be physically impossible. It was suggestive of Twice around the world’, another of Verne’s great travels.

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: For the sake of time, we will jump ahead to
1872: ‘Le tour du monde en quatre-vingts jours’, translated as ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’, greatly popular with adapters for the performing arts. Instead of a scientist, we have a proper and chronologically-exacting British gentleman, but we still have his manservant. There is no brawny fellow who starts out on the adventure with them this time. They are acquired, however, in short order, by Scotland Yard detective, Detective Fix, who has mistaken Fogg for a suspect he is pursuing. This is one of Verne’s journeys with an actual itinerary: London to Suez, Suez to Bombay, on to Calcutta. From Calcutta to Hong Kong, hence to Yokohama, then all the way to San Francisco. One long trip to New York City would launch the party to London again, just in time to meet Fogg’s demanding schedule. Naturally, it all goes pear-shaped. How could it be an adventure if it did not?

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: The train to Calcutta does not go all the way through, but in travelling to the next railhead, the two men rescue a young Indian widow from funeral sacrifice, ‘sati’ or ‘suttee’. They take her along with them to deliver her safely to a relative in Hong Kong… who has moved to Holland. More problems ensue on getting to their trans-Pacific ship, then such obstructions on American soil as herds of buffalo, while Inspector Fix has decided it’s best to arrest Fogg in London instead and becomes a helper in their journey. With all the delays, Fogg is sure he has lost a day of travel, but the International Date Line comes to his rescue and he is exactly 23 hours and 55 minutes early – and wins his wager. As you can see, the combination of tension, comic relief, character conflict and ja, even a romance between Fogg and Aouda the widow actually appearing in the book, have made it one of the most adapted Verne properties ever.

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach points at the box of books.
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: This has inspired many non-fictional travel challenges at all stages of history since it was first printed. 80 days using public transport. 80 days as a television host. 80 days on a sailboat. It goes on. Something else that goes on is Verne’s bibliography. There are perhaps three dozen more titles, most in the Voyages extraordinaires series, published after ’80 Days’.
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Three dozen.

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: There were at least a half dozen manuscripts finished, re-written or inspiring Verne’s son, and published after Jules Verne’s death. Lastly, a novel he wrote predicting the 20th Century was published a century after it was written — found in a safe-deposit box though emptied, it was held back by his publisher for being somewhat depressing. He had some amazing parallels in that novel as well. And we are nearly at the end of our hour. I hope you were all entertained, and that you enjoy your Verniana here before the stage.

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: I will leave the gifts out for anyone who you might want to direct over here.
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: The Gräfin and I made special effort for your balloon.
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Zvi Har’El’s Jules Verne Collection at http://jv.gilead.org.il/
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: It has been in existence for about 20 years now.

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Next month we will have a presentation on…

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Funerals!
Solace Fairlady: and will it be delivered from beyond the grave?
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Hopefully not!
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach bows

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